Thursday, January 22, 2009
Paris Art Survey
Paris Saint-Germain Football Match, Sunday, January 18, 2009
The football game I attended between PSG and Sochaux last weekend was unlike any I have ever attended. I am an experienced soccer fan, to say the least. I have seen « the beautiful game » played out in four countries (live), and have plunked down on the couch with my family more times than I could possibly ever count to watch it on tv. Soccer in my family is not a sport, it’s our lifestyle. All this aside, the roughly 90 minutes I spent in the Parc des Princes stood out among all others, including a Chelsea match I saw two weeks ago in London. (Chelsea being at the top of England’s famous Premier League.)
Though Chelsea is among the best football clubs in the world, draws more revenue, and has more talented atheltes playing in a higher quality league, the fan base in Paris made the PSG game this weekend a remarkable experience.
When I was in London, English fans snuck in home-made signs, flags, and chanted traditional songs about Chelsea. The style of their signs was as rudimentary as their lyrics, which were very low-brow. Signs were crudely painted by hand, were hard to read and were chiefly being displayed by young people. Song lyrics included lines reminiscent of a schoolyard, such as : « You kissed a girl and you liked it, it tastes like Man United ». In my experience, English fans concentrate on the glorification of certain players through constructive artistic expression (like the beloved Frank Lampard of Chelsea, whose nickname « super Frank » is seen often in signeage), or in the humiliation of their rivals through destructive art, such as humiliating song lyrics directed towards other teams. In fact, in some instances fans of Chelsea have taken ownership of the pride-filled song lyrics of the opposition (e.g. « Glory, glory Man United ») and have twisted them against them ( « Who the f*ck are Man United »).
Parisian fans, like their English counterparts, made use of both constructive and destructive artistry in their expression of passion for their team. The difference, in my view, between these two demographics lies in the fact that Parisian fans have a more refined sense of unity or « polish » in every facet of their partisanship. For example, the signs of the PSG supporters were simply very well-done. From a distance colours, images, all clearly hand-made, were being proudly displayed at the hands of fans of all ages. The effect was a foliage of graphics and colours. Additionally, the songs of the Parisian fans did not focus on the defamation of their rival, Sochaux (who was a very poor side). Instead, lyrics contained phrases such as, « Allez Paris, Paris c’est magique ! » Thus, Parisians focussed more on the magic of the city and the players. The choice of word « Paris » (versus Paris Saint-Germain, or PSG) could refer to the team or the city. In this way, the lyrics unify the audience and the team, making the cheer not just for the athletes but also for themselves and the rest of the city. Furthermore, some songs performed by the masses in Parc des Princes were accompanied by dances. In one instance, the far stands erupted into a unified portrayal of a wave. Holding their scarves in two hands horizontally, one entire row of fans would bounce their scarves through the air towards the left, as the rows above and below them did the opposite. As they sang and danced in this way, I was given the impression that I was looking at a literal sea of PSG fans.
Going along with the theme of unification, I must comment on the uniqueness of the unity of expression that we saw at this game. At one point, as forward Makalele (widely famous and very talented) was dragged down inside the penalty box by the Sochaux goalie, jersey rippling and mouth grimacing in pain, (I kid you not) every Parisian got to their feet and started to whistle loudly (in soccer, a cue for the referee to blow his whistle or an indication of direspect or hatred for a member of the opposite team). For the rest of the game, every time the goal keeper touched the ball, every person around me, across from me, or even above or below me, was whistling. (Admittedly, fans everywhere whistle when they are upset. It was the who stadium erupting that once repeatedly that was of particular significance.) This unity occurred, sadly, mostly during moments of artistic destruction. Another instance of this unified expression of disdain was when, before the game, fans from the notorious behind-the-net seats (always reserved for the fanatics) lit flares and tossed cut-up parts of telephone book into the air. Laughing and celebrating together, the two ends of the stadium were lit in red and the air was dazzled with squares of thin yellow paper. Far-off drums and some kind of horn could be heard. Though this event was magical for a few brief moments, the destructive nature of this event reared it’s head as a fan threw his flare onto the pitch : the tension of the moment finally broke free.
All in all, my experience at this soccer game was defined mostly through my spectatorship of the audience, and not as much by my observance of the athletes. Though, as an athlete, I might have much to say on the artistry of the body involved in physical exertion and competition, the PSG fans in last Sunday’s match fully drew me in with their artistic signs, songs, dances, props, and unity. I suppose, then, that my final thought for this week's assignment is that even though I was looking for my artistic experience on the field, instead I found myself surrounded by art, and became a part of it.