“I AM FRANCE!” King Louis XIV vehemently declares, historically and as dramatized in the Netflix series Versailles, simultaneously as though it were the irrefutable truth and as though no one would believe him if he didn’t shout it. Even more convincingly in English with the actor George Blagden’s native British accent. The monarch can say whatever he wants, as I am mesmerized by his—and his brother Philippe’s—impeccable, glorious hair and gilded jackets (fairly balanced by amusement at the triple bow ties). I jokingly referred to the show as a “shampoo commercial,” as if that could exonerate me from binge-watching… but that was weeks ago; am I forgiven now?
In another scene, the “head of security” for the court, Fabien Marchal, retorts, “I am justice!” while doling out cruel punishment on desperate Parisians far out of proportion to their crime of evading taxes that they could no longer afford to pay. (This character is an enigma who manages to evoke a degree of sympathy—or pathos—before he ever shows any to others. Perhaps the first sproutings of his seeds of conscience are so subtle that the audience picks up on the effect subconsciously long before it is reflected in his actions? Or perhaps his dark, brooding manner and his way with few words are intrinsically attractive… he is a thinker. [And that cape!] What inner torment would he face if he were no longer the physical embodiment of “justice” in the most distorted sense of the word? Who would he be without his instruments of torture and license to kill, granted by a king whose identity as his country extends only as far as his own visions of grandeur? Marchal did not have to answer this question when it was directly posed by a spiteful aristocrat, but surely he must ask it of himself in the quiet hours…)
The phrasing “I am” in this context strikes me because it seems like a lexical luxury one no longer has in the modern age of collaboration and collective identities. Au contraire, it can be—and is—used powerfully on behalf of a universal identity, such as by the nonprofit organization She Is the Music, which is dedicated to increasing the number of womxn working in music. (I have no affiliation.)
Another example is a statement I heard in the context of consumer ethnography (characterizing potential customers and their behaviors when planning media investment, etc.): “I am happiness!” The respondent qualified this with the explanation that happiness comes from within and not from other people. I wonder if this was meant to be an exclusive identity or one of many. I may be happiness now, but that won’t protect me from being sadness five minutes later. Would this person claim the rest of their emotions or states of being with as much enthusiasm?
Some perfumes probably have an easier time than others claiming that they are a trait incarnate. It seems effortless to say, for example, that Chanel N°19 is elegance. With this classic, it comes more naturally to talk about it in broad terms, because the notes are so smoothly blended together that I struggle to analyze it at all, but I know it better with each encounter. It and I could grow old together (and as it hasn’t left my perfume shelf, I’ll presume it reciprocates my feelings).
Louis XIV: Do you have my back?
Philippe (standing behind him): Where am I now?