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French weekly magazines review 21 December 2014

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It is Christmas season and as politicians and journalists alike wind down for the holidays, the French weeklies focus not on hot political topics but considered dossiers. And some of them have a patriotic flavour to them.


Le Point's cover page reads "The hours that made France", and the magazine looks at the key decisions that led to France evolving into the country it is today, starting from 1214 through to 1982.

Marianne instead focuses on the different products that make up the richness of the country. Marianne journalists have trawled the country, region by region, to find the producers who continue to use artisanal methods in their craft. The journalists have sought out those who have resisted the incessant assaults of globalisation and managed to pass down these trades through the generations.

Jams, pottery, beer, ballet shoes, berets, knives, bras, mustard, lace, lemonade, stripy jumpers, marcarons, sausages, perfume and meccano - to name just a few of the 200 products Marianne has come up with. These, according to Marianne are part of the "glory" of France!

Dossier: Revolution in Egypt

L'Express looks farther afield for its cover dossier to the Middle East. They delve into the melting pot of peoples that has evolved over millenia in his region mixing Arabic, Persian and Turkish cultures, not to mention the different religious groups. The dossier seeks to explain the current conflicts by looking at colonial roots of the nation state barriers.

An interview with author James Barr explains the geopolitics of dividing up the Middle East by the British and the French at the beginning of the last century. But there are also commercial reasons, such as the fact that three quarters of global maritime trade goes through the Middle East or along its coasts. Water is the key to many of the conflicts in the Middle East, and not petrol as might be expected given how the region is rich in this resource. There are a multitude of reasons for despair in the region, particularly Syria.

But, L'Express gives a spark of hope for the future, looking through a cultural lens... in Egypt, whilst the military government is cracking down on NGOs, the media, gay rights, women in the arts are flourishing. The magazine interviews several young women who say that the electro music scene and innovative cinema is flourishing, and women are getting stuck right in. L'Express describes the arts the new battleground.

To another challenge for the future, Le Nouvel Observateur asks "Should we fear Google?" The magazine investigates how Google has been buying up companies carrying out research in artificial intelligence - having bought 8 companies in the past six months.

The internet giant has also rented three hangers from the American space agency NASA in order for their robotics division to carry out research. But, none outside of Google really knows for certain what they have up their sleeves, as they guard their secrets clesely, only letting in a handful of journalists a year.

But Le Nouvel Obs does know that they are working on "artificial neurone networks" to make computers that function like human brains, particularly in image and sound recognition. They are also developing low pollution cars, drones who can deliver goods to remote areas, high-resolution satellites.

Like secrets? Find out about the Hidden Paris

But, as Le Nouvel Obs points out, never in human history have human beings developed technologies that could turn humanity as we know it on its head. Nor are Google, as a private company, subject to the same ethical constraints, notes Larry Chu, director of medecine at Sranford University.

And finally, on a seasonal note, Marianne asks, "Is father Christmas sexist?" This year's children toys are cliché says Marianne. Toys for girls are sparkly, and are only to do with glamour or housework, whilst boys toys include false biceps, swords and guns. Even playmobil who make little figurines and have a reputation for gender neutral toys are getting in on the act, bringing out a new playset for girls, wait for in, a laundry!

Sociologists interviewed by Marianne worry about encouraging little boys to play roles in which they dominate others, and encouraging little girls to be constantly concerned with their looks and household chores, saying that this could set unhealthy gender roles from early on.

Marianne traces this phenomenon of gendered toys. In the 1950s, catalogues were in black and white and so there was no gender division, but in the 80s, the blue and pink hues were splashed over the catalogues. By the 1990s, photos of children appeared and that created even greater divisions. This is significant because 60% of parents buy toys with their children and so marketeers target the children directly. And with 295 euros on average spent on every child under 12, it is a lucrative market.

Maybe father Christmas is not sexist, perhaps he is just a good salesman! Food for thought if you are doing any christmas shopping this weekend.