9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS07 Memory, Culture and Public Discourse

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Responses to Terror Building I, 1E7

Reflections of a Tragic Hero: How a distant past reconciled a distant future

The vignette of Zinedine Zidane, the French captain of Algerian descent, expelled during the World Cup in 2006 after reacting against an alleged racial insult, captures the diverse narratives constituting France's collective memory. The mythic significance of Zidane's incident will be interpreted with respect to interviews and media analysis as a contemporary manifestation of mythos.

Myths are archetypal narratives through which individuals examine their lives in conjunction with civic values and ideal character types. As common frames of reference, each generation inherits and retells these stories conditioning the minds of communities who judge and live their present lives according to preceding narratives. This is evident from French spectators' transformation of the Zidane incident into a mythic narrative that not only reflects contemporary post-colonial relations in France, but was distinctly interpreted as frames of reference reflecting individual's temporal perspective within their broader cultural milieu. The value of these myths lies in their ability to weave diverse threads of cultural and temporal experience to encapsulate the emerging social fabric of multi-cultural France.

Sympathetic projections towards France's heroic icon, however, appear to incongruously reflect France's moral order. The incident amplified issues sensitive to French sensibilities as it was interpreted within discourses of race, ethnicity and class, as well as cultural and religious differences. The insult engendered broader significance as it became a provocation not limited to an isolated football player; it was an insult discriminating against a racial minority in France. The 'Zidane myth' must be understood within shifting postcolonial attitudes in Europe which challenge conventionally racist attitudes. The lived and inherited emotional memories of Algerian minorities in France subsequently positioned Zidane's mythos as a gesture of heroic valour juxtaposed to the racial discrimination provoked from his villainous European persecutor.

Memory is crucial to civic unrest. It is precisely our inability to reconcile inherited and acquired memories within a living present or imagined future that paralyses cultural communication, facilitating civic dysfunction. Examining diverse accounts of the "Zidane myth", reveals how diverse memories contributed to cross-cultural dialogue enabling individuals to actively reconstruct conflicting memories positioning Zidane as "the symbol of the new multiethnic society".