In case you haven’t heard, Bradley Cooper has been all over the internet lately speaking his passable, if slightly rusty, French on a Gallic news show promoting The Hangover II (or, as it’s called over here, Very Bad Trip II–they’re not so good with our drug metaphors). He’s revealed himself as some sort of sexual demigod, capable of being modest, funny, charming and face-meltingly handsome at the same time, all while speaking French while we had our backs turned. You could practically feel the internet become a little… humid… as women (and gay men) passed the video fervently amongst each other, sharing the glory.
And while I fully support his love for the language and his ability to retain it after what must have been an extended hiatus, I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed about how our country is reacting to the whole thing. News outlets from all over have reported on the mini-phenomenon, and the journalists can barely contain their own girlish glee over his linguistic abilities. Aside from the fact that it’s clearly more about his abs than his French ability (Jodie Foster actually speaks perfect French, yet no one has ever cared), it seems a bit ridiculous to be gushing over someone’s AP French abilities when Hollywood is overflowing with foreign people who write, act, and give charming interviews in flawless English.
If you want to narrow it down to simply being a handsome man and mastering another language, I don’t see videos of Javier Bardem, Vincent Cassel, Antonio Banderas, or Christophe Waltz speaking English getting millions of hits. And many of the ESOL heavyweights in Hollywood perform in three or more languages. Take Vincent Cassel’s longtime partner, Monica Belluci. She acts in fluent French, English, and Italian, yet no one bats an eyelash. Diane Kruger’s flawless French and English on top of her native German are just to be expected. It’s almost as though the concept of linguistics doesn’t register with us the same way when it’s an American. An American speaking a second language fluently is like watching a monkey brush his teeth–you know he’s physically capable of doing it, it just seems so out of place–yet any other nationality is all but expected to be multilingual without a second thought.
It’s troublesome that our reaction to Bradley’s French is the national equivalent of throwing our panties on the stage, and not an unintentionally celebrity-endorsed call to amp up our foreign language education in this country. If one of the most popular movie stars of the moment can rattle off his credentials on a French talk show like it’s no big deal, shouldn’t disillusioned teenagers want to do it, too?
The Muzzy tapes clearly didn’t work, and many of our schools’ foreign language teachers are only slightly above high-school level in the language themselves, so we’re going to need a kick in the pants towards multilingualism. If the myriad of foreign movie stars who come to our country and pepper our language with delightful accents aren’t enough, perhaps we could use Bradley’s surprise talent as the motivation we need to learn something beyond “voulez-vous coucher avec moi?”.