Leading article: Culture club

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The Independent Online

Young fogeys up and down the land will be harrumphing into their pipes at the news. According to the Economic and Social Research Council, there is no such thing as a "cultural elite". The idea that there exists an entire class of people in society who are only interested in the highest forms of art and who avoid mass culture is, apparently, a groundless stereotype.

In fact, we're something of a jumble. Some of us are "univores", who are only interested in popular culture. Others are "omnivores" who snaffle up any form of entertainment, high or low. There are "paucivores", who only consume a small amount of culture. Finally, there are "inactives", those resistant to absorbing any culture whatsoever. And what we become has nothing to do with our social background. We might be an omnivore born on a council estate, or an inactive born in a stately home.

But was it ever any different? The idea that rich people like opera and fine art and that poor people like dog racing and fighting was propaganda put about by middle-class snobs in the 19th century. The aristocracy has always enjoyed the "low" pleasures. Henry VIII built an arena for cock-fighting in the Palace of Whitehall. The Marquis of Queensbury invented the rules of modern boxing. And, of course, the common-born groundlings of Southwark adored Shakespeare.

It is also rather odd that the researchers seem to have assumed that cinema constitutes "low" culture. we might be engulfed in a deluge of Hollywood sludge at the moment. But there are also jewels in the flood: The Coen brothers? Pedro Almodovar? What these researchers have actually discovered is that, as the old saw has it, there is no accounting for taste.