We have decided to touch on this topic because it is quite versatile and will become an excellent main issue for a sociological essay. This is especially true if you are writing a paper on a free topic since you are not limited in this case.
There are many studies showing that in most countries, people who actively participate in the consumption of the high culture (go to opera, understand painting, can talk about literature and cinema) are more successful in life than those who do not do it. On average, they marry more successfully in both senses – they are happier in marriage and their partners earn more money. They have a more prosperous career. They are healthier and live longer. And we see all this in comparison with less cultured children from about the same social stratum, with whom they went to the same school and to the same university.
There are two theories about why the "level of culture" – words that mean almost the same as the sociological term "cultural capital" – has only a beneficial effect.
According to the psychological one, a cultural capital simply signifies some important characteristics of an individual. For example, interest in painting and poetry is associated with intelligence. The more intelligent people are, the wider the range of their interests is and the more fulfilling art is for them.
On the other hand, the smarter they are, the more likely that they will succeed in life. This theory suggests that although there is no direct connection between a taste for poetry and a career, knowing that someone translates Rilke for their own pleasure, one can bet on the fact that this person will be successful in the professional life. Talented people are talented in everything. They write papers perfectly, perform tasks on time and are not afraid of complex assignments.
Everything would be fine if not for two circumstances. Firstly, the connection between the intelligence and the cultural capital, measured through tests and questionnaires, was weak or not at all significant. Secondly, the content of the cultural capital is changing rapidly. So, to be a cultural person, the older generation had to understand ballet, and the modern one – art house cinema. If both are just a signal informing about intelligence, then how and why does this change occur? And besides, why doesn’t the cultural capital include what seems to be the most direct signal about mental abilities in the modern world, for example, knowledge of mathematics?
Today you can confess that you do not understand anything in the differential calculus (and, in general, you can forget the multiplication table, it is also possible), and you will get away with it, but confusing Monet with Manet is a death sentence.
Why Does a Person Need the Opera?
There is a second theory, the sociological one, explaining how the opera is connected with a successful career. The first sociologist who tried to trace how active consumption of high culture is associated with life success was an American of Norwegian origin, Thorstein Veblen, who considered art as an element of the lifestyle of the idle class.
Veblen had a theory that in every era, there is a class-predator whose members somehow notify other predators of their successes. In the beginning, there is a militant class that simply takes away the means of subsistence from others. Belonging to this class is determined by the fact that its members can exist with the help of stolen things. But proving to others that you actually belong to this class is fraught with unpleasant consequences. If each predator proves their belonging to the certain class on the battlefield, they will inevitably exterminate each other.
However, predators quickly discover that it is not necessary to go out on the battlefield to recognize allies. You can just show how much you have already looted. When you demonstrate a bunch of gold, everyone sees how successful you are in the predatory role.
Thus, in the era of the Great Migration of Nations, each of the Frankish, West-Gothic, Burgundian, and other barbarian kings had a treasury. Gold from this treasury was not spent on any goals that would be meaningful to us today, but they took it with them and demonstrated at every opportunity. It was a symbol of strength and power of its owner. If after the lost battle, an enemy seized the train with the treasury, it was scary not because the one who lost gold was poorer but because the former comrades-in-arms turned away from their commander. They thought that the gods of war turned their back on him or her.
The Predator Class
Then the capitalist became the class-predator. For this predator class, money is its main resource, as military power is for a barbarian king. The barbarian forces to work by threats, the capitalist imposes deliberately unfavorable working conditions on the allegedly free market. The ability to make money is an indicator of the success of the new predator class, but it is already difficult to carry it with you. And then the "culture of idleness" comes to the aid.
That is why successful "predators" and especially their children in our world are engaged in the things that are knowingly useless and do not signal anything: classical philology, art history, philosophy ...
Perhaps, you are perplexed now, because you did so much homework on similar subjects. But the fact remains true. And the more years you can devote to such things in life, the higher you are in the community. A peasant or a proletarian cannot afford to send an adult son or daughter to school, leave alone college. The poor raise their children to ensure that they will help them in the coming old age (Veblen wrote at a time when there was no universal pension provision in the States), and old age comes early with their way of life.
A poor family cannot afford supporting an adult child even if it wants to. Only a relatively prosperous household can voluntarily give up some extra workforce. But even here poorer people want their children to learn something practical, like engineering, law or medicine. And only the very rich agree on the classical education, which obviously does not bring any income.
In the capitalist societies, the highest class is characterized not only by wealth but by hereditary wealth. Membership requires not money at all but old money, such that many generations have inherited. Hence we see archaism in everyday life – evidence of the security of ancestors – and a ban on any education that can bring immediate benefit.
This shows that an individual has not achieved anything by themselves, which means that they have inherited everything. America dreamed of something else – it idolized not those who rose from the mud, but those who never touched this mud. The Great Gatsby discovered the same thing, although he tried to play by the rules and even bought real books for his library rather than decorative bindings.
The idle class manifests itself not only in a taste for useless education. The same attitude is manifested in relation to the interior, clothing, and feminine beauty. Impractical and useless thing is put above practical and useful one everywhere. Moreover, the idle class translates its taste around itself. An aluminum spoon is as good as a silver one. But we have a taste that makes us love silver one. This taste makes us look at people who were born with such a spoon in their mouth from the bottom up.