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Leigh Witchel

Elites and culture

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This article from the Toronto Star was in Saturday, Jan. 5th's links (Thanks for catching it, Helene.)

"Univores," "Omnivores," "Paucivores" and "Inactives" are the new categories we can all find ourselves in. Which one depends on whether we believe Britney is a huge tabloid star or an area in northwestern France where Impressionist painters spent their summers.

But no matter what group is discussed, the visual arts do not figure very high on anyone's to-do list.

"In our report, we found that participation in the (higher) levels of all the arts is really quite low," John Goldthorpe tells me on the phone from England.

Of course reports like this come out periodically, and there are lies, damned lies and statistics, but there's certainly something to discuss here.

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"Univores," "Omnivores," "Paucivores" and "Inactives" are the new categories we can all find ourselves in. Which one depends on whether we believe Britney is a huge tabloid star or an area in northwestern France where Impressionist painters spent their summers.

'Better education does little to change this bleak picture.'

Nor, apparently, to enforce more punctilious journalism. It's pretty clear that the example given would find only the 'inactives' possibly thinking that 'Britney' might be an area in northwestern France (but even they probably saw some sort of travel journey on PBS or something--then again, they may have only heard the word spoken, not seen it written in its English version), nevermind who painted there. The 'paucivores' would definitely know that 'Britney' is a huge tabloid star, quite as would the 'Univores' and 'Omnivores'. Recent examples given at BT prove some of the Canadians have to rush things through without figuring out the fine points, although I've seen pitiful things in the New York Times as well. I wonder to what group Mr. Goddard thinks he belongs.

These new terms won't catch on, you can be sure of that. It's all 'features', whether the 'article' or the 'report', and I don't believe a word of it, especially the part about it 'causing a stir'.

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I think these researchers need more specificity and maybe a few separate categories for the omnivores, because pop varies greatly in quality. Are we talking about celebrity worshippers who also go see the Nutcracker and the new, much publicized productions of Sleeping Beauty and "Romeo +Juliet," or are we talking about people with a good arts education arts who faithfully subscribe to the Met but also follow the careers of intelligent pop songwriters? Are we talking about 20-somethings with omnivorous cultural curiousity, or are we talking about ex-20-somethings-with-omnivorous-cultural-curiousity who are now 50-somethings but whose tastes, or at least who spending habits, are now more tightly focused?

And paucivores may not care much for contemporary art, but don't many of them go see the smaller shows by established artists, as well as the blockbusters?

Also, folk culture is still alive both here and across the pond, as I'm reminded of when I flip past the local access cable TV station and see a small heterogeneous circle of people standing and picking banjos, guitars and mandolins.

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