09 November, 2011

Les Règles des jeux

Take the singular of this post title and you've got the title of a very excellent Jean Renoir movie from 1939. It's consistently ranked within the top ten best movies of all time, and if you watch it (there's a French language--no subtitles--version on youtube, but probably others on Netflix, etc) you'll see why. I have little to say about it that is not already very well said in this astute and lengthy analysis by Arthur Goldhammer.  Jean Renoir is, incidentally, a director whom I highly recommend. La Grande illusion is also a phenomenal film; Elena et les hommes is well-made, but more fun than anything--and you get to see the ever-engaging Ingrid Bergman speaking French and wearing enormous Belle Époque hats. Another interesting one that's a bit outside the Renoir canon is This Land is Mine, an anti-Nazi propaganda film made in the US in 1943 to avoid German censoring and drum up American support for entering the war. If you can take the film's occasional descents into preachiness and the rather jarring sound of "Germans" and "Frenchmen" speaking with the most Americanized of accents, it's an interesting look at what it was actually like to be a Resistance fighter during the occupation. The movie centers around a moral dilemma that Americans, having never had to suffer through an occupation, tend to forget entirely: how does one justify resistance if the occupiers will target innocent civilians by way of retribution? As I said, interesting, despite the flaws inherent in being a propaganda film.

Turning to a different sort of game entirely, here are three recent RCW articles that incisively discuss the origins of the EU and why it's poised to break up now. The role of nationalism is a common focus, and it's indeed interesting to see the European Far Right (especially in France) gaining momentum as the economic crisis worsens. (I'm also very pleased at being vindicated at every turn in my claims that there is such a thing as European conservatism, and that not every European is on board with the idea of creating a United States of Europe.)

Europe's Nationalism Problem
The Crisis of Europe and European Nationalism
Europe's Opacity Problem

Oh, and here are two very short more-news-less-analysis articles, just for fun.

The New Face of Digital Populism
European Far Right on the Rise Online


Anonymous said...

Cultural identity? Hmmm... Seems like it's too late for such Nostalgia. Their immigration policies have worked to ensure that Europe is a melting pot, just like America. What are those who want to retain a cultural identity trying to recapture? Some sort of genetic purity? Some sort of common heritage? Methinks it is too late for that.

Therese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Therese said...

Too late? Not when you're living in a country where the question of speaking French vs. Dutch is still a hot issue even for the young and where linguistically-idiosyncratic communities of Walloons and Flemish still exist and are proud to exist despite the influx of advertisements and internet.

Genetic purity? Hopefully not. Common heritage? That's a little more like it. Certain elements of the common heritage are certainly disappearing (how permanently is up for debate, in my opinion), such as the Catholic (or traditional protestant) identity. But there's plenty else to make Belgians bristle when they're confused with Frenchmen, or to make German-speaking Belgians hostile to Germany, or to make Frenchmen suspicious of foreigners until they can speak perfect French and live like a Frenchman.

And that's just looking at it from a negative perspective; people here are usually (to risk generalizing) incredibly proud to be from the country they are from. The idea that Europe-as-melting-pot would destroy that is not something I can hold with at all. Partly because I've seen no evidence, and partly because I am from the U.S., and even there, as much of a melting pot as it is, and despite even being one country, state pride is (sometimes ridiculously) strong. Regional pride does not have to be equated with genetic supremacism. It just means you're proud of speaking the same language(s), sharing some of the same history, and growing up around approximately the same places and people.

Incidentally, Europe is actually far from being a "melting pot" according to the American model. Most of these countries still have very restrictive immigration policies: what you generally see is an enormous amount of illegal immigration. Which means that "melting" into the group is a little less than easy. Especially in francophone cultures(and that's what I'm speaking with any knowledge of, since that's where I'm living), where "foreigners" are viewed with a great deal of suspicion. In France, you assimilate or else.

Of course, this makes the French model rather closer to the American than that of any of the other European countries. But that raises the question: has America being a melting pot in any way made it have less of a cultural identity? Immigrants have made the United States what it is, and if anything a clearer idea of what it "means" to be American is a result of the influx of immigration. Likewise in France, you can immigrate, but you're expected to become French fast. And hence the French have a very nationalistic attitude indeed...one of the reasons that Marine LePen is doing so well now, despite some of her more extreme views and questionable background, is simply that the French (and francophone cultures more generally) are very against anything that threatens their autonomous French identity.

Sure, Europeans have supported the unifying effect of the E.U. in the past. But that's as long as "unity" just meant "let's make our economies interdependent so as to keep the Germans from getting too strong again". Of course, unifying economies isn't as simple as all that, as the people on the ground are finding out now, to their chagrin.

Eh, those are just my thoughts on the matter, anyway.