Payphones and Cellphones

Aug 7th, 2009 | By | Category: International

There was a French short film back in the 1970s about a man in a telephone box.  Maybe it was subtitled in English, probably not, there was no dialogue important to the plot.

The man steps into one of the phone boxes that were new at the time – hexagonal, six glass panel walls were held in place by uprights that stretched from a steel floor to a steel ceiling;  the telephone was mounted on the wall opposite the panel that opened as the door.  He makes a telephone call and the horror of the film begins.  As he turns to leave, he finds the door is stuck fast and he cannot get out.  He tries to phone for help, but finds the telephone no longer works.  The man is in despair and is delighted when it appears rescuers have arrived.  However, they do nothing to release him, instead they use a crane to lift the box, with the man still trapped inside, onto the back of a lorry.  The lorry transports the phone box to a warehouse filled with phone boxes and it is unloaded.  The man stares out at the phone boxes all around him, each with a corpse or skeleton inside, and realizes the horrible fate that awaits him.

There are still steel and glass phone boxes on the lower part of the Champs Elysees, set back from the road amongst the trees, they would provide a perfect location to trap an unwary caller.  Passing them, the film came to mind and seemed a possible metaphor for France being trapped in a place from where it was unable to escape.

Riding the RER in from the suburbs, every available wall and surface along the route seemed covered in graffiti, a mark of the government’s failure to take on anti-social elements within its country.

Walking through Louvre was like battling one’s way into Lansdowne Road, except less good humoured.  Hordes of Far Eastern tourists disregarded the ban on flash photography, made clear in pictures as well as words, in order to photograph each other in front of works of art. The art seemed entirely incidental to the prime purpose of taking as many pictures as possible of one’s friends.  Museum attendants sat or stood and watched impassively; maybe they were under instruction not to offend paying customers; they seemed more part of a general reluctance to say anything critical or to speak with any authority.

The queue for the single van allowed to sell sandwiches in the Tuileries was as ill mannered as the crowd inside the Louvre.  The girl who repeated, “Alexei, Alexei” to her boyfriend obviously believed waiting in line was for other people as she pushed in at the front and was served.  “This is ridiculous”, a French woman said aloud in English.  Indeed, but what is more ridiculous is a bureaucracy that allows only one van and compels people to stand in line.

The Champs Elysees becomes a shopping street as it moves towards the Arc de Triomphe.  This end was buzzing with people; enterprise seemed to be thriving, from the restaurant waiters rustling up business from their doorways, to Louis Vuitton and its recession busting big spenders.

In the end, initiative and enterprise are the things that bring change; being trapped is a matter of choice, choice made by oneself, or for oneself.  The phone box has been replaced by the mobile phone. Perhaps the mobile phone is a metaphor for being free; individualistic, chaotic, rule breaking and anarchic, but free.

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  1. Jealous! I seriously want to get thrown out of Chanel! You know, I don’t even think we have phone boxes any more. I haven’t seen one for yonks. I must take more notice. In fact I’m not even sure where there are public phones. There used to be those ‘red’ phones in just about every shop. Mobiles can mean freedom but they’re also a trap once you get into all the gadgetry. My son is addicted to his iPhone . . enjoy Paris and know that a little bit of me hates you for being there when I’m not!

  2. The mobile phone is sometimes like an electronic tag

  3. Hi Baino,

    You can skip over to Paris when you come to Dublin!


    You’re right – but you can go where you like with it

  4. that is not always a good thing. At school we had to write home on Mondays.Oh for the days when one had to write to make plans!

  5. Reading ‘Testament of Youth’ and reflecting on the huge amount of written material Vera Brittain had to draw upon, I wonder if there will be anything on paper from contemporary times

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