It's a classic phrase used for beginning French students, which is why it wound up as part of the lyrics featured in this music video from The Flight of the Conchords, Foux Da Fa Fa:
Now, it's not that I remembered that sequence from the short-lived HBO comedy series, even though I did do a blog post on it way back in 2007, when Blog Time Passing was not even 6 months old (you can read that post, Laughter from New Zealand, if you like, but all of the videos I included no longer work, broken links being one of the pitfalls of writing on the web). No, I just did a Google search on Où est la bibliothèque? and that video, a parody of French film circa the 1960s, popped up.
So, why was I doing that search? Because I wanted to check on where exactly do all of the accent marks go in that sentence, and that's because I do remember a bit of my French lessons, but far from perfectly. And now, thinking about it, while that French sentence, which translates as, Where is the library?, makes perfect sense for a class being taught at school, it was hardly the most useful of questions to imprint on students' memories. Wouldn't, say, Where is the restroom? or Where is the American embassy?, for that matter, be much more relevant for someone traveling in a foreign land?
And it's not just that Où est la bibliothèque? is less than relevant for a tourist visiting Paris, or that it reflects a distinctly academic bias. It's also that it is a remnant of a bygone age, a time when libraries played a much more significant role in our cultures than they do today, in our postliterate, electronic, digital, internetty (internutty?) age. Of course, that also means that Où est la bibliothèque? has taken on new and somewhat disturbing connotations, as in, where have all the libraries gone, long time passing?
And to acknowledge the decline and fall of the bookish world that those of us of a certain age knew and loved, and because I never met a pun I didn't like, or tried to find a use for, I turned bibliothèque into BiblioTech. And going even further back into the early history of this blog, back to its first month of existence, I had posted an entry entitled Medieval Helpdesk that featured another comedic video, this one a Scandinavian skit worthy of Monty Python. You can click on the link to see what I wrote about it back in 2007, but I'll include the Norwegian video here as well:
So, now, why all of this walking down memory lane, you might be asking? Or maybe not, or maybe you stopped reading this post after the first paragraph, in which case I'm writing to myself. And maybe that's just what blogging is anyway? But anyway, the reason all of this comes to mind is a recent video from another Nordic source, Ikea. Maybe you saw it online already, it's called Experience the power of a bookbook™ , and in case you haven't, or just want to see it again, here it is:
As you may have gathered, the video is both a parody of Apple commercials and a genuine ad for the Swedish furniture company. Now, here's the write-up that went with the video over on YouTube:
At only 8mm thin, and weighing in at less than 400g, the 2015 IKEA Catalogue comes pre-installed with thousands of home furnishing ideas. Join the revolution at http://IKEA.sg/bookbook (Singapore) or http://IKEA.my/bookbook (Malaysia).
Now, note the irony here, as they still direct you to a website (or two). And if you go to the website, you'll find the content of the video translated into a series of web pages So, even though Ikea is touting the virtues of a print medium, they are using new media to get that message out. Well, that's not at all unheard of. Going back to Plato, we have his criticisms of the medium of writing appearing in written works such as the Phaedrus, and Neil Postman among others went on television to criticize the very medium he was appearing on. You gotta find a way to get the message out, after all.
Not that Ikea's main concern was promoting a media ecological awareness. But even as an accidental by-product of the use of humor and parody in the service of persuasion and commercial promotion, it's good to see, if for nothing else than for a bit of comedy relief.
Speaking of which (and ignore the Swedish subtitles if you please)...
Where did that come from, you might ask? Well, another French phrase that stuck with me is, La plume est sur la table, which means, The pen is on the table. But when I did a Google search on it, it turns out that the more common phrase used in French class is, La plume de ma tante est sur la table, which means, My aunt's pen is on the table. And one of the search results that Google gave me was this video, Où est la plume de ma tante? And that of course means, Where is my aunt's pen? And that makes perfect sense, that following the disappearance of the library, wouldn't the pen be the next to go?
And it all just seems so very fitting, doesn't it? Où est la bibliothèque? Où est la plume? Où est le livre? That last one means, Where is the book? Where in the world have they all gone away to?
Je ne sais pas, je ne sais pas...