It was not even original. But, who ever said that you have to be original to sell something. Enter a room, any room, start a speech – about anything – spelling the word “sex.” Attention is unfailingly yours. And if prostitution is the most ancient of professions, pornographers followed soon after.
Before 50 shades of Grey became a global box office hit, in February 2014, an article by Malete Lehming in a popular German magazine, Cicero, went at great lengths to make a “sadomasochistic” allegory describing the relationship between Chancellor Merkel’s grand coalition government and the public. The commentator at the time referred to Chancellor Merkel’s “hard love” approach, including tax hikes, massive borrowing, military intervention in Africa, and switching to renewable energy. You could have chosen a million different allegories and metaphors; but, this one sells better.
Nothing sells like power, except sex. But, the combination of power and sex is mouthwatering staff for media outlets and the public alike. Journalists know what sells. And so the article by Thomas Gutschker in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung this Sunday played on this old sadomasochistic narrative to grab a bit of attention. And it did.
The article cited a conversation between Martin Schultz, the President of the European Parliament, and Alexis Tsipras in the European summit in Riga. Fictional or not, we do not know. Apparently, Martin Schulz was standing with Alexis Tsipras, when the Greek Prime Minister said he had to leave because he had a meeting with “Angela”. “With Angela? Who’s that?” Schulz asked. And Prime Minister Tsipras apparently blushed and replied: “Well, Angela, you know.” And Schulz apparently asked “are you in love?”
From this “innocent story,” Mr Gutschker goes on to explain how the two leaders have “a cordial relationship” and that he probably has awaken her “maternal instincts,” which is by his own admission not a very “political” observation, but that empathy plays a role. And he explains that Mrs Merkel tolerates Mr Tsipras a bit more than the average German, CDU deputy or Wolfgang Schäuble. Unlike them, he explains, she does not see him as a “populist troublemaker who has no idea about the economy,” but with sympathy, as a “poor guy” that has to push forward reforms his predecessors would not.
The program, the journalist notes, should have been completed last year by Antonis Samaras, the conservative leader, but he did not have the courage to carry them through. The author concludes that Merkel could gleefully scorn Mr Tsipras, to tell him he should not make all these promises, but she does not, because she understands this is the problem with inexperience. She is “mature” and will teach him a lesson. She is known after all as “mother,” which in German is “Mutti.” And the journalist plays on a centuries old cliché, which likens every strong woman to either a prostitute or a mother.
Generally speaking, an article is an article. This should have been a story about how Mr Gutschker is a journalist desperate to be read, who resolves to pornography. In doing so, he turns Schultz into a gossiper and a peeping Tom, while he gives out most of his childhood fantasies. It is but a small and usual sin and nothing that could not be addressed by a good therapist. We could follow Mrs Merkel’s example and try to empathize with Mr. Gutschker. Of course the issue at hand here is that — in having these fantasies — Mr Gutschker is not alone.
His article went viral! And because stories are not quite as seducing as images, Photoshop took over, with Prime Minister Tsipras and Chancellor Merkel storing in 50 shades of gray across the Greek cyberspace.
The questions are daunting: what she does to him, what he does to her, what Germany does to Greece and what Greece does to Germany. It is sad, but for Greeks and Germans, being playmates sounds more fun than being partners. Is the rest of Europe reduced to watching or can they can join in? Mr Gutschker, for one, keeps an open mind.