If the Government Gave You $350 to Spend on Culture, What Would You Buy?

If the Government Gave You $350 to Spend on Culture, What Would You Buy?

How much money do you spend on arts and entertainment — books, movies, music or video games — each month?

If your government were to give you the equivalent of $350 to spend on culture, do you think you would buy more of what you know you like — or do you think you might use at least some of the money to try something new and outside your comfort zone?

In “France Gave Teenagers $350 for Culture. They’re Buying Comic Books.,” Aurelien Breeden describes what happened when that country tried the experiment:

PARIS — When the French government launched a smartphone app that gives 300 euros to every 18-year-old in the country for cultural purchases like books and music, or exhibition and performance tickets, most young people’s impulse wasn’t to buy Proust’s greatest works or to line up and see Molière.

Instead, France’s teenagers flocked to manga.

“It’s a really good initiative,” said Juliette Sega, who lives in a small town in southeastern France and has used €40 (about $47) to buy Japanese comic books and “The Maze Runner,” a dystopian novel. “I’m a steady consumer of novels and manga, and it helps pay for them.”

As of this month, books represented over 75 percent of all purchases made through the app since it was introduced nationwide in May — and roughly two-thirds of those books were manga, according to the organization that runs the app, called the Culture Pass.

The French news media has written of a “manga rush,” fueled by a “manga pass” — observations that came via a slightly distorted lens, since the app arrived just as theaters, cinemas and music festivals, emerging from pandemic-related restrictions, had less to offer. And manga were already wildly popular in France.

But the focus on comic books reveals a subtle tension at the heart of the Culture Pass’s design, between the almost total freedom it affords it young users — including to buy the mass media they already love — and its architects’ aim of guiding users toward lesser-known and more highbrow arts.

Every French 18-year-old can activate the pass and spend €300, about $350, for up to two years on the app, on which over 8,000 businesses and institutions have listed their offerings.

Teenagers can buy physical goods from bookstores, record shops and arts supply or instrument stores. They can purchase tickets to movie showings, plays, concerts or museum exhibits. And they can sign up for dance, painting or drawing classes.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • If your government tried a similar experiment, what do you think you would buy? Why?

  • Is it a problem that French teenagers spent so much money on manga, the mass media they already love, rather than on “more highbrow arts” like Molière? Why or why not?

  • In your opinion, do teenagers need to be pushed — by parents, teachers, the government or any other authority — to learn about new forms of art and culture? Or do you think it happens naturally?

  • How do you find new forms of art and culture? Are they usually introduced to you by friends? By older people, like teachers or family members? To what extent do you find them on your own? Jean-Michel Tobelem, a professor quoted in the article, describes the way “you can enter Korean culture through K-pop and then discover that there is a whole cinema, a literature, painters and composers that go with it.” Has anything similar ever happened to you?

  • The French app offers incentives to push teenagers toward new, more challenging art forms, including lists of recommendations curated by popular artists and celebrities. Would such lists be helpful to you in finding new arts and culture? If so, which artists or celebrities would you choose to make lists?

  • When was the last time you tried to enjoy or to explore an artistic or cultural work that you felt was “demanding” — whether it was a book, a concert, a painting, a sculpture, an album, a film or anything else? What happened?

Learn more about Student Opinion here and find all of our questions in this column. Teachers, see how you can incorporate this feature into your classroom routine here.

Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.