France Gave Teenagers $350 for Culture. They’re Buying Comic Books.
PARIS – When the French government launched a smartphone app that gives every 18-year-old in the country 300 euros for cultural purchases like books and music, or exhibition and show tickets, the boost of most young people was not to buy the larger works of Proust or stand in line and see Moliere.
Instead, French teens flocked to manga.
“This is a very good initiative,” said Juliette Sega, who lives in a small town in south-eastern France and has used € 40 (around $ 47) to buy Japanese comics and “The Maze Runner” , a dystopian novel. “I’m a regular consumer of novels and manga, and that helps pay for them. “
This month, books made up over 75% of all purchases made through the app since its nationwide introduction in May – and about two-thirds of those books were manga, according to the organization that manages the application, called Culture Pass.
French media have been talking about a “manga rush” fueled by a “manga pass” – sightings that came through a slightly distorted lens, as the app arrived just as theaters, cinemas and music festivals, emerging from restrictions linked to the pandemic, had less to offer. And manga was already very popular in France.
But the emphasis on comics reveals a subtle tension at the heart of the Culture Pass’s design, between the almost total freedom it offers young users – including to buy the mass media they already love – and the objective of its architects to guide users towards less known and more intellectual arts.
Every 18-year-old French person can activate the pass and spend € 300, or around $ 350, for up to two years on the application, on which more than 8,000 companies and institutions have listed their offers.
Teens can purchase physical goods at bookstores, record stores, and art or instrument supply stores. They can buy tickets for film screenings, plays, concerts or museum exhibits. And they can enroll in dance, painting or drawing lessons.
Noël Corbin, an official with the Culture Ministry overseeing the project, said the pass gave new French adults a way to search for nearby cultural offerings – the app has a geolocation feature – and encouraged them to indulge in their cultural passions.
But it also uses incentives to push adolescents into new, more stimulating art forms, he said, a type of curation to “get young people to discover the realms of possibilities in cultural life.”
These include recommendation lists curated by Culture Pass staff members and popular artists and celebrities, as well as access to VIP events, like a live concert at the Soulages museum in the south of France. and a look behind the scenes at the Avignon Festival theater.
In a Culture Pass launch speech in May, President Emmanuel Macron, who made the initiative one of his campaign pledges, said France would score a “tremendous victory” when young people stop saying: “This work of literature, this film is not for me.
Yet critics argue that letting 825,000 teens lose free money and expecting them to be pushed away from the nearest multiplex and into an arthouse movie theater is naive waste. taxpayer money.
Jean-Michel Tobelem, associate professor at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne specializing in the economics of culture, said it was a laudable effort but that it would greatly benefit mainstream media.
“You don’t need to push young people to go see the latest Marvel movie,” he said. There is nothing wrong with pop music or blockbusters, he said, acknowledging that “you can get into Korean culture through K-Pop and then find out that there is a whole cinema. , a literature, painters and composers that go with it “.
But Tobelem said he was not convinced the Culture Pass unconditional approach would do this, and that the app had little incentive to engage in “more artistically demanding works.”
The app comes with built-in restrictions: users can only spend up to € 100 on offers like e-books and online media subscriptions, as well as music or movie streaming services. , which are also limited to French companies. And while the Culture Pass can be spent on video games, the game’s publisher must be French, and the game must not involve violence – terms so restrictive that most popular titles are unavailable.
Naza Chiffert, who runs two independent bookstores in Paris, said the Culture Pass has already had a positive impact on his business. “Bringing young people to us who read but are more used to Amazon or big box stores is not easy,” she said, but now she has teenagers in her stores every day.
Still, some fear that the pass could be a financial windfall for people from privileged backgrounds while doing little to help others broaden their cultural horizons.
“A kid from the projects will lean towards what he already knows,” said Pierre Ouzoulias, a senator from the French Communist Party who pushed for the laissez-passer to be abolished. “I can’t imagine for a single moment a child using the pass to go and listen to baroque opera.”
Ouzoulias fell in love with Baroque opera as a teenager, although he grew up in a “relatively modest environment, with almost no musical culture”. But he said he was an exception to the rule, and favored more structured state support. “If you leave people to their own devices, you perpetuate social discrimination,” he said.
A large union representing hundreds of public cultural institutions, primarily in the performing arts, called the pass a “presidential gadget” with “exorbitant” funding. The project cost 80 million euros (almost 95 million dollars) this year, and that figure is expected to double next year, even though it will remain a fraction of the ministry’s budget of nearly 4 billion euros. Culture.
Opponents accuse Macron of throwing money at young people to woo their votes ahead of next year’s presidential election and taking an unregulated approach instead of funding existing short-lived outreach programs. ‘money, like those run by community youth centers, which expand access to culture in a more structured way. way.
The French Ministry of Culture retorts that it plans to introduce the pass to college students, first in a classroom managed by the teacher, and gradually increase the amounts of autonomy and money, until that students turn 18. He also says the pass allows cultural institutions to reach young audiences, who are usually difficult to attract, directly on their smartphone.
The teens themselves echoed both critics and promoters of the pass: More advice wouldn’t hurt, but the freedom is great.
Gabriel Tiné, an 18-year-old osteopathic student in Paris, spent over € 200 of his pass at Cîteaux Sphère, a Parisian record store, where he and a friend were leafing through vinyl records one recent afternoon.
Almost all of her friends have activated the pass, and nationwide nearly 630,000 teens are now using it. There are minor complaints: the app has issues and is best designed for those who know what they’re looking for, not just for browsing. But Tine said he liked the idea, especially the ability to splurge on musical instruments or art lessons.
“I wouldn’t say no to going to a jazz concert or anything like that,” Tiné said, although he added that the app hadn’t tempted him to buy those tickets.
“What’s interesting,” he said, “is that anyone can do whatever they want with it.
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