The Myth of the Norwegian Cultural Elite

Norwegians are often described as ‘conspicuously modest’ and equality oriented. From this point of view, the Norwegian cultural elite is a strange phenomenon. The aim of this study is to explore peoples’ ideas about the cultural elite, not its actual existence, behavior or attitudes. To what degree, how and with what rhetorical potential is the concept cultural elite used in Norwegian public debate? The data consists of 36 newspapers from the last three decades. The material is linked to a discussion of signs and myths. A central finding is that there exists a clear opinion, a myth, about the cultural elite, and that this plays a steadily increasing role in public debate. Concerning its position, the mythic cultural elite fits well with Pierre Bourdieu’s theory about social space, originally developed in France. However, the treatment the alledgedly cultural elite receives in the media demonstrates differences between France and Norway: While in France the cultural elite is traditionally elevated and admired, there is little or no respect for the cultural elite in Norway. Over time there is a change in direction of more negative use of the concept cultural elite in Norwegian newspapers: The contempt for it seems to have increased. The cultural elite is a suitable target for attack, not least politically. When no one in particular feels hit by an attack, no one will defend the cultural elite, and the attack is left uncountered.

Keywords: cultural elite, equality, media, myth, Norway