I read this essay at The Encyclopedia Show on April 17th at Kieran's Irish Pub. The theme was "La Belle Epoque."
If you’re questioning my knowledge of this subject, let me assure you that you are in capable hands. In high school I wrote and delivered an oral report on Toulouse-Lautrec for which I received a grade of 77. Granted, that was one of my lower marks in high school, but I did get some laughs when I mentioned that he had VD, and isn’t that what really matters? I’ve also seen the 2001 film, Moulin Rouge, and remember that it starred Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. These facts alone qualify me as one of the foremost experts on the Belle Epoque among my friends and acquaintances.
The Belle Epoque began after the Franco-Prussian War, which started and ended for reasons that remain a mystery (to me), although it did feature the first use of balloons in warfare, and we all remember how effective those were. Unfortunately, the resolution of this conflict did nothing to protect us from the Franco-American War on the palates of America’s children.
The Belle Epoque saw the birth of the cabaret, where women would perform scandalous dances like the can-can to the music of Patti Labelle, Elton John and Nirvana. It is believed (by me) that Montmartre was home to a wormhole that allowed producers to steal pop hits of the late 20th Century for use in their revues. This would help to explain their outrageous popularity and startlingly advanced production value.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was an important figure of this time, arguably the most important figure, based on my extensive knowledge of him. He was a dwarf who had VD, because he had sex with a lot of prostitutes. I recently learned that they called him “the Tripod,” because he had a very large penis. I wish I’d known that back in high school. I could’ve gotten some more laughs. It might’ve even bumped me up to an 80.
Toulouse-Lautrec was also a really good painter, but people didn’t notice until he died, and isn’t that always the way? He painted scenes from cabarets with dancing girls and other subjects that the Establishment did not approve of. But I think we all know that the Establishment isn’t always right. Feel the Bern!
According to Wikipedia, the Belle Epoque saw many advances in the sciences, arts, literature and technology. Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize for discovering radioactivity and being a lady. There was an event in France called the Dreyfus Affair in which a Jewish soldier was punished for a crime he did not commit. This raised awareness of anti-Semitism and laid the foundation for a world in which a man with the same name could also become a celebrity, but this time for good reasons.
Many things were invented during this time. One of those inventions was the cinema, which was way better than sitting and reading or talking to people, because other people suck. Am I right? Aviation was also invented, which made it a lot easier to get away from other people. You could even go to places where there weren’t any people, and that must’ve been sweet. Many other things were also invented, but they weren’t nearly as interesting.
Eventually, this whole thing had to end. People couldn’t just keep going to cabarets to see showgirls dance scandalously and then have sex with prostitutes. They knew it was too good to be true. It was also unsustainable. There was no one available to do the dishes and give people a ride when they really fucking needed it. Ethan. They were all too busy having fun and not getting any work done.
The leaders of the time knew that the best way to get people back in line was to have another war. It had been a while since the last one, and all the politicians were getting pretty bored. That is why Gavrilo Princip shot Nicole Kidman, starting World War One. In recent years, historians have argued that Nicole Kidman wasn’t popular enough to trigger a worldwide conflagration, but I think they’ve forgotten what a big box-office draw she really was. Check out IMDB, man. Numbers don’t lie.
So what can be said about the Belle Epoque that hasn’t already been said on Wikipedia, IMDB or in the 2001 major motion picture, Moulin Rouge? Clearly, it was a time of seismic change and innovative breakthroughs in many fields. But what it will be most remembered for is for being a time when a dwarf with a very large penis could have sex with lots of prostitutes and get really famous after he died. In other words, it was an era when dreams really could come true.