Monday, December 1, 2008

Sarkozy: a Prickly President

What the elite will not allow the public to say in public, they will say via the marketplace.

Sarkozy voodoo doll wins
'right to humor' in court

The voodoo set, which comes with 12 needles, will soon have an extra notice.

PARIS: Amid deepening economic gloom, the tale of the voodoo doll of Nicolas Sarkozy has provided some needed light relief for the French.

Twice, the French president asked the courts to ban the sale of a figurine made in his image. On Friday, an appeals court dealt him the latest rebuff: not only can the doll remain on sale, but the judges ordered that it be sold with a bright-red banner on the packaging entitled "Judicial Injunction" and a warning that sticking needles into the doll affronts Sarkozy's dignity.

So far, Sarkozy's actions in court have had the apparently unintended consequence of turning the voodoo doll into something of a cult item. The actions Friday may give another boost to its popularity.

The doll's light-blue body, which comes with a set of 12 needles and a manual explaining how to put a curse on the president, also features some of Sarkozy's best-known quotes and gaffes: "Work more to earn more" reads one quote, a slogan from Sarkozy's presidential campaign. "Get lost, you poor jerk," reads another, a swipe Sarkozy took at a bystander at a farm fair who refused to shake his hand.

In keeping with the often meticulous nature of French officialdom, the ruling Friday was very specific. The distributor of the dolls, K&B Editions, was ordered to write the notice that will be distributed with the doll in black block-lettering and it must say exactly this: "It was ruled that the encouragement of the reader to poke the doll that comes with the needles in the kit, an activity whose subtext is physical harm, even if it is symbolic, constitutes an attack on the dignity of the person of Mr. Sarkozy."
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The court also awarded the president a symbolic euro in damages and ordered K&B Editions to pay the equivalent of about $2,000 in legal costs.

But the court also stuck to the initial ruling by a lower court last month: "The demanded ban is disproportionate," the judges ruled, "in that it is a measure that would compromise freedom of expression." The earlier ruling had already argued that the case fell under what it dubbed "the right to humor."

Thierry Herzog, a lawyer for Sarkozy, appeared to indicate on Friday that the president was satisfied with the ruling and that he would not appeal a second time. "The important thing is that consistent principles and jurisprudence should be applied," Herzog said.

In asking for a ban, Herzog had argued that the president owns the right to his image and that the doll could provoke violence against him. It was Sarkozy's sixth lawsuit this year, and the first time that a sitting French president has lost a court case dealing with the country's strict privacy laws.

Sarkozy is not the only public person whose voodoo doll is on sale. K&B Editions has sold similar figurines in the image of Ségolène Royal, Sarkozy's Socialist rival for the presidency last year. Other dolls represent President George W. Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton.

According to K&B Editions, the initial 20,000 Sarkozy dolls that went on sale on Oct. 9 sold out by Oct. 28. Another 20,000 will be delivered to newsagents from mid-December, this time with the court-ordered label.


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