Monday, April 13, 2009

Apprentices as Hooligans

A few months ago I read Graham Robb's The Discovery of France, a geographic history of France as it changed into a modern state with special attention given to the many practices that made up popular culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

One such practice Robb describes is the "Tour de France," a pilgrimage of four or five years made by young apprentices (bakers, tinkers, stonemasons, etc.), who set out across the country to learn their trade and offer their services in some 150 towns. Robb notes that "Members of the different orders would try to beat each other senseless when they met on the road" (159). He continues:

The long walk . . . was an apprenticeship in itself: learning to walk on wet and blistered feet and to keep up with the older migrants, learning to stomach mouldy food when the body was exhausted and above all to defend the honor of the pays. As they set off from villages at daybreak, the migrants sang and yelped as though they were at a barn dance. It was their way of keeping their spirits up and warning off the natives. (160-61)
The actions of these apprentices are very much like the practices of modern soccer fans who travel, sing, and fight to uphold the honor of their home region (their pays). In the nineteenth century, the yelling and violence was a means to defend regional identity against the French state's efforts to create a common French identity. Today, violence and hooliganism serve to reinforce regional identity in defiance of globalization's sameness.

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