The snack with a sneer
July 6, 2021 2:15 AM   Subscribe

This wasn’t about, say, calling escargot “liberty snails” or a croque monsieur an “Uncle Sam-wich,” although surely someone has thought of that. It was about taking a beloved, ubiquitous staple and putting a nationalist mark on it—not the same culinary colonialism and appropriation of, say, calling chana masala “The Stew” or roti “balloon bread,” or the long-term transition of diners into a symbol of conservative small towns, but an intentional, blatant provocation intended to needle political opponents while saying, “this is ours, actually.”
A history of “Freedom Fries”, the hyperbolic W-era nationalistic rebranding of French fries in the wake of France opposing the Iraq war as a moment in the ongoing American culture war, and a beating of the bounds between the in-group and out-group of “Real America”.
posted by acb (105 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Never forget.
posted by chavenet at 2:45 AM on July 6 [12 favorites]


The winter of 2002-3 was my first experience of living in the US, and let me tell you, it took me years to unpick the specific weirdness of the post-9/11 era from the regular American weirdness.

The “freedom fries” thing was definitely a “what the fuck is this place even” moment.
posted by Kattullus at 2:52 AM on July 6 [51 favorites]


Yeah, you guys are really strange, seen from the outside. I'm generally torn between horrified admiration and screaming "fix your shit, America!"

And I'm from Australia, where weird culture wars go to die.
posted by prismatic7 at 2:58 AM on July 6 [38 favorites]


A tiny bit of perspective for those MeFites in other countries: I'm in blue Chicago, and here's my recollection: I only remember "Freedom Fries" as a news item snippet and a bunch of jokes on late night TV and online. Yes, it was stupid, yes some people—somewhere— got into genuine usage of the term. But it wasn't some phenomena that swept the country. I only ever heard people use the term "freedom fries" ironically as a joke. Deep fried potato strips were always referred to as "french fries"... or more generally "fries."
posted by SoberHighland at 4:36 AM on July 6 [73 favorites]


I remember "Freedom Fries" as being one of the first big moments where assholes begin shamelessly self-identifying as assholes. People have always had loathsome political opinions, but prior to the run up to the Iraq War politics didn't seem to intersect with daily life as much. But ordering "Freedom fries" was such an insidiously simple way of broadcasting one's political affiliation, and by "officially" renaming them (...in the cafeteria) Republicans in Congress made it permissible to get angry and indignant over a silly menu item.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:08 AM on July 6 [58 favorites]


It was just a tiny blip in a sea of outrageously bad politics. But certainly one that affirmed for me what I had long suspected: that adult men who are entrusted with our health and safety can be stupid assholes.
And also what RonButNotStupid said.
posted by mumimor at 5:14 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


From this side of Trump it's quite difficult to see just how bad the W Administration was.

But it was fucking horrible and Trump could never have been a thing without the groundwork it laid for him.

On the upside, Rumsfield is dead now. Personally looking forward to watching the rest of the W era neocon arseholes follow suit.
posted by flabdablet at 5:27 AM on July 6 [70 favorites]


I remember "Freedom Fries" as being one of the first big moments where assholes begin shamelessly self-identifying as assholes. People have always had loathsome political opinions, but prior to the run up to the Iraq War politics didn't seem to intersect with daily life as much.

Just the dumbness of freedom fries felt new. Sadly, people were similarly signaling with yellow ribbons (misappropriated from supporting, eg., health care and pensions for returning/retired military service members) and bumper stickers and flags through both Gulf Wars, and likely long before that as well (but those are the two pre-9/11 wars in my lifetime that I've observed). But there the messaging wasn't quite as directly, purely, and unambiguously "f* you", agreed.

Unfortunately, people's loathsome political opinions definitely intersected with some of our daily lives regularly well before 9/11. Such behavior was perhaps just more narrowly targetted to more historically traditional outcasts in American society: glbtq or gender non-conforming folks, "inner city" residents, Native Americans, religious minorities, women seeking abortions or clinic workers, people living with mental illness, the homeless, "transients", etc.
posted by eviemath at 5:49 AM on July 6 [33 favorites]


I remember this mostly the same way RonButNotStupid does, living in New York at the time, except for going to Paul's Da Burger Joint (one of those places that regularly makes the "Best Burger in NY" lists) when this was flaring up and discovering that our waitress was vociferously on the "Freedom" side of that divide, which made things real awkward.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:50 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, people's loathsome political opinions definitely intersected with some of our daily lives regularly well before 9/11. Such behavior was perhaps just more narrowly targetted to more historically traditional outcasts in American society: glbtq or gender non-conforming folks, "inner city" residents, Native Americans, religious minorities, women seeking abortions or clinic workers, people living with mental illness, the homeless, "transients", etc.

I'm glad you pointed that out eviemath, because I did mistakenly overlook that perspective and I should have been more careful about making generalizations based on my own experiences.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:59 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


See also: Nixonian hippy-punching (responsible for two wars: Vietnam and On Drugs), and anyone an Archie Bunker type ever called a “goddamn commie”.
posted by acb at 6:03 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, people's loathsome political opinions definitely intersected with some of our daily lives regularly well before 9/11. Such behavior was perhaps just more narrowly targetted to more historically traditional outcasts in American society: glbtq or gender non-conforming folks, "inner city" residents, Native Americans, religious minorities, women seeking abortions or clinic workers, people living with mental illness, the homeless, "transients", etc.

as a queer Midwesterner who started paying attention in the early 90s, every time I see someone on the internet say "Republicans have gotten very bad these past few years! They used to live with ethics and compassion but now they are just about owning the libs," I do a very slow rotate to camera with a deadpan stare
posted by taquito sunrise at 7:02 AM on July 6 [55 favorites]


It's all just Captain Black's Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade with a different shade of paint over it. I'm more patriotic than you, I'm going to prove it by being more demonstrative than you, and if you're not leaping in line behind me to be the Second Most Patriotic Person Around there's something wrong with you and you should be shunned.

The thing that makes satire work best is when it's not quite reality... but you can see the possibility for reality to cross that particular line someday.
posted by delfin at 7:08 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


See also: 2004 GOP convention attendees' insistence that nearby restaurants remove Heinz ketchup from their tables in addition to rebranding their fries. Of course cynical party grifters responded by marketing "W" and "Bush Country" branded alternatives. The latter featured an illustration of GWB stomping John Kerry. All of this was, of course, prompted by anti-Semitic and misogynistic bullshit directed at Kerry's wife, Teresa.
posted by carmicha at 7:11 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Ooh, this is where I drop my super niche contribution to the Freedom Fries conversation! Back in 2008, my wife wrote a concert opera using transcripts from the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings about former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. That wholly inadequate description either sounds super dull or super interesting depending on your POV (it's really good!) when we staged it for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, it went kinda viral, peaking with a spot on The Rachel Maddow Show - but there were really fun echoes that followed.

One such echo was when former rep Bob "Freedom Fries" Ney played the entire performance on his conservative radio show. Ney had it in for Alberto Gonzales largely on account of Alberto's relationship with torture (part of what was so interesting about the whole Gonzales thing was seeing Republicans call each other out), but what Ney didn't realize was that the opening number for the cantata, "Freedom Overture", was actually a play on the name of a Baroque musical form called the French Overture.

As Melissa tells it, one of the thrills about writing new music (or making any art) about contemporary issues is the interactions you may end up having with the subjects. That was her first 'big' piece, and when she was putting it together, she had no idea that many of the people subject to the cantata (or even just influential to it) would not only hear it, but actively participate in disseminating it. The Gonzales Cantata sort of went into hibernation during the Obama years, but it saw a recent resurgence of performances in the last couple of years, which has been really cool to see.

Anyway, that's my tangential "Freedom Fries" story. As you might imagine, there aren't many places where I get to drop it.
posted by Leviathant at 7:11 AM on July 6 [73 favorites]


One of the things that "freedom fries" brought home to me was how hard the Iraq war was being sold to the American public. The whole Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson thing was also an indicator of that as well, of course--and had much more serious implications, including that the W administration was willing to throw security assets under the bus--but the rank stupidity and triviality of the gesture showed just how desperate the administration and its minions were that they were doing the equivalent of plundering the couch cushions for loose change.

as a queer Midwesterner who started paying attention in the early 90s, every time I see someone on the internet say "Republicans have gotten very bad these past few years! They used to live with ethics and compassion but now they are just about owning the libs," I do a very slow rotate to camera with a deadpan stare

Right. Rick Perlstein made the evolution of the GOP from Barry Goldwater to Reagan very clear over a series of excellent books, and it's not hard to trace the further evolution through W and Trump, who pardoned Scooter Libby for his role in the Plame affair.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:14 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]


What eviemath said.. In the same way "Smart Bombs" were kind of a new-thing in an old-as-time thing, "Freedom Fries" was the first instance of weaponized dumbness I can recall.. it just seemed uniquely designed to penetrate a type of brain and cause a type of damage that echoes loudly in our times today. War has been around forever, but the details can still give us pause.
posted by elkevelvet at 7:15 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


During World War I, U.S. Government Propaganda Erased German Culture.
posted by clavdivs at 7:23 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


carmicha: Don't forget the people wearing band-aids with purple hearts drawn on in Magic Marker to mock John Kerry's Purple Heart. Meanwhile, Dubya spent his time in the Air National Guard and never even saw combat.
posted by SansPoint at 7:28 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]


I do a very slow rotate to camera with a deadpan stare

As a cis hetero white male Australian I can't really land that move, and had to content myself with clutching my head and moaning "what the FUCK, America, what the FUCK" as I watched that plays-one-on-TV idiot Reagan ooze into office in 1980.

TWO FUCKING TERMS he got, as he and Thatcher between them began the systematic removal of every seat belt and guard rail in the economies of Empire that continues to this day.

Carter was the last American President with anything resembling a moral compass. It's been grifters, con artists and corporate stooges all the way since he got the boot.

I really want to live long enough to see AOC behind that desk.
posted by flabdablet at 7:28 AM on July 6 [31 favorites]


Didn't the frankfurter become the hot dog during WWI?
posted by mermayd at 7:45 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I flew back to the States to help my mom sell the house during that weird winter, and remember going to buy balloons to fly in front of the house on St Patrick's day for an open house. But the store didn't have green balloons: only red, white and blue sold in trios. So I brought them home and told my Francophile mother that it could be our little secret that in spirit anyway they were actually bleau, blanc et rouge.
posted by St. Oops at 7:57 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]




More on one of the coiners of "freedom fries," Representative and then convicted criminal Bob Ney of Ohio.
posted by doctornemo at 8:02 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


A tiny bit of perspective for those MeFites in other countries: I'm in blue Chicago, and here's my recollection: I only remember "Freedom Fries" as a news item snippet and a bunch of jokes on late night TV and online. Yes, it was stupid, yes some people—somewhere— got into genuine usage of the term. But it wasn't some phenomena that swept the country. I only ever heard people use the term "freedom fries" ironically as a joke. Deep fried potato strips were always referred to as "french fries"... or more generally "fries."
posted by SoberHighland at 7:36 AM on July 6


I lived in Congressman Walter B. Jones's district then and I'm not sure I ever saw it on a menu. I guess if I'd made it up to Greenville to Cubbies, I would have seen them. I do remember one super conservative college classmate who yelled at our poli sci TA because she read Le Monde in French, telling her it was "an unpatriotic language." Such a weird time.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:03 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I know that 00s were really dumb (we knew they were really dumb at the time), but I also remember being a young Middle Eastern kid surrounded by Republicans. The out-group stuff was pretty effective. I think I'm probably a little more patriotic than is reasonable or fashionable for my demographic, but -- other than some gleefully obnoxious USA chants at international sporting competitions -- I've never participated in a patriotic display that wasn't fear-driven. I remember how we followed suit with the rest of the neighborhood and dutifully taped the printed-out flag from the local newspaper to a street-facing window, and kept the bedraggled front yard American flag (someone put in them in every yard in the neighborhood) up for months after the 4th of July, until several other people took their flags down first. Weird times.
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:07 AM on July 6 [16 favorites]


yelled at our poli sci TA because she read Le Monde in French, telling her it was "an unpatriotic language."

There's such a fatberg of conservatist conceptual cloggage under an outburst like that.

"Freedom Fries" is another flushable wet wipe in the propaganda sewers.
posted by flabdablet at 8:10 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


During World War I, U.S. Government Propaganda Erased German Culture.

Didn't the frankfurter become the hot dog during WWI?

Three wars back, we called sauerkraut Liberty Cabbage and we called Liberty Cabbage super slaw. And back then a suitcase was known as a Swedish lunch box.


Yes indeed. The US definitely got into anti-Germanism. This played a role in Prohibition's triumph, as it was easier to demonize so many beer makers who were German. Here's a small Michigan town once known as Berlin. (I don't know if there was a drive to rename this Vermont town then.)

Other Entente/Allied countries got into it. Cities and streets got renamed from "Berlin" or other such, like this New South Wales town or this one in Ontario. Russia renamed St. Petersburg "Petrograd" (Peter's city). The Brits changed German shepherd to "Alsatian." Writer Ford Madox Hueffer altered his name to Ford Madox Ford, in part to avoid potentially bad publicity.

More here.
posted by doctornemo at 8:14 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


Yeah this was definitely right in the middle of the time where I was still vulnerable to some version of culture shock... But mostly I remember how it pretty much instantly turned into a joke.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 8:19 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]




The gas station by my western Kentucky apartment still had a little handwritten label taped on the self-serve instant coffee machine to cover up French vanilla latte with “freedom vanilla latte” when I moved away in 2006.
posted by cilantro at 8:23 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


Freedom Fries were one of the things that changed how I felt about Republicans in general. I'm a hunter, so I have some weapons. Mostly because of this I once joined the NRA and called myself a Republican without really thinking about what that meant.

Reagan was charming on camera and hard not to like. But I remember as a young man recognizing how stupid Freedom Fries was. Just completely insane. But people were dead serious about it. It was changed on menus. It made me question a lot of things, and it led me to walk away from most of the R bullshit. I just wasn't willing to be a part of the nonsense. So for me at least this propaganda backfired.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 8:27 AM on July 6 [23 favorites]


I have been more ashamed to be an American, due to words and actions of elected representatives, but never more embarrassed.
posted by thelonius at 8:46 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


I worked in the Detroit area at the time and was a witness to a non-ironic "freedom fries"-ing uttered by a coworker, proof that urbanity (or, at least, solidly middle-class white-collar suburbanity) was not an insulator against right-wing idiocy.

Not that I expected it to be -- Rush Limbaugh's and Ann Coulter's books were reliably stocked and sold at every bookseller, Fox News was ubiquitous in auto shop waiting rooms, and so on. But "freedom fries" still served as the marker distinguishing those who preferred to trust Republican politicians and those who thoroughly believed the right-wing culture war and had internalized it and allowed it to control their speech and behavior.
posted by at by at 8:51 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


Reagan was charming on camera and hard not to like.

One thing I will never understand about Americans is the apparent susceptibility to that particular brand of oily charm. My instant reaction, the first time I saw that fake, ingratiating, aw-shucks salesman's smirk pop up on Australian TV, was visceral revulsion.
posted by flabdablet at 8:53 AM on July 6 [36 favorites]


taped the printed-out flag from the local newspaper to a street-facing window

Wow, I had totally forgotten about the newspaper flags! How many newspapers participated in this nonsense? People with cloth flags in their yards would still tape that cheesy paper flag to a window. The flag faced out, of course. The point wasn't being able to see it yourself, it was to reassure your neighbors that you were properly patriotic. Stuff like this is why right-wingers accuse the rest of us of virtue-signaling--they do it, so we must do it, too.

Oh, and during that time, I worked in a store that sold yellow-ribbon merch and US flags. They all were made in China, of course. The store made a lot of money. The original point of the yellow ribbons was to raise money for vets, wasn't it? People cared far more for the symbol than the cause.
posted by LindsayIrene at 8:54 AM on July 6 [21 favorites]


The original point of the yellow ribbons was to raise money for vets, wasn't it?

Was it?

I had a vague memory that every single one of them was a scam that was just enriching private individuals and that very little (if any) money actually made it to charity.

Because just like always, grifters gotta grift.

There isn't a disaster that a conservative won't look at as way to exploit and profit off of others, especially those who are suffering and experiencing loss.

Only semi-related: Those stickers that said "These colors don't run!" I ran across one of them in about 2010 and all the colors had faded and I couldn't help myself, I vandalized it with a sharpie and wrote "O RLY?" on the flag that was now just barely visible.
posted by deadaluspark at 8:57 AM on July 6 [16 favorites]


My recollection matches SoberHighland's - Freedom Fries was just a joke, here in coastal California. Never heard anyone actually use the term, when ordering in a restaurant.

people were similarly signaling with yellow ribbons (misappropriated from supporting, eg., health care and pensions for returning/retired military service members)

Dunno about misappropriation, the yellow ribbon to welcome people coming home first started (very slowly) with the Tony Orlando/Dawn song from 1973. It reached its peak in 1991. I remember enormous yellow ribbons affixed to LA office buildings, to welcome the troops coming home from Kuwait.
posted by Rash at 9:02 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


It’s ok. In Iraq if you stream the movie American Pie, it’s subtitled as Naked Aggression Pie.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:07 AM on July 6 [14 favorites]


Honestly, whether "Freedom Fries" was taken seriously or not seems like it was regional and based on the politics of the region. I lived in Louisiana from 2000-2005 and moved to Washington state about a month before hurricane Katrina hit. The difference was massive. I went from a sea of Bush-loving idiots who hated brown people and John Kerry so much that they refused to buy Heinz even after the election was over to a part of the country where basically everyone thought all of that was a huge joke.

I seriously doubt anyone took it seriously on the West Coast. But in the South? In the the Midwest? Some parts of the East Coast? It definitely seems like it took hold and was treated "seriously" at least by some people in those areas.
posted by deadaluspark at 9:08 AM on July 6 [16 favorites]


I was so outraged by the reelection of Bush in 2004, given all that had happened up to that point (from the 2000 election slipperiness to 'swiftboating' Kerry's campaign), that I went out, straightaway, and joined the first web community I could find where I felt the proper conversation was being had about the appalling state of politics.
posted by eclectist at 9:08 AM on July 6 [8 favorites]


In other rebranding news: French imports made in Champagne must now be labeled as "sparkling wine" in Russia.

This comment somehow led my brain to riff on this tweet: "It's only Freedom fries if it's in the Freedom province of France. Otherwise it's just sparkling fries."
posted by solotoro at 9:13 AM on July 6 [11 favorites]


Here in the Midwest, what was once "French Vanilla Ice Cream" became "New York Vanilla Ice Cream" and remains that way today in grocery stores.
posted by jferg at 9:18 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I was thinking specifically of the car magnet ribbons, which also came in camo print. I think someone was at one point selling them as a fundraiser and then when the magnets became trendy, they were mass-produced and the profit went to people like my boss, who was pro-war (and married to a retired colonel) but against actually giving money to help vets or military families. But that was a long time ago and my memories may be a little fuzzy.

Another thing I remember from that time was how quickly the messaging got out that anyone against the war was "against the troops" or "not supporting the troops". Soon, any time someone had ever the tiniest criticism of what was happening, they would try to avoid being attacked by prefacing it with, "I support the troops." It was very important to let people know you were supporting the troops in some nebulous, spiritual way. It was unacceptable to support them by wanting to bring them all home.
posted by LindsayIrene at 9:22 AM on July 6 [18 favorites]


My instant reaction, the first time I saw that fake, ingratiating, aw-shucks salesman's smirk pop up on Australian TV, was visceral revulsion.

flabdablet, you might enjoy a scene towards the end of American Psycho, where a bunch of yuppie scum critically react to Reagan's public lying about Iran-Contra.
posted by doctornemo at 9:28 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


During that time, I went to a fancy restaurant in Texas where they refused to sell French wine. The wine menu had a large overhead color photo of hundreds of American graves in a WW2 French cemetery as explanation.
posted by Omon Ra at 9:29 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


The gas station by my western Kentucky apartment still had a little handwritten label taped on the self-serve instant coffee machine to cover up French vanilla latte with “freedom vanilla latte” when I moved away in 2006.

Something that just occurred to me is that this whole thing really just makes "freedom" a synonym for "French", doesn't it? La Liberté!

Also, you saw a lot more of those "support the troops" stickers/magnets back in the day than you see "support the veterans" or the insignia of veterans' organizations today.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:31 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


They'll rail against the evils of communist regimes then enjoy language, history, and culture revisionism
posted by Slackermagee at 9:34 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


It's hard to wrap my brain around this kind of pettiness.

I mean, American liberals (broadly defined) participate in plenty of cheap shots and name-calling.

But it's hard to imagine anyone other than a Republican thinking:

"The current government of a foreign nation doesn't support my party's foreign policy agenda – so I'm going to express my displeasure by performatively rejecting everything connected to that nation's culture and people."

(Leaving aside that the "foreign policy agenda", in this case, was a naked war of aggression.)

I mean, who does that? Liberals might be opposed to particular policies of the Israeli and Russian governments – but it's hard to imagine liberals taking it out on Israeli salad or Russian dressing.

Perhaps it makes more sense if you're coming from a nationalist mindset? In which a country's people are equivalent with its state?

Even that probably gives them too much intellectual credit. It's just dumb, reflexive tribalism. They already think that every other nation is inferior to the US; this just gives them an excuse to wallow in that idea.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:35 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


My wife tells a story from around this time. She was a waitress here in Montreal at the time and approached a table to take their order and was immediately told to, "speak white."

Now, my wife is white but, y'know, french Canadian. She was told to, "speak white," because she had the nerve not to somehow know telepathically that they were from the US and addressed them in french. In Montreal. How offensive *insert eye roll here*

Anyway, they proceeded to order "Freedom Fries" which, needless to say, weren't on the menu. I wasn't there—it was well over a decade before we met—but I can totally imagine her saying, "okay so three orders of french fries, anything else?" with just that slightest emphasis on the hated F-word. Apparently one of the guys got particularly irritated insisting, "they're called Freedom Fries!"

"Not here they're not. Anything else?"

"They're called Freedom Fries and you're going to call them Freedom Fries!"

"No, I'm not. Anything else?"

"I'm going to get you fired you dumb *****!"

"Okay, sure."

Anyway, you can imagine how the rest of the evening must have gone and what wonderful tippers those fine gentlemen turned out to be. (I have just been told that they wrote insults and "Freedom Fries B***" on the bill. Classy.)

I'm sure they all learned a valuable lesson and returned home, deep in self-reflection and determined be better people and make the world a better place. Yep. Totally sure that's what happened. Not a shred of doubt in my mind...

I will point out that neither of us actually think this behaviour is representative of all USians most of y'all, at least the ones we've met, are absolutely lovely people. But when that mind rot sets in it goes deep. And it's not as if our own brand of entitled asshole is any better. So yeah. Freedom fries.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 9:36 AM on July 6 [42 favorites]


My only other recollection of this period is the 1995 Simpsons Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys joke becoming, in some parts of the web, the official four word summary of France.

In its original context I used to really enjoy this joke, but very quickly there were too many people who thought it was accurate, truthful and all you needed to know about France.
posted by YoungStencil at 9:52 AM on July 6 [13 favorites]


Freedom fries was a phenomenon I mostly read about on Metafilter, not something I saw on the street here in California.
posted by ryanrs at 10:08 AM on July 6


As an Ohioan I just want to say "freedom fries" was totally a thing that the "til they all come home" ribbon-shaped truck magnet demographic absolutely took seriously

There were other "French is now freedom" things around here too but I can't remember what products they were.
posted by SystematicAbuse at 10:10 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


My instant reaction, the first time I saw that fake, ingratiating, aw-shucks salesman's smirk pop up on Australian TV, was visceral revulsion.

OTOH, in Australia (outside the lefty filter bubble, at least), prosperity-gospel grifter Scott “how good is coal?” Morrison is by some accounts the most popular PM since Bob Hawke in the 80s. Maybe it's Reagan's American accent that wouldn't wash in Australia or something?
posted by acb at 10:16 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]


France saved our ass in the Revolutionary War and the US probably wouldn't exist without their help.

France started covertly sending gunpowder and weapons to the Patriots almost immediately and let American ships shelter in French harbors. After the Patriots defeated the British at Saratoga (led by then-war hero Benedict Arnold), France signed an alliance with the United States and moved to open conflict with Britain. The conflict was global, drawing resources away from North America.

France was the first country to formally recognize the United States as a sovereign nation. France "provided supplies, arms and ammunition, uniforms, and, most importantly, troops and naval support to the beleaguered Continental Army."

In September 1781 the French fleet defeated the British fleet in the Battle of the Chesapeake, which trapped Cornwallis at Yorktown. Washington's army at Yorktown was made up of 7,800 Frenchmen, 3,100 militia, and 8,000 Continentals.

When American troops arrived in France in 1917, Colonel Charles E. Stanton acknowledged our debt to France in a ceremony at the grave of the Marquis de Lafayette.
I regret I cannot speak to the good people of France in the beautiful language of their own fair country.

The fact cannot be forgotten that your nation was our friend when America was struggling for existence, when a handful of brave and patriotic people were determined to uphold the rights their Creator gave them – that France in the person of Lafayette came to our aid in words and deed. It would be ingratitude not to remember this, and America defaults no obligations.
...
Therefore, it is with loving pride that we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great Republic, and here and now, in the shadow of the illustrious dead, we pledge our heart and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue.

Lafayette, we are here!
posted by kirkaracha at 10:19 AM on July 6 [37 favorites]


When "Freedom Fries" was happening in the zeitgeist I had a job doing kitchen prep and delivery for a restaurant. One of the line cooks (a surly french-canadian that practiced akido and listened exclusively to black metal) thought this was the dumbest thing he had ever encountered in foodservice. Anytime he had to call out an order with fries on it he would insert "freedom" along with marching band noises or some other parody of jingoism. He would often shout about including extra "salvation sauce."

I have no desire to go back to working in a kitchen but they sure are a weird place to work, and I kind of miss that energy.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 10:27 AM on July 6 [18 favorites]


It's funny to me, seeing everyone saying that they don't remember that happening in California. I definitely do. At the time I went to school on the Central Coast and visited home in Orange County on the regular. While the In-N-Out still said French Fries, I distinctly remember them changing it at Knott's Berry Farm and I remember it just being de rigueur in a lot of the conservative enclaves in the Central Coast and in OC. It was also the first time I remembered arguing with my parents about how this was super dumb and them saying it didn't matter how dumb it was as long as it made other people mad. Glad we diverged politically.
posted by sleeping bear at 10:29 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


France saved our ass in the Revolutionary War and the US probably wouldn't exist without their help.

Which is presumably why they're called “French fries” and not “chips” as in England.
posted by acb at 10:42 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


Back in the cursed day, I was on a travel story assignment to the Florida Gulf Coast. I sat down at a restaurant in Seaside I had heard good things about, opened the menu, and lo and behold, there it was. "Freedom Fries!" With an exclamation point! I closed the menu, said "Let's go" to my photographer, and walked out. As we were leaving, we passed the manager, who knew I was a travel writer. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"Freedom Fries," I said.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:48 AM on July 6 [35 favorites]


it didn't matter how dumb it was as long as it made other people mad

The next twenty years in a nutshell.
posted by automatronic at 10:54 AM on July 6 [52 favorites]




Sometimes I think it's actually a deep jealousy of the French people and their willingness to absolutely fuck shit up if their politicians are screwing with them.

Because despite their numerous proclamations otherwise, American conservatives are some of the most fearful, wimpy, cowed and easily conned people in the country.

Like with all things projection, in this case, are they simply projecting their own impotent cowardice onto a nation of people who actually stand up for their rights with semi-regularity?

Plus the just general visceral hate of protestors of any form in general on the right. Except January 6th. Those were tourists/antifa/FBI false flag.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:15 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


I live in a relatively sane section of the south, and was utterly shocked to find vast responses to any sort of polite query about "I don't understand why we're rushing into fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, what our plans are besides bombing the f*** out of everything foreign, or how we're going to achieve victory in these battles" was "Well then you're literally worse than the terrorists who killed thousands of Americans, and should leave the country as soon as possible for your own good." Patriotism does not mean the same thing to certain people as it does to the rest of the world.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was concealing an actual War as just weird cultural hanging ups.
posted by Jacen at 11:15 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]


I noticed that some Southerners thought that questioning the war was beyond the pale, since they had family members or friends deployed in it. So, at least we beat the "Vietnam Syndrome", I guess.
posted by thelonius at 11:20 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Just looked up the etymology of "French fries" and discovered that they were apparently a Belgian dish, originally. So...why don't we all just start calling them Belgian fries and leave politics out of it?
posted by davidmsc at 11:38 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


from the article - Tall talk might in fact explain why French fries did not simply evolve into American fries:

i find that a fascinating symptom of how little people know about the rural midwest - they couldn't change the name to american fries because those were already on the menu - these are sliced in circles, somewhat thickly - they're also called home fries by some

i do know one thing - with all the flag-waving, bible-pounding, freedom fries eating behavior they've done, it's amazing that republicans have the guts to complain about virtue-signalling - it's just about the only thing some of these people do well
posted by pyramid termite at 11:39 AM on July 6 [10 favorites]


When we first started the whole thing in Iraq, I remember posting to my fannish livejournal at the time about how against it I was. Most of my corner of fandom was pinko liberals like me and a lot of former hippies and the like, as well as many marginalized groups, so it was shocking to me when I was bombarded with people telling me that it was something we had to do. They accused me of not supporting the troops, of course, and no amount of pointing out that you can support the individuals who fight on the ground without supporting the people (and policies) that make them do the fighting got me anywhere. It was incredibly depressing to see the way sensible people I'd felt safe with reacted.

Freedom fries, a thing that I never saw in my mostly liberal city and whose existence I only knew about because I worked for a big online magazine when it started, somehow broke the weird spell that had been cast over my friend groups. It was like the sheer stupidity of it, the utter unthinking inanity of it, made them shake off their repulsive patriotism fever. Not that any of them ever mentioned attacking me, but it was a relief not to have to be surrounded by that ugly flag-waving rhetoric for the rest of my time there.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:41 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]


It's interesting to note that the same folks who coined the term "freedom fries" went on to later coin the term "cancel culture" without the slightest bit of irony or self-awareness. (Not to mention, of course, "cancel"ing a whole bunch of other people besides the French along the way, from the Dixie Chicks to Colin Kaepernick.)

White supremacist patriarchy is the only ideological constant to right wing politics in the USA. Everything else - such as their avowed passion for "free speech" or even for gun rights - is pure opportunism and they will do a 180 whenever convenient.
posted by splitpeasoup at 12:00 PM on July 6 [33 favorites]


from article:
"...both Republicans, to use their power to change the menu of the House cafeteria so that, effective March 11, 2003, “French fries” were renamed “freedom fries” and “French toast” became “freedom toast.” Ney and Jones, in an official statement, said that “The action today is a small, but symbolic, effort to show the strong displeasure many on Capitol Hill have with our so-called ally, France.”

doctornemo mentioned Ney upthread. (I thought of that end scene too from flabdablets comment.) And there's the Crux, the White House cafeteria where Radical ideas go to boil.


It's hard to wrap my brain around this kind of pettiness
.
A military culture is. Petty this was not. It was a uphanded dirty trick to let the French know who's cafeteria is bigger and that's something, given the great history of French cuisine even though fries aren't really french, no matter message sent. There was a mefi thread on or discussing this I think I said VIVE LA FRANCE.
it's upfront low yield diplomatic hooey. Did the military adopt this, you bet. I've been reading that it seeped into restaurants, how patriotic good Lord.

it was low brow little piece of tumbleweed politics. I personally think it stemmed from the emnity between the intelligence community and the German and French foreigh Ministers. It was a Woolsey comment I think and the German and French did not look happy.
posted by clavdivs at 12:43 PM on July 6


You know having grown up in NZ during the late 70's / 80's /90's there were plenty of reasons to dislike the French (Government at least) They committed an act of international terrorism and murder in a NZ harbor, and for over 30 years they blew up several shit tons of nuclear weapons in the South Pacific which they are still being dicks about even now.

However, I don't recall us ever doing Freedom Fries though. But of course that's because we call them chips - like god intended them to be. Or maybe fries if they are skinny. We did (apparently - can't recall this) start referring for some time to French Baguettes as Kiwi Sticks after the Rainbow Warrior bombing.....which....I mean...I can't tell if that's the laziest rebranding ever or genius.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 12:44 PM on July 6 [6 favorites]


Given that the Chinese gooseberry was rebranded as the kiwifruit for ideological reasons at the height of the Cold War, New Zealand would arguably have some form there.
posted by acb at 1:00 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


This played a role in Prohibition's triumph, as it was easier to demonize so many beer makers who were German. Here's a small Michigan town once known as Berlin

wooh, Marne. That seems like payback renaming. For years I have searched and inquired about Frankenmuth 1932 to 1945. Even had a connection in the museum. There is like a memory wipe. Little exists. Though primarily Bavarian- " German Lutheran community. The colonists pledged to remain loyal to Germany, specifically the Kingdom of Bavaria (German: Königreich Bayern), and to be faithful to the German language. Germans continued arriving until the start of the Second World War."
posted by clavdivs at 1:06 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


New Zealand would arguably have some form there.

Yeah we do - like we just went ahead and rebranded something which isn't a yam a yam........Though how we haven't rebranded Feijoa's yet I don't know - seems like a miss. Also this is going to turn into an Askme if not careful - but why can't I get Oca (NZ yam) or Feijoa's basically anywhere in US supermarkets. I've seen Feijoa in Wholefoods maybe once...for like a week several years ago and never seen Oca. Which is a travesty.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 1:18 PM on July 6


I lived in California during the Iraq war, and not one of the red parts, so "freedom fries" was just a joke on the news/internet to me. But then in the late 2000s (!), on a road trip in Michigan, I finally encountered the earnest version on a diner menu, in this astonishing formulation:

CROCK OF FREEDOM ONION SOUP ............... $4.50
posted by aws17576 at 1:31 PM on July 6 [14 favorites]


Are you people talking about chips?
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:32 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]


All I can think of is that all of the people who fell all over themselves to flaunt the Freedom-Fries bit and put flags up in their windows and put yellow-ribbon magnets on their cars and suchlike are probably the same people who, if asked about the Zadroga bill, or about the Muslim community center proposed for construction near the former Twin Towers site, or basically about any god-damn thing New Yorkers had to say about how we wanted to handle the recovery in our own god-damn city, would have been indifferent at best, mocking at worst.

I have known for the past 20 years that most of what passes for "patriotism" in this country is performative alone, and that easily half of my fellow citizens are hypocrites of the worst order. I have been in conversations with people who go from tearful platitudes about "supporting our troops" and "remembering our brave first responders" to sneering dismissals that New York is "a cesspool" within one sentence to the next.

Much of the country has turned their backs on me, so I'm more than happy to turn my backs on them. After 20 years I've had enough.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:52 PM on July 6 [17 favorites]


Tall talk might in fact explain why French fries did not simply evolve into American fries

I think the alliteration had more to do with it.

It's interesting to note that the same folks who coined the term "freedom fries" went on to later coin the term "cancel culture"

Yep, it's the alliteration. So catchy!
posted by kirkaracha at 1:53 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


This is the importance of reading, studying, & writing history. I had no idea anyone took freedom fries as anything other than a very bad joke on Leno and a slightly funnier version later that night from Conan. Another day another horrifying new low in the depths we can sink to to contemplate.
posted by bleep at 2:01 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


CROCK OF FREEDOM ONION SOUP ............... $4.50

I have Sharpie pens on my person far too often and I would have been VERY tempted to cross out "freedom onion" and replace it with "shit."
posted by deadaluspark at 2:08 PM on July 6


I don't think the French were horrified by this. As Malraux said: L'amitié, dit-il, ce n'est pas d'être avec ses amis quand ils ont raison, c'est être avec eux même quand ils ont tord.

He also wrote:
"Be careful with quotations, you can damn anything."
posted by clavdivs at 2:21 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I don't think the French were horrified by this

Oh! I only now realize that we haven't discussed the French reaction at all. The French only gave a shit in the sense that it confirmed their initial presumption that Americans were idiots and that the invasion of Iraq was idiotic. It's that simple.
posted by mumimor at 2:32 PM on July 6 [26 favorites]


Morrison is by some accounts the most popular PM since Bob Hawke in the 80s

Grifters both.

Hawke at least would occasionally show flashes of some decency. Morrison has none, and my visceral loathing of him on first awareness was also immediate and overwhelming.

Watching that infected prick re-brand himself from the instinctively ruthless head-kicking Coalition fixer on display during his time as Immigration Minister to the Cuddly Suburban Daggy Dad, ably aided and abetted by a spineless Australian mainstream media falling over itself to get behind this "reinvention" in the runup to his candidacy for PM, was intensely nauseating. And it's been no surprise at all to see him revealed, having achieved that office, as exactly the incompetent fawning spineless useless toady upwards and petty, spiteful bully downwards that could only be expected from a vacuous middle-management shithead with his degree of devious hypocrisy.

But of course you're right. It's not Americans I don't understand; that was unfair. It's the chronic marks that keep getting taken in by what have always seemed to me to be these utterly transparent scammers. Perhaps we could all use better sunglasses.
posted by flabdablet at 2:44 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]


How many newspapers participated in this nonsense?

The Washington Post 100% did, in case anyone thinks that this was exclusively small-town performative patriotism cheese.
posted by naoko at 3:01 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


The French only gave a shit in the sense that it confirmed their initial presumption

Oh my yes La Monde must had a field day.

In response to the change, French Embassy spokeswoman Nathalie Loiseau commented "It's exactly a non-issue .. We focus on the serious issues", and noted that fries originated in Belgium. She then remarked that France's position on the change was that they were "in a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name [Americans] give to potatoes". After the name reversal, an Embassy spokeswoman said: "our relations are definitely much more important than potatoes ... and our relations are back on track".

Menu change.
posted by clavdivs at 3:15 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


France saved our ass in the Revolutionary War and the US probably wouldn't exist without their help.

Open question for another time, though worth pointing out that they were fighting against Britain more than for the colonies. We've had our difference with France since then, even in living memory of the revolution.

For our foreign readers wondering about context, you should be aware that much of the gung ho annoyance in America stemmed from the sentiment, stronger I think in years past than now, that "We Saved Your Butts in Two World Wars", which made France's choice to sit this one out seem to many as rank ingratitude.

They did join the fight in Afghanistan, pulling down in 2012. Didn't make big noise in this country.

(My French brother-in-law, living here at the time, found the whole thing risible.)

(Bonus Fun Fact- Some argue that Morocco was the first nation to recognize the US.)
posted by BWA at 3:23 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


In other rebranding news: French imports made in Champagne must now be labeled as "sparkling wine" in Russia.

I can easily imagine the French thinking "Call anything you want 'Shampanskoye', but if you label it 'Champagne' we're going to have problems."

One thing I will never understand about Americans is the apparent susceptibility to that particular brand of oily charm. My instant reaction, the first time I saw that fake, ingratiating, aw-shucks salesman's smirk pop up on Australian TV, was visceral revulsion.

A reminder, for those who find it interesting, of Oliver Sacks's experience seeing aphantasic patients laughing at one of Reagan's speeches.
posted by Lexica at 3:41 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Open question for another time, though worth pointing out that they were fighting against Britain more than for the colonies.

Sure, but the effect of their support and the outcome are the same regardless of their motivations.

We've had our difference with France since then, even in living memory of the revolution.

Ah the Quasi-War, mainly caused by the US violating treaties with France because their government was a different government after the French Revolution. I don't know enough about international law to know if treaties are with governments or with countries, but it seems pretty ungrateful.
Despite popular enthusiasm for the French Revolution, there was little support for this in Congress; neutrality allowed Northern shipowners to earn huge profits evading the British blockade, and Southern plantation-owners feared the example set by France's abolition of slavery in 1794.
It just so happens that the ~100 people killed in the "war" were is only quasi-dead. There's a big difference between quasi-dead and all dead.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:14 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I think the obvious etymology for French Fries is that someone saw pomme frites, thought "but we hate the Poms", and so called them French Fries to stick it to the British. The only problem is no-one in the US knows about the Poms.
posted by pulposus at 4:25 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Sure, but the effect of their support and the outcome are the same regardless of their motivations.

It is off topic IMO.
It is diplomatic foolishness to expect a country with no Navy to attack another country at which it was no longer at war with.
posted by clavdivs at 5:41 PM on July 6


To this day my Mother-In-Law refuses to shop at Target because she believes it’s a French company.

We’ve tried explaining to her that people say “Tar-jay” ironically, since it’s like the fancier version of Wal-Mart. We’ve encouraged her to Google.

Nope, as far as she’s concerned it’s a French company and she ain’t shopping there.
posted by Ostara at 7:32 PM on July 6 [9 favorites]


France saved our ass in the Revolutionary War and the US probably wouldn't exist without their help.

This is why I like to remind the "freedom fries" people that without France in the Revolutionary War, they'd all be speaking English.

(It usually just gets me a confused look)
posted by mrgoat at 8:15 PM on July 6 [9 favorites]


Just looked up the etymology of "French fries" and discovered that they were apparently a Belgian dish, originally. So...why don't we all just start calling them Belgian fries and leave politics out of it?

I'm french, you can call them freedom fries all you want, we don't care, but french fries are french, they were invented in Paris around 1780, even the belgians are saying so (in french). The thing is people were frying potatoes all around the city so it stank the place up. The authority forced them to get a permits to cook in the street and gradually the fries vendors went away while they thrived in Belgium.
Today the best french fries in the world are found in Belgium, no question about it, but we invented it.
posted by SageLeVoid at 12:55 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]


The official reaction from France at the time may have been appropriately low-key and disdainful, but I am here to tell you that an extremely non-zero number of French people remember this episode and are STILL salty (no pun intended). Any schadenfreude they derived from "the Americans" once again proving their utter obtuseness is outweighed by their extreme sensitivity to mockery or criticism from a people they regard simultaneously as irredeemable cretins and one of their main rivals. It's almost cute: '"French" fries' understandably annoys certain folks (because regarded as Belgian), but any mention of 'freedom fries' will send some of them through the roof (because how dare u, u American pigdog).

Either way, the abiding love over here of fried potato in all its forms continues to surprise and delight me.
posted by peakes at 2:47 AM on July 7


Ah the Quasi-War, mainly caused by the US violating treaties with France because their government was a
different government after the French Revolution.


One of my favourite bits from Hamilton:

We signed a treaty with a King whose head is now in a basket
Would you like to take it out and ask it?
“Should we honor our treaty, King Louis’ head?”
“Uh… do whatever you want, I’m super dead.”


As opposed to, of course, only quasi-dead.
posted by automatronic at 3:26 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, in the Netherlands a war rages on friet vs patat..
posted by mirthe at 5:52 AM on July 7


This was definitely the first major step towards making the Republican party the party of selfish assholes. The second was nominating Palin as VP.

Both moves were clearly stupid and pointless and their supporters were mainly proving group loyalty rather than taking a principled stand.
posted by bshort at 6:41 AM on July 7


For all its claims to modernity, and a form of constitutional republicanism derived from the Enlightenment, American culture is still underpinned by deep strata of charlatanism, religious mania, xenophobia, and genocidal hatred.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:59 AM on July 7 [7 favorites]


all the "first times" and turning points, etc

I'd be interested to know: of those who think anything post 2001-09-11 marked "the turning point" of the Republican Party toward proud, overt, festering assholism, how many already had a political consciousness during the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and HW Bush administrations? Because I simply cannot favorite mrgrimm's last comment hard enough.

My own political consciousness began forming while Nixon was President, so it first became apparent to me what government by complete, irredeemable asshole looked like during the carpet bombing of Cambodia. I have been alarmed and dismayed, but not really surprised, by what Republican leaders have said and done since.

There is no depth below which that party couldn't sink in my estimation, and anybody who supports it has to work pretty fucking hard to convince me they're a fundamentally decent human being. In my experience, most fail.
posted by flabdablet at 10:13 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


I'd be interested to know: of those who think anything post 2001-09-11 marked "the turning point" of the Republican Party toward proud, overt, festering assholism

It's like music. Whatever blatant overt action (etc. etc.) by the Republican party happened during your teenage to early 20's years, *that's* the turning point that the rest of their history after that can be ascribed to. (timing may vary by political awakening)

Which is to say, there's never been a "good time". It's been an ongoing process since Goldwater at the least, and I'm pretty sure solid arguments before then.
posted by CrystalDave at 10:39 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]


Mod note: One comment deleted. Ableist/intelligence-based insults are not OK.
posted by loup (staff) at 11:12 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


although - the whole anti-smart thing feels a little more recent to me. like literally working to understand the world we live in, and the environments we operate in, is now something bad.
i don't really remember that prior to W, and it feels like it really turned a corner with what's-his-name.
posted by rude.boy at 12:52 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


i don't really remember that prior to W

Conservatism and magical thinking go hand in hand. The Reagans took advice from an astrologer.
posted by flabdablet at 1:44 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


"Well, Ronnie, it doesn't look like our astrologer had much good news."

"I've got it all figured out, Mommy. We'll just not go out at night so the stars won't be able to get us."
posted by pyramid termite at 2:05 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


The reason conservatism goes hand in hand with magical thinking, by the way, is that all of it is just variations on the divine right of kings, aka the Original Grift.

American conservatism is particularly magical; it has to be, because there's no other way to reconcile the marketing ("home of the brave, land of the free") with the actual behaviour, which is uniformly both cowardly and authoritarian.
posted by flabdablet at 2:18 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]


In contrast, conceptions of rights developed during the Age of Enlightenment often emphasized liberty and equality as among the most important aspects of rights, for example in the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

"good time". It's been an ongoing process since Goldwater at the least, and I'm pretty sure solid arguments before then

I'd say Coolidge but no, Ford was a decent person, a good transition but let in place the Bush machine.
posted by clavdivs at 9:31 PM on July 7


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