In three days, the Saint-Michel amusement park was to open in Toulouse. The showmen had woken the caterpillar and the merry-go-round horses at the starting line, made the ghost train reappear, turned the ignition key of the bumper cars, and brought back the laughter box in a good mood. A waste of time, the town hall canceled the carnival. Since the beginning of the week, the people of the fair have been demonstrating against this decision, which deprives them of work and income for several days. Their trucks sometimes block the ring road, sometimes the city center. Historically, the carnival took place in the historic center, allée Jules Guesde, then, ten years ago, it had to move to the Zénith car park, left bank, to allow the tramway to work. But this year a real estate operation near the parking lot and complaints from local residents drove them away again without finding common ground with the city hall. Arnaud Lemarchand is an economist and sociologist, lecturer at the University of Le Havre and author of ” Nomadic Enclaves, Housing and Mobile Work ”, published by Éditions du Croquant.
Town halls and fairs, the reasons for the lack of love
Fairgrounds, which are very old, are often based on the calendar of old fairs, especially agricultural fairs. Toulouse is not the first city where showmen no longer find their place. Rouen moved the rides in 2015, many southern cities also took over, such as Antibes, Toulon, Carpentras and even Sanary. The general trend seems to be to push the amusement park further and further away from the city center, and also European according to Arnaud Marchand.
The economist details the reasons for this disenchantment between the town halls and their fairgrounds: “The exhibition center is something that has embodied a form of modernity throughout the twentieth century and that then seems a bit out of step with the urban redevelopment projects of the current city centers (…) there is a slight gap between the population of historical centers and the population that goes to the amusement park. (…) The residents less tolerant than before with the din of the carnival. (…) It poses a problem, even in popular circles, because there is a problem of traveling ”.
Municipalities have no shortage of arguments to make the choice to push carnivals out of city centers. Land pressure often forces showmen to relocate because town halls want to start other businesses in the city center, other more profitable uses. They prefer to organize their own parties, street theaters, sound and light shows …
A class conflict
Arnaud Lemarchand inscribes this shift of the carnival in a conflict of class culture: “Amusement parks are mainly practiced by popular clubs, for which its expenses are also quite high. It is the great outdoor leisure activity of popular clubs because amusement parks have partly replaced amusement parks, it takes a car and is generally more expensive than a carnival (…) interest in amusement parks, which also refers to the fact that it is a popular pastime, even though historically it was in amusement parks that the cinema was first shown. Bumper cars have been very important in automotive culture. Video games too, many people have discovered the first video games about carnivals. They were therefore places of continuous cultural and technical innovation. But in the end it turns more to the workers’ circles ”.
Do showmen have the means to defend themselves?
The fair activity is protected by any law, by any text. Arnaud Lemarchand describes a system on the fringes of the sedentary economy: “There are many uses, more than texts (…) showmen have little protection (…) They don’t have the protection of intangible property, that is, it is considered that a showman does not have a specific clientele. This is an activity that is not financed exclusively or to a significant extent by regular bank loans. Part of the work at the fairs is more or less formal, like a certain number of activities, so even there it was not possible to activate the aid (regarding Covid-19) since it provided for entry into circuits fully identifiable by the administration. They do not have access to some of the measures that can be adopted to support the economy, because it is still an activity that works partly in another circuit ”.