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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)

  • Scarabus

    “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…”

    Come now, Michael! Don’t be disingenuous. The power elite create carefully orchestrated photo-ops, and so do those who challenge such elites. Small scale (like naked people in Boehner’s office) all the way to street theater and pitched battles.

    All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players:
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts,
    His acts being seven ages.

  • http://profiles.google.com/fatunga robert e

    Storm trooper, absolutely!

    But I confess that the first thing that came to mind on encountering the first picture was Monty Python’s Holy Grail. The protester up top could have walked off that set. The forest setting especially evokes the encounter with the black knight, and the scene with the knights who say “ni”. And remember how the movie ended with modern day police?

    “…conflict is being dramatized and performed as much as simply enacted…or this particular scene and battle is more a special case.”

    Both can be true, of course. But performance predates visual news. News editors have always been drawn to, or even captivated by, narrative, i.e. storytelling. Press releases and conferences, the pre-visual equivalent of photo-ops, was and continues to be a tool to write the first draft and craft the story to one’s benefit. And they work. Even in the absence of such pre-written plots, editors and reporters will seek out “characters” to anchor the story and grab readers on a gut level.

    I’d love to see BagNews specifically analyze the ways in which the rise of visual media supports, undermines and changes the art of news storytelling.

    • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com Michael Shaw

      I think Scarabus found me naive because the post tries to address storytelling and narrative (as “produced” by the protesters as well as shaped by the visual media) in terms of larger shifts and trends. I appreciate both comments for highlighting this — and calling out the difference with our norm. I guess a few examples where we have been thinking about how visual media is impacting news storytelling in a larger and more fundamental is in the (profound) impact of social media on news photos (discussed fairly thoroughly in our State of the News Photo talk) and also in our tracking (in terms of editorial style and tone) of the Instagram coverage of Campaign 12.

      Again, because we are so narrowly focus on the news cycle and the political narrative, I’m fascinated by your suggestion but I wonder if you might have some specific/other examples in mind.

  • GeorgeMokray

    Back in the day, after the Boston Clamshell Alliance consensus meetings once a week, a group would go on to the lounge at Harvard Divinity School to see whether the Clamshell had made the 11 o’clock news. Rubbed me the wrong way then and rubs me the wrong way now. Most protest groups, including 350.org these days, play to the media and the politicians rather than organize to make real changes in real life.

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