Until this month, Benjamin Griveaux was a rather lackluster candidate for mayor of Paris, treading water in third place. He’d been the French government spokesman under President Emmanuel Macron and his weak mayoral run seemed faintly emblematic of Macron’s dimming political fortunes. And then, suddenly, came the leaked texts and videos, in which Griveaux tells—and shows!—a woman who’s not his wife just how excited he is to see her.
The repercussions were swift. Griveaux, ashen-faced, withdrew from the race. Jaws dropped across France. Not from the shock that he had apparently cheated on his wife, with whom he has three young children. Or even from the surprise that Griveaux, who is 42, took the risk of filming himself masturbating. But rather because the exchange had been leaked, and had led to something that never happens in France: a politician stepping down because of something in his private life.
It seems weirdly fitting that the story begins with the Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky, who leaked Griveaux’s messages on a self-made website called pornopolique.com. Pavlensky, 35, is best known for nailing his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square, a 2013 action he said should be seen as “a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of contemporary Russian society.” In posting the messages, the artist, who has political-refugee status in France, decried the “hypocrisy” of Griveaux, who had depicted himself as a family man during his campaign. French media have identified the woman with whom Griveaux exchanged the messages in 2018 as Alexandra De Taddeo, a 29-year-old student who subsequently became involved with Pavlensky. (She has confirmed that she was the recipient of the messages, but denies active involvement in publishing them, according to Le Monde. Pavlensky has said that he stole the material from her computer.)