May 1968 events in France  

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"Sous les pavés, la plage!"


"If 1848 was, at least partially, a revolution against boredom, the May events in France were even more so." -- The Imagination of the New Left (1987) George N. Katsiaficas

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

May 1968 (in this context usually spelled May '68) is the name given to a series of events that started with a student strike in France. It turned into a general strike which paralyzed parts of the country and led to the eventual collapse of the de Gaulle government. Most of the protesters espoused left-wing causes, communism or anarchism, though most mainstream leftist parties distanced themselves from the students and worked with the police and government to end the revolt. Many saw the events as an opportunity to shake up the "old society" in many social aspects, including methods of education, sexual freedom and free love. While some of the same leftists who worked against workers and students now call "May '68" a failure from a political point-of-view, it was a significant revolutionary moment in the 20th century.

It began as a series of student strikes that broke out at a number of universities and high schools in Paris, following confrontations with university administrators and the police. The de Gaulle administration's attempts to quash those strikes by further police action only inflamed the situation further, leading to street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter, followed by a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached the point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for 23 June 1968.

The government was close to collapse at that point (De Gaulle had even taken temporary refuge at an airforce base in Germany), but the revolutionary situation evaporated almost as quickly as it arose. Workers went back to their jobs, after a series of deceptions carried out by the Confédération Générale du Travail, the leftist union federation, and the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), the French Communist Party. When the elections were finally held in June, the Gaullist party emerged even stronger than before.

References in popular culture

  • Vangelis released an LP, dubbed a poème symphonique, entitled Fais Que Ton Rêve Soit Plus Long Que La Nuit, which was a musique concrète/folk recording collage reflecting the May 1968 strikes. Vangelis was in Paris at the time recording with Aphrodite's Child.
  • René Viénet's 1973 film Can dialectics break bricks? dealt with the concepts surrounding May 1968, parodying the events within the narrative.
  • Guy Debord's 1973 film The Society of the Spectacle dealt with the motivations around the events of May 1968. The film also contains large amounts of archival footage of the events.
  • Chris Marker's 1977 film A Grin Without a CatIMDb is a three-hour-long film documentary portraying the history behind the social unrests of the sixties. Made with archival images, it deals with May 1968 in depth.
  • Milou in May is a 1990 film by Louis Malle which portrays the impact of revolutionary fervour on a French village.
  • Bernardo Bertolucci's 2003 film The Dreamers was based on three young film-loving students and their experiences in May 1968, although it features the events mainly as a backdrop and not predominantly within the primary plot.
  • Roman Coppola's 2001 film CQ depicts the Paris film-making world of the late 1960s and makes repeated reference to the events of May 1968.
  • The Rolling Stones' song "Street Fighting Man" was heavily influenced by the student riots.
  • Philippe Garrel's 2005 film Les Amants RéguliersIMDb ("the regular lovers") is a three-hour-long rejoinder to The Dreamers that portrays the May 1968 events through the eyes of a group of young artists who grow increasingly absorbed in a world of drugs and free love upon what they see as the failure of the May 1968 events.
  • The Stone Roses song "Bye Bye Badman" on their eponymous debut album was said by lead singer Ian Brown to be about the riots. The lemon the band commonly uses as a logo represents the lemons used by protesters to sooth their eyes from the effects of tear gas.
  • The video for Röyksopp's single "Only This Moment" depicts events from the May 1968 riots.
  • The Merry Month of May is author James Jones's 1971 novel concerning the 1968 events in Paris. It is centered around a rich American family, the Gallaghers, living as expatriates in Paris.
  • Renaud wrote the song "Crève Salope" during the protests, and it became a favourite of the protesters.
  • Jean Luc Godard's film La Chinoise portrays the ideas of a small group of students on the eve of the May 1968 events.
  • Jean Luc Godard's film "Tout Va Bien" portrays the attitudes of French people 4 years after the May movement.
  • Artist Jamie Reid was inspired by the poster "A Youth Too Often Worried About the Future", produced during the May events, for his artwork on the Sex Pistols' 1977 single "God Save the Queen.
  • Inertia Blooms 2008 EP, 'Cours camarade, le vieux monde est derriere toi' takes it's name from a popular slogan of the May 1968 student movement. It's artwork is also a piece of graffiti heavily associated with the events. "

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "May 1968 events in France" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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