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France gave teens 300 euros to spend on the arts. Here’s what they bought

Young adults in France can spend the money on museums, art lessons, book and movie tickets

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France’s President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech in Tahiti, French Polynesia.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a flower lei and seashell necklaces, delivers a speech after a meeting with Edouard Fritch, president of French Polynesia, in Tahiti on Tuesday, 27, 2021.

Esther Cuneo, Associated Press

What happens if you give young adults in France around $350 to spend on cultural events, music lessons and books?

They’ll buy Japanese graphic novels.

In May, French President Emmanuel Macron rolled out an app called Culture Pass that gave every 18-year-old in France 300 euros (around $350) to spend at bookstores, record shops, tickets for movies and museums and even art lessons. And as of late July, 75% of the teenagers’ purchases have been for books, The New York Times reported, and around two-thirds of those books have been from the genre of Japanese graphic novels called manga.

  • “Akira, Fairy Tail, Dark Souls, Vers la lumière, ... Happy to share a moment with these artists. They are myths in Japan, in France too! The success of #PassCulture confirms it: culture brings us together,” Macron said last week of several manga series in an Instagram post (translated from French to English by Google).
  • The young adults have two years to spend the money, which can be used at more than 8,000 business and institutions that are registered on the app, the Times reported.

But what is manga?

The New York Public Library defines manga as “a wide variety of comic books and graphic novels originally produced and published in Japan.”

  • Unlike American comics or books, Japanese manga is usually printed in black and white and is read from right-to-left.
  • The graphic novels are written for a variety of audiences from kids to adults.

Culture is different for everyone

Culture Pass was a promise of Macron’s 2017 run for president and the timing of the app’s release — which has been some time in the making — would help get France’s cinema and museums out their pandemic-induced lockdown, the BBC reported.

  • An early trial of the Culture Pass, before it was available to all French 18-year-olds, found that nearly 3 in 4 teens used it on “new cultural activities” and a third of the app’s early users went to a museum for the first time, reported National Public Radio.
  • But in practice, now that the app is open to the country’s more than 800,000 18-year-olds, the free ticket to French cinema and art has developed a nickname: the manga pass, NPR reported.

Critics of the app and of the French president say Macron is “throwing cash at young people to court their vote” ahead of next year’s election and that the money should be used to support underfunded, and already exciting programs, according to The New York Times.

  • The French government has allocated 80 million euros (about $94 million) this year for the Culture Pass, NPR reported, and will be available to younger teens next year.
  • “A kid from the projects will lean toward what he already knows,” said Pierre Ouzoulias, a French senator, who has encouraged getting rid of the app, according to the Times. “I can’t for one moment imagine a kid using the pass to go listen to Baroque opera.”