Freedom of expression

“You can make the most misogynistic thing in the world if it’s a work of art”

Successfully sued by five feminist groups in 2009 for “inciting violence against women,” French rapper Orelsan has been acquitted by an appeals court

Orelsan performs at Eurockeennes Music Festival on July 1, 2012 in Belfort, France. (David Wolff-Patrick/Getty Images)

French rapper and actor Orelsan, notorious for songs like “Dirty Whore”, and calling women and girls “dogs” who deserve to be beaten and killed, has been acquitted of incitement to violence and hatred against women.

A landmark Versailles appeals court ruling defending misogyny in rap lyrics as the artistic expression of a “disenchanted generation” leaves the 33-year-old star (real name Aurelien Cotentin) of a new “bromance” movie, about a pair of sexist procrastinators, once again free to sing the words that first got him into trouble with the law.

“Shut your trap or you’re going to find yourself Marie Trintignanted,” he rapped at a 2009 concert at the Bataclan in Paris, in a reference to the actress who died after being brutally struck by her rock-legend boyfriend Bertrand Cantat.

Other offensive lyrics included: “Do your research on bandages and strollers, I can make you a baby and break your nose with a head butt”; “I will leave you as soon as I find a dog with a better pedigree”; and “I respect les schnecks (chicks) with an IQ deficit, who will take it until they end up physically handicapped.”

The Paris Tribunal initially found Orelsan guilty of the crime of “provocation to violence towards a group of people because of their sex.” The court also considered the line “feminists persecute me … as if it was my fault that chicks are whores” to be a sexist libel.

French singer Aurélien Cotentin, known as Orelsan (C) performs on stage during the 28th Victoires de la Musique, the annual French music awards ceremony, on February 8, 2013 at the Zenith concert hall in Paris. AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND GUAY (Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

French singer Aurélien Cotentin, known as Orelsan (C) performs on stage during the 28th Victoires de la Musique, the annual French music awards ceremony, on February 8, 2013 in Paris. (BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images)

Feminist associations including Chiennes de garde (The Guard Bitches), the National Federation of Solidarity Women, and Women Against Rape, backed by teachers’ groups and family organizations sued the rapper, leading to his 2009 guilty ruling.

However that decision was overturned in 2014 and, after a third trial, the Versailles Court of Appeal said today it was acquitting Orelsan “because rap is by its nature a brutal, provocative, vulgar and violent means of expression by an embittered, revolted generation,” Le Monde’s Pascale Robert-Diard reported.

“Labelling this (the lyrics) as libel based on sex, or incitement to violence, hatred and discrimination towards women would be censoring all artistic creation of a generation inspired by a sense of ill-being, disillusionment and a feeling of abandonment and would constitute an attack on freedom of expression,” wrote the appeal court, led by Judge Olivier Leurent.

The court also said it had no power to censor artistic creation that was “the fruit of the imagination of the creator” in the name of a morality that was “necessarily subjective by nature.” It could therefore “not forbid modes of expression, often in the minority, which are the reflection of a living society and which have their place in a democracy.”

“Orelson depicts, undoubtedly as a result of his own torments and mistakes, a disenchanted youth, misunderstood by adults, preyed upon by ill-being, filled with anxiety about an uncertain future, and afflicted by frustrations, and social sentimental and sexual solitude,” the judgment said.

The lyrics of his characters were “the reflection of a generation’s malaise … especially with regards to male-female relations.”

During the trial, Orelsan — whose new film Comment C’est Loin (Oh it’s so far) constantly refers to “whores” and makes jokes like “Women can put up with delivering a baby but they can’t take a joke,” pleaded that he couldn’t be expected to “only produce (artistic) work like Walt Disney.”

“There is such a thing as freedom of (artistic) creation,” he told the court.

The Versailles bench agreed that he had “never during interviews or in front of his audience, supported the violent, provocative or sexist statements made by the characters in his lyrics” and in fact had “distanced himself from these statements, allowing us to understand that they are obviously fictional”.

The judges also noted that lyrics expressing the violent nature of male-female relations were not the sole domain of rap: “Cinema has echoed this in recent years and it would be seriously attacking freedom of creation to outlaw such forms of expression.”

The rapper, who has more than one million likes on his Facebook page and was the recipient of an MTV Europe Music Award in 2009, assured judges the lyrics in question were “ironic” although admittedly sometimes “in extremely bad taste” put in the mouth of a “fictional character” and “a complete loser” who was often the narrator in his songs.

In no instance did it represent his personal view: “It’s not at all what I think. I have never said that publicly,” he said.

In a recent interview, Orelsan, who has been condemned by senior politicians like Segolene Royal for songs like “Dirty Whore” insisted he was not a woman-hater. “Of course I’m a feminist, because it’s a question of common sense when you know that women are not paid the same as men,” he argued. “But there is one issue where I am not in agreement (with feminists): for me from the moment that you make art, you can do what you want. You can make the most misogynistic thing in the world if it’s a work of art.”

Outraged by the ruling, the five feminist groups behind the legal pursuit of the rapper said: “We will fight and never stop fighting against sexist texts.”

In an official statement the associations noted that after six years of trials they had won a 2013 ruling from a Paris Tribunal that Orelsan’s lyrics were explicitly and violently sexist libels based on sex that constituted criminal incitements to hate, violence and discrimination against women. “The Tribunal found our associations to be in the right. The (appeal) court has judged otherwise. Our organizations regret this.

“Our determination remains firm — we will fight to stop violence against women, and make sure that it is sanctioned.”

Follow Emma-Kate Symons on Twitter @eksymons


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