Watching the car-crashing cat fight that was the Macron v Le Pen debate, captured for YouTube by a screaming pair of semi-adolescent semi-literate commentators who have dubbed themselves "Hugo Decrypte" and "Acropolis", I died a number of deaths.
First Death: the Format.
The first in the debate format; a tone-change established by TF1 hosts, clearly unequipped for the brawl that ensued between the two French presidential hopefuls. The moderators whimpered and stuttered their way through pitiful attempts at keeping time and candidates on topic. Accusations were slung back and forth by both Le Pen and Macron as each shouted over the other in attempt to prove themselves the least conventional and well-behaved to a French electorate which has unequivocally voted out its conventional party politicians from left and right parties alike, craving change.
Change they got. Le Pen's relentless attacks on Macron's policies and refusal to expound on her own, Macron's rebuttals of "ne mentez pas" (stop lying), were unseen in the usually tame, polished, énarque (French Oxbridge) types who make up the Socialist, UDF and various and sundry 'republican' mainstream parties.
While TF1's hosts were completely out of their depth in this bizarre, millennial-generation mouth-off, the French internet went into collective orgasm. Hashtags flying, yells of 'Oh!' and 'What zeu feucke?' accompanied my internet viewing, along with a chat room thread on the left of the screen.
Tune into the above stream and weep.
Second Death: Eau de Trump
Le Pen's style was distinctly Trumpian, championing the common folk, mocking her opponent, viscerally attacking Macron's personality, refusing to be brought into the dangerous (and possibly unnecessary to swing an election) area of actually having policies. While the reaction from the French press and the Youtubers was to praise Macron on his substance and thoroughness, this was exactly what ended Clinton in the US debates barely a few months ago. A distinct whiff of Hillary surrounds Macron right now.
His vivacity, knowledge of the topics, ability to quote economic and fiscal policy, matching it with liberal values, his pristine suit, youthful (for French politics) manner and appearance of an exasperated teacher warning a school bully of her impending detention: all this spells danger. Macron is toeing the exact line walked by Clinton by taking a tack of substance over style: coming across excessively mannered and patronising to an electorate clearly hungry for change.
Third Death: Islamism and foreign policy.
Le Pen managed to come up Trumps here. Naming the blatant problem of Islamism and appearing as the candidate who won't tolerate extremism, while Macron danced around the intricacies of foreign policy, intelligence services and civil responsibility.
Macron is, of course, right to pursue this course with regard to Islamism when in office, but it's dangerous turf during the election, with the wounds of Nice, the Bataclan and the recent police killing still fresh and smarting. Again, like the erstwhile star First Lady propelled into the political limelight during her stint as Foreign Secretary under Obama, Macron has a smattering of sudden political experience as a key advisor to Hollande; not enough to make him savvy about communicating with a wide electorate, but just enough to be accused of being part of the system and attacked for past misdemeanours.
Macron switched from his earlier wry sarcasm over fiscal policy to a puffed chest and slow delivery when declaiming that he really, really won't tolerate Islamism. But it rings false, and smacks of the schoolteacher promising to definitely give a detention next time this happens.
Where debate goes to die.
This debate was fodder for the YouTube generation, who visibly lapped up every moment of its hashtagging, OMGimg tomfoolery online. It is widely received in France as heralding the almost certain victory of a man of substance over the angry daughter of a post-Algerian-War-fascist.
But I don't like the tone of it all. The jeering at Le Pen, the confidence in the media, the eye-rolling.
It stinks of a Le Pen victory.