The French state and popular culture
The French state has sought to harness ‘popular cultures’ in the form of worker culture, folk culture, and cultural forms communicated by the mass media for political ends since the Revolution. In the 1930s, the Popular Front continued state valorisation of popular cultures with its acknowledgement of working-class entertainment in a new state-sponsored era of leisure. In the 1940s, the Vichy state mobilised pre-1789 folk cultures to construct a mythic anti-Republican ‘France éternelle’ sharing ancient cultural commonalities with the new leader of a pan-European state, Germany. ‘Peuple et Culture’, which emerged with the Maquis and Uriage's École des cadres during the Occupation, sought to popularise ‘high culture’ – literature, theatre, classical music, fine art – by promoting it to the ‘people’ in a strategy evocative of Popular Front initiatives and anticipatory of Malraux's ‘Maisons de Cultures’ project of the early 1960s. From the Liberation to the 1980s the state's project to democratise culture was predicated on the assumption of the cultural deprivation of the masses which could be remedied by means of an ‘éducation permanente’ providing access to erudite culture both inside and outside the formal educational system. However, Jack Lang's first period of tenure as minister of culture in Mitterrand's Socialist government (1981–6) marked a radical change of direction for state policy on culture. Now mass-media driven popular cultures were valorised as authentic culture.