What is the etymology of the phrase "Paris is Burning?"
April 25, 2010 11:49 AM   Subscribe

What is the etymology of the phrase "Paris is Burning?"

I'm trying to piece this stuff together: the famous documentary, the WWII connection (Is Paris Burning?), the subsequent film, the ladyhawke song (dancing?), the st. vincent song (WWII). I'd like to know more about the history and use of the phrase. I'll withhold my speculations.
posted by kittensofthenight to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The earliest reference I could find in the news is in this 1871 editorial on the bombardment of the Marxist-ruled Paris Commune by the Prussian forces of Otto von Bismarck:

"But while the Clubs fiddle, Paris is burning, and will soon have no moments to even laugh at good intentions out of place."

As for the question version, the answer is in your link:

The events of those days were later dramatized in the movie Is Paris Burning? - the question Hitler is said to have asked on receiving the news of it's fall.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:21 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: But while the Clubs fiddle, Paris is burning

The phrasing of this, of course, goes back to Suetonius and Lives of the Twelve Caesars.
posted by sbutler at 12:30 PM on April 25, 2010

Response by poster: Ah. neat quote Rhaomi.
I'm wondering if the statement, Paris is Burning, is in anyway related to Hitler's question. What the significance is to the people who made the documentary, and the phrase's history in the queer/drag community. Seeing that much earlier quote about the Paris Commune, I'm wondering if it's been a radical thing to say; something said in solidarity. Paris is Burning while we dance in the light or something.

There's a lot in the doc about re-appropriation of hetero-normative language that's fun think about, and I guess I want to find out if there's exciting historical references I'm not getting or that I am only understanding superficially.

And on preview, neat quote sbutler.
posted by kittensofthenight at 12:43 PM on April 25, 2010

kind of a related story: the drag queen and the mummy...the strange tale of the body found in star of 'Paris is Burning' Dorian Corey's closet after her death...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:49 PM on April 25, 2010

there's also the book
posted by infini at 1:19 PM on April 25, 2010

bad link, too many windows, above is the movie of the book, here's the book itself
posted by infini at 1:21 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: It may also be an adapted quotation of Dum Romae consulitur, Saguntum expugnatur [While Rome is debating, Saguntum is burning], quoted in Tito Livius' Histories XXI, 7, from 219BC. Famously quoted by Palermo's Cardinal Pappalardo at the 1982 funeral of General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, murdered by the Mafia.
posted by aqsakal at 1:47 PM on April 25, 2010

Best answer: Historical note (to correct Rhaomi): Bismarck bombarded Paris towards the end of the shooting part of the Franco-Prussian War, in January 1871 (when the linked article was written). The Commune began in March, was an uprising against the bourgeois republican government that had signed the armistice, and was put down by the French army at the command of that government, with Bismarck's permission. And with great brutality.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 2:59 PM on April 25, 2010

You forgot the old Dokken song.

posted by drstein at 12:36 PM on April 26, 2010

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