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September 10, 1998: The Year in Review

Spice Girls dismissed from French Academy

PARIS — In a move that came as little surprise to the academic community, the French Academy of Letters today terminated the membership of pop phenomenon the Spice Girls.

Admitted to the prestigious Academy in 1994, the Girls had been crown jewels of the French intellectual community. In recent years, however, their increasingly radical views had begun to alienate other members. With their attacks on French culture and thought growing more blatant with every video, it became necessary to remove them to save face.

"We have no regrets," said Posh Spice. "We got in trouble for the same reason we always get in trouble — we were speaking our mind."

Spice was alluding to their recent single "Wannabe" whose lyrics ("If you wannabe my lover, you gotta get with my friends / make it last forever, friendship never ends") were taken by many as a not-so-subtle critique of French foreign policy in Algeria.

"The Academy knew what they were getting when they let us in," said Posh. "The whole conceit of the ‘Spice Girls’ was didactic. Anyone who listened to Prolegomena de Femmes Spice would know that."

Initially conceived as a pop-music broadside against liberalism and its fascistic conceptual hierarchies, the Spice Girls each named themselves for their preferred school of 20th-century thought. But when "Structuralist Spice" and "Anarcho-Syndicalist Spice" got into a brawl with John Rawls and W.V.O. Quine one night outside the Border Cafe, it became necessary to change their identities in order to avoid prosecution.

Beaten but not bowed, the Spice Girls instead waged a guerrilla war against the old school intellectuals, slipping subtle barbs into their lyrics and publishing polemics in Social Text and Critical Inquiry under the pseudonyms Henry Louis Spice and Fredric "Spice" Jameson. It was only recently, when their attacks grew more spirited and less subtle, that the Academy began to take notice.

"We had always been impressed with the girls," recalls Jean-Pierre Debeufe, a member. "They had style, they dressed well, they expounded their views with a minimum of bombast and a maximum of danceable rhythms. They were, in many ways, the ideal intellectuals. But recently their work has pushed past the bounds of acceptable socio-political inquiry into areas we don’t feel that comfortable with. We have to consider the integrity of the academy as a whole."

Debeufe hedged when pressed as to exactly what those "questionable areas of inquiry" were. "I can’t comment directly on their messages because, quite frankly, I’m not sure I understand them. As near as I can tell they seem to be advocating some sort of violently anarchic society based around primitive matriarchal cults. Also, very short skirts."

The Girls’ new album proved to be the last straw for the Academy. Not only had their lyrics grown more radical, they had begun to turn against the very French thinkers who once championed them. In particular, members bristled at "Spice Up Your Life," a thinly veiled polemic against the early work of Roland Barthes:

Colors of the World, spice up your life.
Every boy and every girl, spice up your life.
People of the world, spice up your life,
ah, ah, ah, ah

"I think nationalism entered into it, yes," said fellow songwriter Babyface when queried this morning. "The Academy is notoriously nationalistic. But surely there’s nothing any more radical about Spice World then there was about Puff Daddy or Celine Dion. But those guys are still in. Why’s that? Because they save their attacks for English and German thinkers."

"The Academy has standards and those standards must be upheld," replied Debeufe. "How would the girls feel if, after we let them in, we suddenly took away the dancing requirement? They can’t have it both ways."

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