In May, as the COVID vaccine was gaining momentum amid a punishing global pandemic, the French government gave 300 euro, or $350, to 18-year-olds via a smartphone app as a cultural experiment, according to the New York Times. The app encourages les ados to spend that money on the art form of their choosing with few restrictions (namely video games, which need to be French-made and contain no violence). According to the app’s data, books accounted for 75 percent of purchases and two-thirds of those were manga.
I see no problem with this, but predictably, some of these damn French are pissed.
“A kid from the projects will lean toward what he already knows,” said Pierre Ouzoulias, an anti-Culture Pass crusader and member of the French Communist Party. “I can’t for one moment imagine a kid using the pass to go listen to Baroque opera.”
Maybe it’s because I am an American who drinks Diet Coke, but I can’t for a minute understand why Japanese graphic novels would be considered low-brow or emblematic of what a French kid from the French projects “already knows.” Manga is a valuable cultural import that has the potential to be paradigm-shifting for Euro-centric French teens. This seems more vital to me than making a child see Cadmus et Hermione or some other dumb play — saliva particles flying everywhere — after a year and a half spent indoors.
If I were given $350 as an 18-year-old, I would have spent around $250 of it on topical acids to burn my face off and pinky concealer three shades too dark at the Sephora at the Oak Brook Mall. I’d use the remaining money on some dumb headband and an In Touch magazine, rather than whatever the American version of a Baroque opera would be — it was 2010, so presumably “Just The Way You Are” by the inimitable king of the airwaves Bruno Mars.
And look at me now, papa. I became a writer at a premiere cultural behemoth just like the French government wants for their own teens.