While cultural indulgence and appreciation tend to cut across social class inequalities, the general conception is that people of a higher social class are exposed to platforms that enable them to consume more cultural products than the average art enthusiast or people of a lower social class. For instance, it appears that most attendees and participants in cultural events and showcases are of a high social class. It thus appears that cultural showcases are a reserve for the well-off and there is the temptation to conclude that the affluent appreciate art more than the poor. Nonetheless, the question as to whether the social class is a determinant of artistic indulgence or not is open for discussion. Besides, such observations can be attributed to the fact that people of a higher social class have the disposable income to participate in cultural indulgence and access platforms such as the technologies to consume art (Beech, 2021). Also, to ascertain such a claim there is a need to evaluate how various factors play out in the structuring of the contemporary cultural economy. Otherwise, it would be quite premature or simplistic to conclude that people from a high social class appreciate cultural showcases more than participants from a low social class. Thus drawing on real examples, this essay attempts to discuss the role of consumers in creating the notion that social class is a key determinant of the consumption disparities in the contemporary creative market.
Wealth Distribution As a Main Precursor to Class Imposed Inequalities
Equating creative pursuits and entertainment to secondary needs pushes cultural subjects down the expenditure/consumption list of an average household. It means that as much as both the affluent and the underprivileged may appreciate art and cultural showcases, the less affluent have limited opportunities (Casey and O’Brien, 2020). In this case, financial inequality represents a barrier that prevents the poor from accessing the various platforms that showcase art and other products of creativity. CNBC recently released a list of annual events in Britain that are typically attended by millionaires (Shead, 2021). They include tech events, film festivals, ballroom dancing, antique exhibitions and art collecting. Furthermore, people from a low social class live in environments that do not encourage them to participate in profound cultural consumption. They may want to but they cannot afford to be part of it. For example, they stay away from amenities that host and showcase art and culture such as museums, exhibition centres and shows (Casey and O’Brien, 2020). The undesirable environments plus the lack of extra resources culminate in fewer opportunities for the poor to fully experience culturally rich lifestyles (Gill, 2014). In other words, the observation that most attendees and participants in cultural events and showcases are of a high social class may be true but involuntary.
The masses have little to no influence on the value attached to cultural objects, practices and experiences. The production, regulation and consumption patterns are influenced by the value the elite who are the hosts, producers, distributors and regulators attach to the cultural objects and practices (Oakley and O’Brien, 2015). For instance, when an entertainment company like SONY decides to introduce a new product or service, the price they attach to their products becomes the price the masses have to part with in order to experience the product (Smith, 2012). The producers and developers may slightly consider the needs of the target audience for their creative products but still reserve the right to admission. According to Oakley and O’Brien (2015), it is referred to as the circus of cultural consumption practices. Such an occurrence takes away the gatekeeping ability of people from a low social class. They will have to agree with the value that has been decided for them and pay a predetermined price for them to experience the cultural object or practice; unless a new entrant steps in and challenges the incumbent with a more cost-effective offer. For instance, if the person who decides the value attached to a cultural object or experience is an educated white make British, the cultural product is likely to be out of reach for someone an unschooled single mother of colour in Britain
Class and Cultural Divisions as an Untold Factor in the Consumption Practices
The creative class has typically been associated with people of a higher social class. Being culturally diverse, tolerant and counter-cultural individuals, Florida (2014) notes that the professional skills of the creative class typically attract creative expansion; which doubles up as the gatekeeper for platforms that disseminate cultural content. Likewise, the connection between the creative class and upward mobility remerges across generations. In other words, each generation has its creative class championing cultural renaissance. On the other hand, the structure of a contemporary creative industry is still nostalgic for historical undertones. Therefore, the interplay of tradition only assumes a new face as advanced by the creative class who equally happen to be of higher social class. According to Nilson and Thorell (2018), as much as the creative industry continues to evolve from tradition, the industry upholds the historical discourse as a vehicle for socio-political and entrepreneurial relevance. So as the connection of cultural heritage remains informal and somewhat abstract, it still plays a significant role in the social and economic lifeline of the contemporary creative industry (Moore, 2014). That is to say, some of the commercial activities that the creatives undertake for entrepreneurial purposes may economically alienate the masses (typical people of a low class). As such, the notion that the affluent consume more art than the poor and well stems from a natural course of cultural heritage preservation.
Being characterized by meritocracy, the creative industry, especially in the United Kingdom, the production structures dribbles down to consumption patterns of the creative products. For instance, O’Brien et al. (2016) observe that women are underrepresented, BAME group are underrepresented and every other creative population is rather white than the UK as a whole. As a sector that grapples with meritocratic issues several inequalities are bound to occur; some of which trickle down to the consumption practices of its products. If creative labour is meritocratic, the consumption distribution may also be skewed in the same manner. O’Brien et al. (2016) explain that how cultural value is consumed is no different from how it is consumed. The relative possibility of creating for an audience of a lower class high thus relies upon socially homogenous foundations, in which class origin can influence the consumption practices in the creative sector since the intersectional inequalities open a gap distribution of cultural literature (Moore, 2014). So if the labour force is stratified along with the social structures such as gender, and ethnicity which is some of the determinants of class, the consumption becomes equally intertwined with the same (Wright, 2018). The uneven distribution and significant differences in the consumption patterns between people of means and the deprived arise from the unevenness of employment figures between different creative sectors.
The relentless struggle for distinction continues to elevate some forms of cultural subjects in a manner that amplifies class divisions. Moreover, the disposition of capitalism that characterizes the contemporary creative industry makes some forms of art and entertainment a symbol of prestige and status (Moore, 2014). It is quite evident in the marketing campaigns and strategies for some of the events, objects or literature. Serving as a channel of elevating value or dispensing art to the audience, the marketing strategies used including the promotional register and channels tend to widen the gap of social differences for some forms of cultural experiences (Mikiewicz, 2021). The audience segmentation and targeting methods applied in marketing a given cultural event, product or experience delineate the audience along the lines of class, income and social status. Furthermore, Oakley and O’Brien (2015) note that the attempts by the UK government to expand cultural literacy continue to work in favour of the upwardly mobile minorities that make up about 8% who are least ethnically diverse, well-educated and well-off. The same 8% are well equipped to utilize the funding provided by the Arts Council England due to their proximity and the ready access they have to the funding platforms (Oakley and O’Brien, 2015). Since, upwardly mobile minorities are already part of the minority ardent art enthusiast associated with live theatre attendance, they are more visible.
Amidst the technological progress that characterizes the globalization of creative industries, some entertainment platforms are only accessible to the consumer with disposable income (Flew, 2016). While technological progress is thought to be a democratizing factor or an equalizer, a study by Weingartner (2020) shows that some of the consumption inequalities have been enlarged by the cost of acquiring some types of media. Technology is becoming the main form of display for a lot of cultural subjects. A case study of some of the main technology-based providers of cultural content such as Netflix or iTunes affirms the central role of technology in defining how cultural subjects are consumed (Isaacs, 2022). For example, the algorithms are fundamentally adjusted to favour premium subscribers. Subscribers that pay more get access to more content than those that pay less. It is evident in the subscription packages. Audiences may need to have some type of technology to access some forms of cultural products (Wright, 2018). The same goes hand in hand with the fact that the rate at which new technologies emerge may be too fast for art lovers from low-income households to catch up. It shows that cultural indulgence to a great extent is now a lifestyle thing and people from a low social class cannot afford the said lifestyle.
Underpinning the Multidimensional Nature of the Consumption Inequality
The observation that people of a high social class consume more cultural products of the creative industries than people of a low social class can be disputed as artificial since it is created by structural factors such as the patterns of media exposure of a given form of art. That is to say, many other factors also determine the level of mass exposure to a particular cultural subject (Lindsköld, 2016). It is like asking why an average British would prefer a classical genre of music like jazz over a mainstream sound like hip-hop. The masses may identify more with hip hop since it is the kind of music they have repeatedly been exposed to (Bull and Scharff, 2017). It shows that the inequalities are intertwined with other factors such as relevance and exposure to the given cultural material (Bull and Scharff, 2017: Lindsköld, 2016). Sometimes the cultural agencies, policymakers and creative industry managers take the same approach while attaching value to some cultural products. So, it is easier for policymakers to label a jazz event as high-end while marking a hip-hop gig as a local club event. If the masses were more exposed to jazz and the elite to hip hop, then jazz would be a mass product while hip would be a niche music genre (Palma-Martos et al., 2021: Brodsky et al., 2018). Therefore, the inequalities in consumption patterns should not be simplified in terms of sheer wealth and income differences. It is rather multifaceted.
Governmental engagement can partially be faulted for perpetuating perceived consumption inequalities. O’Brien et al. (2016) reckon that policymaking and government subsidy in support of creative industries organisations have not been uniform either. Governmental engagement and funding appear to favour consumers from a high social class while overlooking a segment of the population that makes up a significant social capital (Mikiewicz, 2021). According to Oakley and O’Brien (2015) “The use of culture for a variety of social and economic purposes suggests culture, in the eyes of the policy maker and the organizations and practitioners carrying out cultural activities, can have an impact on issues of governmental concern” (p. 8). The same translates into inequalities in funding and governmental engagement. For instance, between 2012 and 2015 when the Arts Council England opted to fund theatre and music, the funding went to 28% of the highly engaged minority that accounts for 44% of live music and theatre attendance in the United Kingdom who ended up with £94 per head (Oakley and O’Brien, 2015). The rest of the money went to 8% who are the least culturally diverse, well-educated and the wealthiest; who received £85 per head of the live music and theatre funding from the council (Oakley and O’Brien, 2015). Funding inequalities influence production and widen the consumption gap between the social class that receives the funding and the one that does not. It explains the multifaceted nature of consumption inequality.
The concept of omnivorous also highlights how digital may be attenuating the supposed consumption inequalities. In other words, it is becoming increasingly difficult to classify consumption patterns based on taste and preference for a cultural object or experience (Lindsköld, 2016). It is presumed that the people from a higher social class that represented the trendsetters are becoming snobbish thanks to the emergence of digital media (Warde, et al., 2007). The main concern is whether the continued use of digital media will help in alleviating some of the above consumption inequalities. However, based on a body of empirical evidence suggest that the notion that digital media may accentuate consumption inequalities is not entirely realistic (Warde, et al., 2007: Weingartner, 2020). For instance, studies suggest that the omnivorous partaking habits manifest in two forms namely; ‘by consumption’ and ‘by volume’. On the same note, researchers reckon that digital media only democratizes omnivorousness by volume, not by consumption (Weingartner, 2020). Omnivorousness by consumption is still driven by relevance, taste and preference (Bull and Scharff, 2017: Lindsköld, 2016). It has been established that digitization can enrich, enlarge and activate the audience for variety, the idea that the continued use of digital media will help in alleviating some of the above consumption inequalities is still up for debate (Weingartner, 2020). Nonetheless, the great digital infiltration is continuously blurring the line that defines how and why people consume the products of the creative industries.
Emerging Patterns of Consumption in the Creative Industries
It is a concern for stakeholders in the creative industries how the consumption of cultural products and experiences might change posts pandemic. To many, the government imposed restrictions during the pandemic served as an equalizer in the manner in which people partook cultural objects and experiences (Owoseje, 2020: Matthewman and Huppatz, 2020). For a moment in a long time, it COVID-19 restrictions blurred the lines of social class, status or income as most people stayed home and relied on the internet or broadcast to access content (Matthewman and Huppatz, 2020). Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only impacted consumption practices in the creative sector but has also impacted labour (Khlystova et al., 2022). While the notions of inequality through cultural consumption cannot be alleviated overnight, it is safe to say the creative industry is picking up from a position closer to equality. The approach that the structuring of the contemporary cultural economy will assume after the pandemic is now up to key stakeholders such as cultural state agencies (such as the Arts Council England), policymakers and creative industry managers will to decide (Miles and Gibson, 2016). The current situation gives the mentioned stakeholders a chance to restructure the creative cultural expansion in a manner that will diminish some of the highlighted consumption inequalities (Miles and Gibson, 2016). The post-pandemic strategies together with the ongoing digital distribution should help resolve the notion that people of a higher social class with disposable income partake in more cultural subjects than people from a low social class.
This essay attempts to underpin why significant inequalities exist in the consumption practices between the rich and the poor in the creative sector. Preliminary studies suggest that the affluent appreciate art more than the poor. While data and research relating to social class and consumption practices in the creative industry are limited, the above analysis highlights some of the occurrences and scenarios why it appears that social class is a key determinant of consumption practices in the creative industries. Equating creative pursuits and entertainment to secondary needs pushes cultural subjects down the consumption list of an average home. Furthermore, people from a low social class live in environments that do not encourage them to participate in profound cultural consumption. The undesirable environments plus the lack of extra resources culminate into fewer opportunities for the poor to fully experience culturally rich lifestyles. Also, the masses have little to no influence on the value attached to cultural objects, practices and experiences. On the other hand, the creative class has typically been associated with people of a higher social class who are the gatekeepers of some of the platforms that disseminate cultural products. Moreover, the disposition of capitalism that characterizes the contemporary creative industry makes some forms of art and entertainment a symbol of prestige and status.
On the other hand, it is possible to dispute the observation that people of a high social class consume more cultural products of the creative industries than people of a low social since it can be attributed to structural factors such as the patterns of media exposure of a given form of art. In another word, the inequalities could be artificial. In other words, the underprivileged may want to indulge in cultural experiences just like the rich but they cannot afford them. Also, governmental engagement can partially be faulted for perpetuating perceived consumption inequalities. Funding inequalities influence production and widen the consumption gap between the social classes. The concept of omnivorous also highlights how digital may be attenuating the supposed consumption inequalities. The main concern is whether the continued use of digital media will help in alleviating some of the above consumption inequalities. However, while studies dispel the likeliness of digital media accentuating the consumption inequalities, digital infiltration is continuously blurring the line that defines how and why people consume the products of the creative industries. Finally, according to stakeholders in the creative sector, the post-pandemic strategies together alongside the ongoing digital distribution may resolve the notion people of a higher social class with disposable income consume more cultural subjects than people from a low social class.
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