Friday, 25 June 2010

Sarkozy and the French Napoleonic tradition

I don't know if the Singapore government releases statistics on average heights for Singaporeans. The government probably collects the details and if I troll through the Department of Statistics website carefully enough, I may even find the numbers somewhere. Still, anecdotally speaking, it is safe for me to suggest that at six feet (1.83 meters) tall I am at the taller end of the local height spectrum.
Yes, it's nice to be able to stand tall in a crowd but is standing tall all about height? I don't think so. Maybe if I were 5'5" (1.53 meters) my answer might have been different.
Sarkozy sans the Sarkozy Step

For a President, Sarkozy is a tad touchy about his 5'5"stature. One would have thought being a ruler of so many different cheese and winemakers Sarkozy's self-confidence will be strong enough to absorb height related taunts. And, of course, with Sarkozy's alleged use of 'special' footwear to make himself appear taller is an unimportant detail.
However, I must admit some of the teases are pretty good. Take a French car rental company's advertisement slogan, "Be like Madame Bruni [Sarkozy's 5'10" wife], take a small French model." The ad urges customers to rent a small hatchback car as opposed to larger vehicles.
Then there's the 'Sarkozy Step.'
The step is not a new French ballroom dance but a small footstool used by Sarkozy when making public speeches from behind podiums. I guess it's easier to use a 'Sarkozy Step' than have smaller podiums. More recently, Sarkozy has taken to 'cull' tall people from his public appearances. That is, only short people can stand alongside or near Sarkozy! Who says autocratic traditions died in France with the 1787 French Revolution ousting the absolutist monarchy?
According to Dutch psychologist Professor Abraham Buunk of the University of Groningen, the 'short-man syndrome' is no laughing matter. His research suggests tall men have greater success with the opposite sex. (Despite being a Dutch researcher the good professor seems to have restricted his research to heterosexual couples!)
Most importantly for some, tall men have more eye contact with bar staff and thus are served drinks sooner than shorter men. Although I do notice that height is irrelevant to male bartenders as long as there are women to be served. There is a natural bias towards serving women – a bias which doctoral level university research is not required to authenticate.
French Emperor Napoleon (1769-1821) before the Sphinx as painted by Jean-Leon Gerome

Groningen is not the only academic with theories linking height with behaviour. The psychoanalyst Alfred Adler (1870-1937) talked about the 'Napoleon Complex,' named after the 5'2" French Emperor Napoleon. (Sarkozy follows in a long line of distinguished short French leaders.) The theory postulates that shorter men tend to be angrier and more aggressive than their taller counterparts.
Perhaps that's why the one exceptionally short banking professional I worked with was known to send highly aggressive emails, even for the most innocent of matters. Of course, anecdotal evidence does not help to fill textbooks, only stereotypes.
Then again, if Stalin (5'4") and Napoleon weren't short men maybe the world would have been a better place. To be fair, I must point out that Osama Bin Laden measures 6'4" or 1.93 meters. Or someone wishing to dominate the world, Osama's pretty tall.
Clearly, height doesn't seem to be a meaningful criterion for measuring an individual's impact on history.  

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