Couch potatoes stir in pursuit of higher culture

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The Independent Online
The couch potato is a threatened species, because the British are becoming more cultured and more active.

We are reading books more, visiting the theatre and museums more and watching television less, according to the latest Cultural Trends study by the Policy Studies Institute.

Even the television we are watching is now less likely to be entertainment fodder than it was five years ago. The PSI finds there is now more current affairs and news on television than five years ago.

Since the 1980s, people have cut down on their television viewing. In 1985, people watched an average of 27.1 hours of television per week, but this has fallen to 25.2 hours. At the same time, 77 per cent of the population buys books - the same figure as in 1990. But there has been a 2 per cent increase in the number of visits to libraries in the same period.

More than 26 million visits were made to national museums, a rise of more than 3.2 million since 1989. The top attraction in the country was the British Museum, in London, which had more than 6 million visitors in 1994/95.

The study also shows more people are visiting theatre, opera and ballet productions. Almost 10 million people went to the theatre, 2.5 million attended the opera and 2.9 million the ballet.

However, the type of show attended is changing, despite the success of the Three Tenors and "Nessun Dorma", attendances at classical concerts and performances of jazz and contemporary dance are down. Overall, the number of productions dropped between 1991 and 1995 throughout the UK, while shows like Riverdance - The Show, are successful enough to move from theatres to home video.

Our obsession with films continues and in the 11 years since the first multiplex opened, cinema attendances have increased by more than 70 per cent.

More than 80 per cent of homes have at least one video cassette recorder and, of the top 20 videos sold, 19 originated in the cinema.

The leading rental video film is Four Weddings and a Funeral, closely followed by Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing and the Sharon Stone vehicle, Basic Instinct. The power of children's tastes is shown by the animated films that are among the most popular bought for home: Disney's Jungle Book and its stablemates, The Lion King and Fantasia.

"We have been reading a great deal about how the pressures of modern life have left many people with less free time and shortened attention spans," said Sara Selwood, a senior fellow of the Policy Studies Institute. "The evidence does not suggest, however, that the competing attention of rival media has led us to dumb down as a society.

"Instead, people are interested in the quality of their leisure time and are finding many more ways to spend it than sitting at home watching television.

"This is particularly true for children and young people, whose interest in reading, film and museums have continued to grow, despite the popular view that they find such activities boring."

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