Sundberg: French elections question how culture will live on
I sometimes imagine what it will be like when I go back to Tualatin, the suburb of Portland where I grew up, in fifty years. I used to have a rosy dream that I would come back and nothing would have changed; however, in fifty years, with the rapid spread of globalization, it is likely that I will see nothing familiar, if only the dead carcass of a town I grew up in.
This sentiment is being felt right now by many older citizens of France during their presidential elections. The sudden advent of globalization and increased immigration has changed the French landscape and has many yearning for the France they once knew.
The runoff election features two candidates: one being centrist and pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron and the other being Marine Le Pen, who is a nationalist and supports France breaking with the European Union.
What is most notable about Le Pen’s political stances is her strong position against more immigration into France. During a rally before the first round of presidential elections, which were on April 23, Le Pen questioned whether we will “be able to live much longer as French people in France, while entire neighborhoods are being transformed.” Le Pen went on to say, “It is right for us not to want our country transformed into a mere corridor, a giant railway station.” This protectionist stance for France exposes the growing feelings of angst and worry about where French culture is going.
I recently interviewed Professor Connie Dickey from the University of Oregon’s French Department about the upcoming French presidential runoff election.
“The very rapid and very stark changes are making a whole generation, actually multiple generations, ask that question of what it means to be French,” Dickey said.
What many people view as “French” is what Dickey refers to as “La France Profonde,” or the deep France in the countryside that is the heart of French cuisine, language and customs.
However, as Dickey explains, due to globalization young people move out of their hometowns to large cities where there are more jobs. In turn, there has been a decline in these French country towns that hold so much of France’s culture, and this is tied to the decline of ‘Frenchness.’
“There are people in their fifties and sixties who have tried very valiantly to keep their regional traditions alive amongst the young people,” Dickey said.
Despite the efforts being made to preserve the ‘Frenchness’ of towns, she said, “they’re dying.” She paused and said, “It doesn’t matter. Their efforts will eventually fade as each generation cares less and less.”
The imminent death of what so many hold onto as their own, as their culture, how they see France and how they identify their hometown is rapidly deteriorating and disintegrating into the wind. It gives me pause. This phenomenon is not isolated only to France or Europe — it has happened and will continue to happen here in the United States.
“You will remember things that you grew up with, and eventually those will go too,” Dickey said. “You see the richness of it. You see what the value is.”
This hits me hard. Soon, I will be old and the world will have changed without my consent, for better or for worse. My once recognizable hometown will be foreign to me. This is something that so many people of older generations in France are experiencing right now as they see their once thriving regional towns and local cultures slowly die as the newer generations decide to go in a different direction. It is hard to blame many French people for voting for a return to what they held as beautiful and right about their country. I cannot pretend that I will always be immune to that impulse.
The train of globalization has already left the station because the momentum it has gained is now almost irreversible. The dramatic change from our new world economy has already swept across towns that relied on local industry, and the effects from this emphatic shift are starting to be felt culturally and politically.
Young people should take pause when thinking about the onset of globalization, as well as the higher levels of artificial intelligence that will inevitably replace many jobs, and take into consideration the effects that it may have on the way a nation identifies with its culture. The situation in France is a testament to that conflict.
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