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December 8, 2012

French Eco/Youth/Farm Revolt: What Protest Looks Like Now?

“When it was just the farmers, politicians and local people, we felt alone in the countryside in the far west of Europe,” says Isabelle Loirat, a Nantes city councillor with France’s centrist MoDem party and co-president of the group of elected officials opposed to the airport. “It changed when those young people arrived.” – from: French farmers join environmental activists in protest against Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport (English RFI)

When it comes to powerful social and political pictures, you can’t underestimate how much we relate to new images in terms of the cultural and iconic imagery that is already in our heads. If something is new and provocative in some way, the mind, it seems, will instantly seek out comparisons to make the new image more familiar and relatable, drawing from art, science, popular culture — just about anywhere. I bring all this up because of a very evocative story I discovered the other day.

If these comparisons bubble to the surface quite naturally, the photos from a battle in France between citizens and the authorities over the proposed site of a new airport are so novel, and novel in different ways, it’s like looking at frames from a fantasy movie. I’m hesitant to say there is anything so unique about the story that it would spark such different types of analogies except for the fact we’ve got a blend of eco-guerrilla savvy meeting media and social networking savvy meeting agrarian culture/scenery meeting old-school resistance.

I am wondering, though, if living in an increasingly visual and media-rich culture, if conflict is being dramatized and performed as much as simply enacted, leading to more powerful and evocative depictions or this particular scene and battle is more a special case. In any case, pictures from this fight between “the man” and the protesters over the commercial development of dwindling open space make for strange viewing. Perhaps you have thoughts about the shots, as well as the reason for their eclecticism.

With various protesters taking to the trees, the photo leading the post has a kind of medieval, even “Lord of the Flies” quality to it.

Here’s farmville meets Woodstock meets green building and what I’m guessing is a “smart encampment,” the tractors chained together effective as much practically as visually.

There is the requisite, location-based, human alphabet accompanied by its own logo taken, appropriately, from the air.

Then there was this. Covered with lime powder, tell me this riot cop doesn’t doesn’t look an awful lot like a Star Wars Storm Trooper?

(photos 1: Laetitia Notarianni/AP caption: An anti-airport protester looks down at police from a makeshift shelter in the trees during the evacuation of protestors on land that will become the new airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, western France Saturday Nov. 24, 2012. The protestors are opposing the building of a new airport there. In a muddy, rainy standoff starting early Friday, protesters responded to police attempts to remove them by hurling sticks, stones and gasoline bombs. For two weeks, protesters have illegally occupied the site of the planned Notre-Dame-Des-Landes airport set to start operating in 2017. photos 2 & 4: Stephane Mahe / Reuters. caption 2: A French riot policeman reacts after being doused with lime powder by protesters in Notre-Dame-des-Landes on Nov. 23. Activists opposed to a new airport were being cleared out by police. caption 4: A French riot policeman reacts after being doused with lime powder by protesters in Notre-Dame-des-Landes on Nov. 23. Activists opposed to a new airport were being cleared out by police.photo 3: Reuters / Perry / AFP / Parti de gauche via Melty.FR)

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