Eye-opener

This past weekend in Paris was an eye-opener.

When foreigners think of Paris, we of course imagine the Eiffel Tour, the Triumphal Arc and the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre.

But beyond the museums and tourist attractions, we also think of Paris as being a center of intellectual liberalism. The home of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. The city of American expatriates like Hemmingway and Langston Hughes. The sight of the sexual revolution protests in 1968 that witnessed a seemingly out-of-touch Charles de Gaulle resign from office.

On Sunday, Paris was the sight of a very different sort of protest from those of ‘68. Rather than students descending on the streets of Paris to protest for reproductive rights, thousands of bourgeois Parisians swarmed such iconic sights of past protests as the Bastille all in the name of opposing France’s new gay marriage law.

My boyfriend and I unwittingly picked a horrible time to visit the city. A friend of ours was on a whirlwind, 8-day tour of Europe and happened to be stopping through Paris the same weekend as the protest – something we only realized once we arrived and saw hundreds of posters across the city inviting “Tous à Paris” (Everyone to Paris) on May 26.

On the day of the protest, we did our best to avoid the crowds of homophobic, Right-wing protestors but it was inevitable that we came across more than our fair share. When we woke up on Sunday morning, several dozen had gathered at the Gare de Lyon near our hotel and our friend’s hostel.

My boyfriend made the observation that all of the protestors exuded an image of wealth and class.

And it’s true. While it’s true that there was nothing classy about their hoodies adorned with stick-figure heteronormative families, they all seemed like they hailed from the same white, bourgeois neighborhoods. While some protestors made their way towards La Place de la Bastille, a number of others sat down to expensive sidewalk cafés for Sunday lunch.

A nice Bordeaux, perhaps, to go with your protest, Monsieur?

We spent the afternoon in Montmartre away from the protestors. There were still signs pasted on notice boards and street lamps, of course, but we could happily forget that the city streets below were swollen with well-to-do Catholics, many of whom decided this would be an appropriate occasion to trot out their own young children as if this was an appropriate occasion for showing off to gay couples what they were missing out on.

A train ride north and we were in Saint-Denis to visit the first gothic-style basilica in Europe and the final resting place of France’s royalty. Saint-Denis is outside Paris and as you ride the metro you notice a significant shift in the demographics from what you see in the city’s core.

In the two or three hours we were in Saint-Denis, I saw a total of one sticker near the metro entrance announcing the protest. Mind you, we didn’t simply walk to the basilica, turn around and leave; we went to a café afterwards and then walked down the main street to a McDonalds for internet access. We saw a lot of kids with their families playing out on the street, riding their bikes and playing soccer. But no hoodies or flags with stick figures of mom, dad and the kids.

The complete lack of interest in this working class, heavily Muslim neighborhood synthesized for me what a divided city Paris is. Where before I’d only seen the classic 19th century architecture and wide boulevards along the Seine River, I could now see the conservative ruling class that was still in place 150 years after Paris’ reconstruction largely rid the inner parts of the city of its poor and working classes.

My hunch is that many in this diverse community don’t have favorable feelings towards gay marriage or gay adoption. I don’t want to suppose a percentage or a proportion, but I’m sure that if you conducted a poll, you would find plenty who oppose the new law. The protests in Paris, however, don’t reflect the values of the suburbs since many of the same wealthy few in the city’s core are the very same ones who support anti-immigration and Islamophobic measures.

Here I will make one concession to Americans who oppose gay marriage: they are generally very fervently convicted of their beliefs. It’s not a question of propriety or preserving the status quo, but rather a question of moral rightness. Yes, of course it is wrong to impose a religious system of beliefs on what should be a free and open democracy, but at least there is some misguided conviction present which drives such actions, some idea that what is at stake is the very heart and soul of our country.

Meanwhile in Paris, the haves hold the have-nots at arm’s length in the suburbs as a tribute to the 19th century reconstruction of the city, just as they tried to keep immigrants out in the 20th century and just as they are trying to keep non-traditional families from enjoying the same rights today in the 21st century.

A symbol of intellectual liberalism and progress? Perhaps yes, but only as spurned on by the overbearing conservative bourgeois who dominate still today.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Eye-opener

  1. Reducing May 68 events to a sexual revolution protest tells me where you come from . In May 68 the last general strike in France took place . The whole country was blocked . The President de Gaulle flew to Germany’s “French” military zone where he prepared an eventual action of the French army from there into France . The real revolution was very close you see .
    Students fantasies and sexual questions were details in this process . Anyway, sexuality has never been a problem in France, and religion doesn’t matter at all for the majority . What you saw are just a noisy delayed minority, don’t forget that, people who’d feel comfortable in Saudi Arabia or in the States, or in XVIIIth century France, in places where religion is considered as something .

    • I’m admittedly but an outside observer in this, so I’m grateful to be critiqued in my observations.

      I don’t mean to suggest that France as a whole is represented in these protests by any stretch of the imagination. I meant to suggest that Paris is a two-sided city (feel free to tell me if I’m wrong there) that doesn’t always fit outsiders’ stereotypes.

      And thank you for expanding my knowledge about the protests in 68. My knowledge about it comes from the context of classroom discussions while I was working on my MA in literature so the scope of our discussion was admittedly limited.

      Finally, we may be a little behind you in the States as far as gay marriage is concerned, but a growing majority of Americans – outside the South – are in favor of gay marriage. So perhaps equating us with Saudi Arabia might be a bit of an overstatement.

  2. Right, I know a lot of US citizens who tried to keep a free individual mind, although it’s tough in your place . I’m horrified by the kind of medias you tolerate there ( Fox News ! ), and the way a lot of US humanoids think about God and social interactions . Seriously, reading some US posts I realized their idea of God and religion is the kind of stuff that did exist centuries ago in Europe . Anf it’s not only about gay things . Sexuality as a whole is a concern there . Impeaching a president because he had an affair, seen from Europe, is a sort of Middle-Age or Middle-East behaviour . Meanwhile, a later government who admitted having blatantly lied to the nation to trigger a war ! was not overthrown . And humanity is led by those headless kids .
    I knew what kind of news were given in the States about May 68 . Always avoiding real politics and always diverting people into anecdotic stories, if sexual it’s only better !
    Now about France, not only Paris, there are two main tendancies . The people who did 4 revolutions and the people who find it right if the majority is starving while they bathe in diamonds . The people who braved the Gestapo and those who collaborated . The people who understood that religious structures always befriend with the power, whatever it is, and the people who wanted to ban religion from any public interference .
    Between these 2 tendancies, there’s the mass . And Paris reflects that . Rich Paris, poor suburbs, and medium all around . France is not utterly reduced to third-world conditions, although Bush/Obama’s masters, the EEC masters and French “government” masters work hard for that . So there still is a middle class, therefore Paris is not just a two-sided city yet .
    It will become one, if the 5th French revolution doesn’t happen and succeed .

    • Fox News and other conservative “media outlets” frighten quite a few of us as well. The American Right lives in an alternative reality today where they have their own radio shows, TV stations and even their own set of “facts” to fit their taste. During the 2012 election, some extremists on the Right didn’t like the negative polls for Romney/Ryan so they decided to make their own more favorable polls. Well, everyone saw how that turned out. I also agree with you that trying to impeach Clinton was a bizarre turn of events and I myself strongly prefer the lack of interest that Europe largely has in the private lives of their leaders.

    • Also, the US is on the same point of becoming a two-sided nation as well – the gulf between the poor and the wealthy has become enormous where CEOs make 300x what their workers do. It’s disgusting. We’re probably further along since there are more social protections in France!

      • There still are, most of them coming straight from 1944/45, when the people was still in arms and many bosses had been caught collaborating with their rightist Nazi friends . But they are cleverly and progressively dismantled under the EEC’s pretext . The public services you find now in France are a revolting caricature of what they used to be until the 80s .
        The EEC is a mighty tool for imperialism to destroy every working class conquest in France . Never forget that G.W. Bush publicly wished a “Yes” victory when France was asked to vote for the so-called European constitution in 2005 . The EEC is a tool of US wealthy first, of Europe wealthy second .
        Then, after the “No” victory, the very democratic French government made the Constitution approved by the Parliament . Official right Deputies and official “Socialist” deputies voted yes of course .

        About adjectives, I find you extremely soft when you called these maniacs “conservative” . Here we would call them “extreme rightist”, “fascist” . Calling them just conservative is a joke of the same kind as calling the actual French government “Socialist” .

  3. Sorry, I wrote this like an idiot : “The people who understood that religious structures always befriend with the power, whatever it is, and the people who wanted to ban religion from any public interference .”
    Obviously these are the same people . The other kind is the people you saw in this anti-gays protest .

  4. You see, in 1930, German workers’ life conditions became very hard . It became an impossible task for German financial class to keep its properties . They tried a lot of capitalist government, from any kind of “conservative” governments . All fell down shortly . Then they gave the keys to their last possibility, ( with the active support of Clergy ) .It was that or the Bolcheviks ! And boy they did right . German industrial fortunes grew a lot during the war . Hey, they even could use slaves !
    The situation in the States now makes fascism a possibility . To fascinate their cattle, the Nazis bore that mystical Aryan divine race ( and fire arms, don’t forget ). To achieve the same goal, US gangsters use the Holy God’s words ( fire arms seem doing fine there too). This mixing is even more shocking, isn’t it ?

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