The horror of the Euro

Ou le foot-spectacle comme symbole d'une société malade

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« Man is no longer at the height of a man; he plays at being human like a kid plays at being an adult, all fragility is forbidden to him, and with it all truth and all relationships, he is condemned to wander in the perpetual flight that the money systems have marked out for him. In vain he seeks in the games of the stadium an ephemeral reconciliation with the child he was and that he never ceases to betray. There too, money awaits him, and his dirty circus. He hoped for a moment of gratuity, the revitalization of the soul through the exercise of the body, the playful encounter with others. He finds rich ball pushers, celebrating with tremolos in their voices this team that the slightest financial advantage will make them leave instantly, and who are taught not only the « art of soccer » but also — objective human warmth — the way to pile up like carcasses when a goal has been scored ».68 Forever, Jean Sur, Editions Arléa, 1998, p.74.


Balm to the heart » and other similar expressions were used during Euro 2016, to evoke what would be the eventual victory of a team in a match, a victory that would be all the more expected because the socio-economic situation of the country is catastrophic: in Spain,  » 44.6% of respondents think the situation is disastrous and 33.7% think it is bad: scores not reached in two years. According to the survey conducted from May 1 to 10 among 2,484 Spaniards, the perception of the economic situation is not improving: 68% think it is going badly, with unemployment ahead of corruption as the main concern… So during the Euro, Spaniards are looking for something to cheer them up « (1). The Devils’ Balm! Strange indeed… Belgium, Germany, Spain…, would need these sedative, palliative events that would never cure the disease, but would relieve the pain, which we will make sure to leave intact the cause. Austerity cure or soccer cure would thus be mixed without ever asking the question of the world which, each and in the same way, generates them.

Snobinard, killjoy, bitter! we will certainly hear here, or there. Maybe, but first, before being sure that we are only pleasure contemptors, we should let us explain our thoughts. Let’s start with the idea that if the interest in politics was great in our societies, it would counterbalance the euphoria of soccer, which would then be more easily understood, representing a kind of search for « pure pleasure » , against which there would be nothing to say This soccer would then have its reason to exist, we would be politicized citizens and, from time to time, we would « distract ourselves » by watching a game. But to stop there in the explanation would be too easy, as if we were demonstrating once and for all that this soccer show is not the problem and that it could survive in a fair, egalitarian and decent society. We stop this hypothesis here, because we think that it is something impossible: mass soccer is not an epiphenomenon of capitalism, it is not an accidental event that would have no connection with the others and would subsist in a world that has become really just.

At the level of society, there cannot be a coexistence of a deep interest in public affairs and a passion for industrial soccer and its media production. One contains the seeds of the destruction of the other. When the people really choose the way in which life in society is organized, the indecency of modern soccer with its multimillionaire star-players is no longer possible or conceivable; nor is the cost of organizing international cups, the mediocrity and exploitation that surround it (whether in the manufacture of balls in Pakistan and elsewhere, which the press will feign for a few moments to be moved during the 2014 World Cup ; or in the importation of prostitutes to the outskirts of the stadiums in « giant brothels » to feed drunken fans in Germany in 2006; in the supply of 1 billion condoms sent to South Africa in 2010 for the clients of the country’s miserable prostitutes; or in the kids sold for a few hours to the fans of the World Cup in Brazil).


It is not more thinkable, for a free subject, to admire a subject who plays on television, when the latter symbolizes more than anything else a deeply unequal class society. The Devils eliminated in the quarter-finals, some Belgians had a sad spirit on the evening of July 1st… don’t worry!They did not lose and never lose: the former federal coach Marc Wilmots pocketing 357,000 euros only for these few weeks of Euro in France, the players each receiving 304,200 euros, not counting advertising and what they usually receive, the sum of the Euro constituting a kind of vacation allowance (Eden Hazard, 25 years old, receiving 270,000 euros per week, Kevin de Bruyne 320,000…). For some journalists, it should be specified:  » they each earned 300,000 euros gross, which — however — amounts to less than 150,000 euros net « (2). At these levels, gross and net no longer have much meaning. While governments and the media talk about « necessary austerity »…

The question, in view of this inequality known to all, is therefore this: how to explain that in front of their television sets, in the stadiums and in the public squares where giant screens are set up, there are heaps of fans and not an angry crowd, individuals who oppose this depredation officially put on show? Once you realize what this means, there is only one possible answer: it suits « everyone ». For the « proletarians », these competitions give the feeling of belonging to a nation, which nevertheless exploits and subjugates them: they love Belgium, and therefore indirectly everything that goes with it, its government, its official bodies, its politics. They « are » a little Belgium, so they will not attack what they are. Orwell wrote, in 1984, referring to the proletarians:  » Exhausting physical work, worrying about the house and children, petty quarrels between neighbors, movies, soccer, beer, and above all, gambling, formed their whole horizon and filled their minds. Keeping them under control was not difficult. (…) We were not trying to indoctrinate them with the Party’s ideology. It was not desirable that the proletarians could have deep political feelings « .

For the middle classes, this also reflects what Orwell writes in 1984, but to a lesser extent. Soccer and beer probably do not « fill » their minds perfectly, and are less their only horizon, but they are part of an overall culture, form the « obligatory » spectacle, the fruit of a petty bourgeois mimicry illustrating a general malaise of an « in-between » class that wallows in identity.

For the nobility and the upper middle class, the entire wealthy class that lives off the misery of the masses, soccer is, as they know, what creates the illusion of « us », giving the impression behind the « all with the Devils », « all with the Blues » that we are, indiscriminately, « all Belgians », « all French », opposed « all together » to the opposing team and on the same path towards a common goal. This « us » of soccer is thus at their service, distancing them from the middle classes, but especially from the poor, while giving the illusion of a great mixture where all come together: soccer is the symbolic wall, the one that prevents them from building one.

The poor also had to admire wealth to get to where we are, that is, to accept to put up with people who earn about 8,000 euros an hour and amass in one year what most of us would take hundreds of years to earn. They live by proxy the existence of the haves, glorify what they are not and always hope, in an endless hope borrowed from the mechanics of the lottery, to become « scandalously rich »… This illusion of temporary poverty allows them to consent to breathe noxious dust, to build the houses of those who debase them, to serve them in hotels, to clean their villas… they accept austerity for themselves and the wealth of their idols with only relief these soothing mass episodes. The spectacle, a common moment that gives them the illusion of being part of a whole, is necessary to make them accept the unacceptable, to give as normal the abnormal and what is only profound indecency, identifying themselves with a superior category (that of the nation) in which they drown their real identity, destroy the cultural traits that still distinguish them and kill their class consciousness. They often confuse our lucidity with « jealousy » when we tell them about it.


Some will obviously argue that, even in a sick society, « simple » pleasures should not be undermined, that this « balm » would be the lesser evil. Apart from the fact that the argument leads back to the relief effect that we have just described, we would like to say something else. There is no pleasure, or rather there could be none, as long as it implies the degradation of the Other, its destruction and the plundering of nature. No one would dare say of a being who rapes another that he must be allowed to live his pleasure; or of the arsonist who burns a forest that he must not be disturbed in his joy. No one will say that those who watch it and have fun should be able to continue. What does this have to do with anything? There is something identical here, except that when we look at the soccer show, the division of labor, the sequestration and isolation of the production zones, the absence of media links between them that would allow us to understand, the separation between wealth and misery… all this prevents us from grasping violence, death and blood and from synthesizing it into a coherent whole: the woman who is reduced to the rank of a body-object for the pleasure of the footballers; the rags and balls of the cups which are the fruit of the exploitation of slaves, children and adults; the profound inequality symbolized by the stars of the ball, whose only acceptance of looking at them without opposing them implies the acceptance of all the inequalities; the identity reduced to the only function of conflicting distinctions…

As soon as a pleasure — like that of soccer — implies destruction, it is, like the need described by Marcuse, false.  » We can distinguish between real and false needs. Are « false » those that particular social interests impose on the individual: the needs that justify hard work, aggressiveness, misery, injustice. Their satisfaction could be a source of comfort for the individual, but such happiness should not be protected if it prevents the individual from perceiving the general malaise and seizing opportunities to remove it. The result is euphoria in the midst of misfortune. Relaxing, having fun, acting and consuming according to the advertisement, loving and hating what others love or hate, these are mostly false needs. « (…) « Such needs have a social function and content that are determined by external forces over which the individual has no control; their development and satisfaction are heteronomous. That these needs, renewed and strengthened by the conditions of his existence, have become those of the individual, that he identifies with them, that he seeks himself in their satisfaction, changes nothing: these needs remain what they have always been, the products of a society whose dominant interests demand the repression « (3).

Certainly, it is not in a logic of Christian morality that we would accuse the individual who watches soccer of indulging in what would be like a sin. There are many reasons to be a spectator and it is obvious that there is also a gregarious instinct behind it that pushes us to « meet », in societies where this happens less and less. But mass pleasure, that which becomes a social object, can only become so because that which makes its spectacle possible is massively obscured.


In view of this admiration, it would be difficult to understand, if we were not engulfed in a sick era, the way in which the same people vilify the strikers and other opponents of the employer-government attacks: these beings disturbed, unrepentantmalcontents preventing them from reaching the place of work where they flourish every day, the taking hostage, creating a chaos that would have absolutely nothing to do with the context of structural chaos.

There are still some hopes, however, especially the one that comes from answering the question « who represents the world around us? » Once the question has been resolved and the main role of the mass media and the groups to which they belong has been highlighted, the fact remains that the reality presented by the dominant media does not correspond to the truth. As Alain Accardo said,  » It can be said that the media representation of the world, as it is manufactured daily by journalists, does not show what reality actually is, but what the ruling and possessing classes believe it is, wish it to be or fear it will become. In other words, the media and their personnel are nothing more than the more or less willing and zealous instruments that the dominant class needs to ensure its hegemony. As such, these instruments must be dismantled and fought vigorously and relentlessly — something that the organizations of the institutional left, which have renounced class criticism and are always ready to make a pact with the enemy in the name of republican decorum, political realism and the need to exist in the media, unfortunately do not do. « (4). So there remains this hope that beyond the inevitable mental generalization generated by a piece of information (a few aggressions on a few people among millions easily generate the impression of a dangerous society and of extreme criminality, just as a few highlights on the front page of newspapers and in the first subject of a long newscast, of people opposed to the strikers generate the feeling that everybody is fed up), there is no mass feeling and that there is only « reality » for the moment the one presented by the dominant media.

So, is silence really the absence of noise? Horns, shouts, fireworks… you can hear it. Those who are silent, who do not feel this « pleasure », the others who watch because they « have to » and do not scream, these are not heard, « do not exist » in a way. And those who spread the news only spread the cries. And they do more, they echo them, but they also create them: they shout and are sometimes surprised that others do the same. If they refused to play the game, if they spoke of silence, the cries would no longer have the same meaning; they would make us forget less easily the absurdity, the spectacle of sound; they would avoid the emptiness and make us visible the insignificance.

But let’s keep quiet! We shouldn’t spoil the fun. This pleasure so fleeting, always waiting for the next game.

Alexandre Penasse


Find the Kairos 26 at the end of September and enjoy the 25 this vacation. The recovery will be eventful, we will be there to give this information that exists for its own sake, essential for real change, and reveals a completely different reality, essential to get out and build anotherone.

Notes et références
  2. Euro 2016: à combien s’élèvent les primes des Diables rouges?, DH, 24 juin. On soulignera le « toutefois », comme si c’était moins indécent.
  3. Marcuse, H., L’homme unidimensionnel, Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1968, p.33
  4. Alain Accardo, « Journalistes précaires, journalistes au quotidien », Ibid., p.13–14

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