Screenshot showing teenagers from Marseille’s Maison Blanche neighbourhood.
Drugs, violence, weapons, and motorcycles: these are the main ingredients of the amateur videos created and uploaded to YouTube by teenagers from the northern neighbourhoods of Marseille, in southern France. The objective is bravado, or to lay claim to a particular territory, but most of all to kill time in an area where there is just not that much for young people to do.
The videos are almost always scored with rap songs, the most popular musical genre in these neighbourhoods. Local teenagers team up to make these videos, which often feature them driving on the back wheels of their motorbikes, sometimes masked and brandishing guns. The video below is a typical example of this kind of video.
The videos often focus on theft, violence, and weapons. For example, the clip below shows footage of a hold-up of a Foot Locker store in downtown Marseille during the 2013 winter sales.
Others are simply music videos for original music by local rappers, who use the Internet as a low-cost marketing option. The same key ingredients can be found in those videos, too.
There are many such videos on YouTube. They are a means of showing pride in their neighbourhood whilst giving off the impression that these Marseillais fear nobody.
The northern neighbourhoods of Marseille, consisting of the 13th – 16th districts, are the city’s poorest and are considered to be some of the most dangerous in France. The police fear going into certain neighbourhoods, where gangs rule. Murderous gang reprisals have been on the rise over the last few years. In certain districts, such as the 15th, the unemployment rate approaches 30%, and 50% among the youth, many of whom are high-school dropouts.

“These videos are a way to show off the ‘wealth’ of their neighbourhoods”

Mehdi is a teacher in the northern districts of Marseille.
These videos are a way of showing off a particular neighbourhood, a way of demonstrating that a given housing project has a large number of motorbikes, hashish and weed, knives, or guns. They gather everything they own to display in the videos. In a way, it’s a manner of showing off the “wealth” of their neighbourhoods and warning outsiders not to mess with them.
The target audience for this type of video is teenagers from other neighbourhoods, as these videos are produced to lay claim to a particular territory. But overall, the teenagers are just trying to impress the video’s viewers, whoever they may be.
This phenomenon has been going on for several years. The videos come and go in waves: if a neighbourhood creates one, it will motivate others to create new videos in response. It’s also a generational phenomena: every two to three years, new videos crop up because younger generations want to imitate their older brothers who also made videos, and so forth. These teenagers use the Internet a lot. They communicate with each other on social networks, primarily Facebook. They also use YouTube a lot to post their videos.
“Here, the easiest way to make money is to sell drugs”
These videos generally reflect the fairly idle daily life of these young men. Public authorities have long deserted the low-income Marseille neighbourhoods. There aren’t many options for these teenagers, who see their parents barely making ends meet and struggling with unemployment or under-paid work. They rapidly learn that the easiest way to make money is to sell drugs, which creates quick profits and allows local teenagers to help their family and also buy brand-name clothing in imitation of their older brothers.
Drug trafficking breeds violence, which is a daily way of life in the northern districts of Marseille. These teenagers see violence as being part of their identity, and so they showcase it in their videos to show off their ability and willingness to fight. Often, these young men carry guns in the videos. Given the high volume of trafficking in the housing projects, firearms are hidden in basements or apartments. This showcasing of guns in the videos is clearly an imitation of French rap stars like Booba, whose music videos also feature guns.