Today both France and Greece face important parliamentary elections, the latter of which may even have dramatic consequences on the future of the entire European Union.
You might think that yesterday’s French television evening news would have opened on the stakes of these key moments of democracy, reminding viewers of their potential outcome and impact. Instead all news programmes (TF1, France2, France3, as well as BFMTV, LCI and iTele) opened on the (natural) death of a football reporter. Thierry Roland, who passed away at age 74, had not even been an oustandingly good journalist. His way of commenting the matches of the French national team was characterised by a hardly concealed chauvinism, the regular mobilisation of national stereotypes and the constant use of emotional onomatopoeia and expressions like the ones you hear on a Sunday afternoon all over the country’s playing fields.
In the satiric TV programme ‘Les Guignols de l’info’ Roland’s ‘popular’ talk was a regular laughing stock. But then he had been – during the 57 years of his career, spanning thirteen world cups (!) and nine Euros – the voice of the nation at moments that may not necessarily be listed in the history textbooks but that have become indelibly stamped into the fabric of its collective memory.
Together with Roland, tens of millions of French citizens cried out in anger at the unsanctioned attack of German keeper Harald Schumacher against Patrick Battiston in the 1982 world cup semi-final in Sevilla, shook their heads in disbelief when ‘Les Bleus’ managed against all odds to be kicked out of the 1994 qualifiers, and went to seventh heaven when the French fairy tale of the summer of 98 was crowned with the final win against Brazil.
When I heard the news yesterday, I could not help but remember his words at the final whistle, saying ‘Once you have seen this you can die in peace’. At the moment, I had smiled at this expression of sheer bliss, but I must admit I had not even found it ridiculous, knowing that so many people actually did feel like this that night. Is it shocking to think that to many people in this nation, Roland’s voice is more familiar than, say, Charles de Gaulle’s or François Mitterrand’s? Not if you consider that popular culture’s imprint on collective memory is systematically underestimated by the social sciences and humanities, although cultural practices that touch the emotions of millions necessarily leave a trace. Ask a Frenchman some years from now ‘Do you remember ther 2012 parliamentary elections?’ Chances are he will pause for a short moment, before replying ‘Wasn’t this when Thierry Roland died?’
Image à la une : Michal Czyz sur Unsplash