Highbrow omnivorousness on the small screen? Cultural industry systems and patterns of cultural choice in Europe
To date, Peterson and Kern's (1996) “highbrow omnivorousness” hypothesis has been examined mainly for the case of musical taste. In this paper we attempt to extend this framework to a relatively unexplored cultural domain, that of television consumption. Using data from the 2001 Eurobarometer we hypothesize that highbrows will be more likely to consume a wide variety of other forms of popular culture, namely television programming. The results fail to unambiguously confirm the highbrow omnivorousness hypothesis: in some EU countries, highbrows consume a wider variety of television programming than non-highbrows, in other countries, highbrows are indistinguishable from non-highbrows, while in a third group of countries, highbrows are snobbier than non-highbrows in their television consumption choices. We attempt to explain this cross-national heterogeneity in the highbrow/non-highbrow difference in television consumption using DiMaggio's (1977) organizational theory of culture production. In our “contingent highbrow omnivorousness” framework, we propose that in commercialized, profit-oriented cultural industry systems, highbrow snobbery rather than omnivorousness will be the norm. In relatively less commercialized, profit-oriented contexts, highbrow the snobbery effect will be weaker. Classifying countries by the degree of market orientation of the television production field yields results that are consistent with this hypothesis.