Video games, to blame for French riots? That’s like saying: ‘Qu’ils mangent de brioche!’

What was it again, that Marie-Antoinette has so often (and so unfairly) been vilified for, over the past two and a half centuries? Because as far as I can see, that notorious quote – ‘Let them eat cake’ - looks an awful lot like Emmanuel Macron’s comment, last Friday

...with the small difference, I suppose, that there is no historical evidence that the soon-to-be-headless Marie-Antoinette ever actually uttered those infamous words (which – just in case your French is as lousy as mine – are usually translated into English as: ‘Let them eat cake!’)

Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand?  He has no such excuse, as far as I can see. And unlike Marie-Antoinette: it doesn’t even look like he’s going to pay any form of price, whatsoever – still less, ‘lose his head’ – for such outrageous (and ill-informed) ‘insolence’...

But let me not rush too far ahead, as usual. Fact of the matter is that I’m actually quite grateful towards the French President, for having finally given me the opportunity to write about a subject that – for a change – I might actually know a thing or two about, myself.

Video games.

That’s right: the same ‘video-games’ that my own generation became the first to actually experience, while growing up in the distant 1980s – without, it must be said, too many of us ever developing overtly ‘sociopathic’ or ‘homicidal’ tendencies, as a direct consequence (or at least: none that I’m aware of....)

But also – and the contradiction that is about to emerge, is known in gaming circles as a ‘compatibility issue’ - the same video-games that Macron himself somehow seems to hold responsible (along with the parents of French teenagers, naturally) for the fact that around two-thirds of his entire country happens to be quite literally ON FIRE, even as we speak.

But in case you missed it, this is how it was reported by the [French] news agency AFP yesterday:

“President Emmanuel Macron called on parents to keep child rioters off the streets on Friday, while saying [...]  that video games played a role in the riots, which followed the fatal shooting of a teen by police on Tuesday.

"It's the responsibility of parents to keep them [teenage rioters] at home," he said. "It's not the state's job to act in their place." [...] "You get the impression that for some of them, they are experiencing on the street the video games that have intoxicated them,” he added. 

Got that, folks? So if literally tens of thousands of French citizens – including, but not limited to, the 1,300 ‘14-15 year olds’ who have already been arrested – have spent the past week rioting, looting, pillaging, and setting police cars ablaze, in practically every major city and ‘banlieu’ in France...

... it has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that they had only just witnessed members of their own country’s Police Force, cold-bloodedly murdering a 17-year-old boy - of North African extraction, please note (important detail, that) - for the grave crime of ‘failing to stop, at a road-block’...

Nor does it matter in the slightest (to Macron, anyway) that the circumstances of said ‘cold-blooded murder’ were not just similar, but almost IDENTICAL to the 2020 murder of George Floyd in the United States... that is to say: also by the police; also against the backdrop of institutional racism, and social inequality; and also resulting in instant race-riots, spreading like wildfire across the entire country...

But of course, all those resemblances can safely be put down to mere ‘coincidence’.

Because according to Macron, this latest re-enactment of the ‘French Revolution’ is entirely unrelated to any of the usual causes of social unrest (you know: racism, poverty, inequality, ghettoisation, police brutality, systemic injustice... that sort of thing).

Instead, it is simply down to the fact that an entire generation of French teenagers have been brought up playing (admittedly, very violent) video-games such as ‘Grand Theft Auto’... with the result that: well, they all suddenly decided – just like that: from one moment to the next - to take to the streets en masse, and turn their own tranquil neighbourhoods into cut-scenes from the latest ‘post-Apocalyptic Survival-Horror RPG’, released by studios such as ‘Bethesda’, or ‘Obsidian Entertainment’...

I mean, honestly. What’s French for ‘pull the other one’, anyway? “Tirez l-autre?” (And if so: ‘L’autre quoi? Jambe? Pied?’ Oh well: I guess I should have paid more attention to my French homework, in the 1980s than to video-games such as ‘Jet Pack Willy’, or ‘Hungry Horace Goes Skiing’...)

But in any case. To be fair, I can almost understand – up to a point - why Emmanuel Macron would be so keen to pin the blame for these riots on such a convenient scapegoat – which, today, happens to take the form of ‘video-games’ (but 40 years ago, it could just as easily have been ‘violence in the movies’: in the aftermath of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange’, among other examples.)

After all, the only realistic alternative to ‘blaming video-games’, is to do what French academics such as Ariane Basthard-Bogain (a lecturer in French and politics at Northumbria University, UK) are now calling on Emmanuel Macron to do: i.e., to start a serious national discussion, on the ‘structural causes’ of all  this violence.

“What we’ve seen over the past few days is a lot of discourse about law and order, about restoring order, about how awful this violence is. What we haven’t heard is a discussion of the structural causes of all of this, and a long-term solution from it by the authorities.

“So it’s very much framed as a violent uprising but what we really need to focus on is why it was created in the first place...”

Ah, yes. The ‘structural causes’. Now: that poses small problem, for a man in Macron’s position. Because in order to follow that advice, Macron would be forced to acknowledge the existence of a systemic issues, that have been simmering  quietly (and somtimes, very loudly) beneath the surface of France’s otherwise peaceful suburbia, for literally decades now.

And these include not just the most immediate cause of this latest episode of street-level unrest – i.e., unjustifiable police brutality’ but also, of all the historic injustices, inequalities, and latent racial tensions, that have (let’s face it) always plagued France’s poorer, more ethnically ‘diverse’ communities: ever since the days when that nation still lorded over great parts of Africa, Asia, etc, at the height of its Colonial power.

And if Macron were to actually to do that: he would be left with no other possibility, but to conclude that the true blame of all this unrest, lies... not with ‘video-games’, obviously; but rather, with his own failures - as French President – to ever actually acknowledge (still less, resolve) the simmering underlying tensions, that have so often resulted in street-violence, in the past...

...including, I might add, a past before such things as ‘video games’ even existed, to begin with (as I understand history, myself: there were no video games called ‘Grand Theft Auto’,  or ‘Fallout: New Vegas’, during the French Revolution of 1789...)

Now: what was it again, that Marie-Antoinette has so often (and so unfairly) been vilified for, over the past two and a half centuries? Because as far as I can see, that notorious quote – ‘Let them eat cake’ - looks an awful lot like Emmanuel Macron’s comment, last Friday.

Then as now, it represents a blithe disregard for all the REAL causes of social unrest... in favour of an ‘convenient excuse’, that comes directly from the world of fantasy.