|The French "exception culturelle"
||Is French culture alive or dying ?
Culture and markets do not mix well !
The French have a concept that they call
"l'exception culturelle française" (the
French cultural exception) which drives all American delegates
in any international meeting crazy. What does it mean? Basically, refering to "exception culturelle" means that everything "cultural"
must be protected from the "hegemony" of the markets,
the State being the regulator and, when necessary, the sponsor
of a cultural policy.
it means that "cultural products" are not "products"
and cannot be subject to:
- the regulation
which applies to "products" (free enterprise, no State
subsidy, no quotas etc...)
- the criteria
which apply to "products" (the more you sell, the better
it is, etc...).
Why ? Because
they express the cultural value of the French society, particularly its
language, and they need to be protected against competition by
a stronger competitor, with a larger market, lower production
cost, different values which would kill the French culture and
replace it by a foreign one. It does not matter if a foreign
car industry overcomes the French one : cars would be different,
that's all, but if French writers, French film-makers, French
musicians were replaced by foreign writers, film-makers and musicians,
France would no longer be France. As a consequence, most French
support the idea that it is legitimate to protect cultural activities
from pure market laws and it is the role of the State to protect them and
if necessary subsidize them with public money.This is why there is a Minister of Culture in the Cabinet. This is also why
when the Louvre developed a new policy of renting some of its
art works to raise money, it created a huge uproar in France. Read more
about typically French ethical values.
A few well-known illustrations of this policy:
- France fought to obtain that the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) founded by the UN in 1946 would be located in Paris.
- France instigated and supported the 1988 EU directive Television without Frontiers : TV programs must include at least 50% European productions (for France : 60%)
- In the 1993 negotiation of the Uruguay Round (GATT), French negotiators opposed violently US negotiators who, to avoid the political risk of a failure, had to concede that cultural products would be excluded from the agreement.
- By the same token, in May 2013 France was actively pushing the other European countries to exclude the whole audiovisual sector from the (future) free-trade agreement between the US and the EU.
|A French specificity : every year the President of France MUST present his greetings to the "world of culture" (which generally answers back with street demonstations against him!)
Is the French culture
dead or dying? This recurrent
question is a classical theme in the American press (such as
"The Death of French Culture" in Time Magazine Dec.
2007) The comments are always the same : France no longer has
world-famous thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre or singers such
as Edith Piaf ; contrary to the "Nouvelle Vague" French
movies are now mediocre and self-centered, French novelists are
not translated and are unknown outside France, the French State
puts too much money to help too mediocre artists, etc.... My
There is a language issue : French culture is of course in French (!) and is not
known if not translated : what do you know about Japanese novels
if they're not translated ?
For books and movies, the role
of US publishers and distributors is very important and
often they are not interested if it is not "typically French"
(see an interesting example, of a good movie which did
not look "French enough")
Culture has many aspects and in some of them, the French do very well all over the world
: architecture (Nouvel, Portzamparc, etc.), dance, techno
The French culture is not
dead (as US magazines
like to write : see
an example) and the "new France" is not
only represented by suburban riots. Thanks to ethnic diversity,
there is an incredibly rich new generation of young singers, movie-makers and writers.
Says Jerome Clément,
President of Arte, the (excellent) Franco-German TV Channel :
" Culture is not a beauty contest. You must not evaluate
the cultural level of a country by counting the number of writers
Mr.Average on the other end of the planet can name or the Top
50 of the best world sales . If Arte exists and contributes to
the influence of French culture worldwide, it is thanks to the
action of the
State. " (Le Monde 16/12/2008)
When you say "it was better
fourty years ago", it's often what people used to say fourty
The French Magazine Figaro published
a list of 35 "French
personnalisties of the Year 2008" who all got international
prizes and awards. How many of these names have you seen in the
US press ? And Le Monde writes that "2008 was a great year
for French culture!" : read
- More about "l'exception
- See also : "Is French science alive or dying ?"
- Read about French bashing...
- More to come
French openness to other cultures
- The French, who are notoriously proud of their own culture, are very open to other cultures : more than other countries (guess who I have in mind!), they translate foreign literature, welcome foreign films, invite foreign creators to their more prestigious cinema festivals (like Cannes), literary prizes (like Goncourt), theater festivals (like Avignon), etc.
- More to come...
(largely shared in France) explains certain elements of the French legislation such as :
unique du livre" : a limitation on the % of discount
on books (to support small publishing houses and help maintain
small bookstores against the competition of supermarkets)
; in 2013, the Ministry of Culture created a dedicated fund (Fonds de Soutien) with 10 m. Euros
to help small bookstores for their short term financing needs;
quotas on non-French movies
on French national TV channels and mandatory financing of films
by TV channels (as a provision in their license)
quotas of French music on radio channels (standard :
sur recettes" or "fonds de soutien":
a financial State advance on all French films (the French movie
industry is third in the world after the USA and India and France
is the only Western country where foreign films represent less
than 50% of the market : in Germany, Italy and UK, they represent
more than 80%)
less taxes :
TVA (value added tax) is 5,5% on cinema (like on food) when it
is 20% on almost everything
An example of what the French mean by "cultural policy". By law, free TV channels are not allowed to show a movie on Saturday evening. Why ? Because watching TV would keep people from going out to watch a movie in a movie theater. To help movie theaters and to encourage a more active cultural life, the State considers its duty to suppress the temptation to stay home. Most Americans think this is crazy Socialism and most Frenchmen think that by doing that, the State is doing its job.
the legal status
of "les intermittents du spectacle" (unemployment-system for artists, musicians,
technicians, etc...) is outside the general system and heavily subsidised.
Read about the French policy for movie : "l'exception culturelle"
A classical theme
of the US press is : with the State playing such an important
role in the financing and the promotion of films, literature,
wonder the French culture is dead " (or just "dying" if
the writer wants to be more balanced...).
- More to come....
Cultural activities of the French
Periodically, the Minsitry of Culture runs a survey and ranks the cultural activities ("pratiques culturelles") of the French. Here are the main results (1973-2008) (see an excerpt or the whole official study) :
- a steady increase of music : listening and playing
- (of course) more time on a screen
- less reading of books and newspapers
- more artistic activities with others
- more frequent visits to cultural places
(this section is under construction)
|To related pages : French movies, French songs, French literature, to impress your friends (with your familiarity with French literature), intercultural
differences, French attitudes, etc...
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Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French.
Order her books :
- "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
- "French Toast, An American in Paris
Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press,
New York, 1999
- "French Fried, The Culinary Capers
of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001
More on Harriet's books (excerpts, upcoming
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