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Sun Aug 12, 2012, 10:52 PM

The New Elitists

YOU can tell a lot about people by looking at their music collections. Some have narrow tastes, mostly owning single genres like rap or heavy metal. Others are far more eclectic, their collections filled with hip-hop and jazz, country and classical, blues and rock. We often think of such differences as a matter of individual choice and expression. But to a great degree, they are explained by social background. Poorer people are likely to have singular or “limited” tastes. The rich have the most expansive.

We see a similar pattern in other kinds of consumption. Think of the restaurants cherished by very wealthy New Yorkers. Masa, where a meal for two can cost $1,500, is on the list, but so is a cheap Sichuan spot in Queens, a Papaya Dog and a favorite place for a slice. Sociologists have a name for this. Today’s elites are not “highbrow snobs.” They are “cultural omnivores.”

Omnivorousness is part of a much broader trend in the behavior of our elite, one that embraces diversity. Barriers that were once a mainstay of elite cultural and educational institutions have been demolished. Gone are the quotas that kept Jews out of elite high schools and colleges; inclusion is now the norm. Diverse and populist programming is a mainstay of every museum. Elites seem more likely to confront snobbish exclusion than they are to embrace it.

This was not always the case.

In 1880 William Vanderbilt tried to buy one of the 18 coveted boxes at the New York Academy of Music on 14th Street by offering $30,000 for it. Vanderbilt represented new money, and to the old families controlling the academy his attempt to buy his way into a place reserved for them was a crass affront to their dignity. Money may be king in certain parts of New York society. But not everything can be bought.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opinion/sunday/the-new-elitists.html?pagewanted=all

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