Jean Baudrillard, 1929-2007 | Coining a ‘worldwide currency’ for football violence

Spectators struggle for their lives at the Heyselstadion, Brussels, on 29 May 1985. Baudrillard’s essay on Heysel emphasizes the event’s inevitability: “What no police could ever guard against is the sort of fascination, of mass appeal, exercised by the terrorist model.”

Paris | Little evidence exists of Jean Baudrillard‘s rooting interests in football. The French philosopher, who died Mar 6 (see the Guardian obituary), left behind a corpus of cultural reflection. To him belonged clear-eyed, if not always clearly worded, explication of concepts such as hyperreality and simulation—with the latter implying more than Arjen Robben flopping around on the left-hand touchline.

Given Baudrillard’s birth city of Reims, we can imagine the young man following results of the club during his early university and teaching years. The run of results between 1949 and 1962—eight league and domestic cup trophies, with two losses to Real Madrid in the first and fourth finals of the European Cup (1956, 1959)—may have garnered attention from one so drawn to the notion of mediated experience.

Baudrillard

But we have no clues to such interest, only the tracings in Baudrillard’s work in translation and in the citations of English-speaking academics. Naturally, Baudrillard’s fascination with the media spectacle and with the growing separation between Western life and authentic experience relates directly to modern football, which over time has become a phenomenon to be observed—consumed—rather than appreciated as play. In The Transparency of Evil (Verso, 1993), Baudrillard writes, “Sport itself … is no longer located in sport as such, but instead in business, in sex, in politics, in the general style of performance” (quoted in T. Bar-On, “The Ambiguities of Football, Politics, Culture, and Social Transformation in Latin America,” Sociological Research Online 2 [1997]: §1.1).

In the same work, Baudrillard devotes a chapter, “The Mirror of Terrorism,” to the deaths of 39 Italian spectators at Heysel Stadium in Brussels before a 1985 European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool. As one might expect from an original, not a derivative, thinker, Baudrillard connects the behavior of Liverpool supporters, blamed for attacking the Italian fans before collapse of a perimeter wall led to the deaths and hundreds of injured, to seemingly unrelated social and political data: to the “state terrorism” of Margaret Thatcher‘s England that, in its crushing of miners’ strikes in the north and disregard for fundaments of working-class life, including football, created pre-conditions for such violence (see Andrew Hussey, “Lost Lives That Saved a Sport,” The Guardian, 3 Apr 05).

In The Transparency of Evil, Baudrillard alludes to televised matches played before empty stands. In The Perfect Crime (Verso, 1996), he would argue that such technologies move beyond alienating humans from their surroundings; they are “expulsions of man.”

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