The Culture Industry


As I read your comment about how you felt Adorno and Horkeimer's essay was "dated," I felt compelled to fill in a bit of background info on these two authors (if you're a Media Studies major, you probably already know this, but if you're not, you'd have no reason to know this.) You're right though, about how they seem to be incredibly cynical about mass-prodeuced cultural forms and the enjoyment of them, like going to a movie simply for the sake of being entertained.

Adorno and Horkeimer escaped Nazi Germany and wrote critical social theory from the Frankfurt School's neo-Marxist perspective. Having had the first-hand experience of witnessing the (propagandistic) horrific power of Nazi-controlled media (i.e. Triumph des Willens, a.k.a. Triumph of the Will) these two theorists were intensely wary of the influence of the media aimed at the masses. I sure would be too!

Even in spite of the "dated-ness" of Adorno and Horkeimer you point out, I do feel however, that these two writer illuminate a few very key matters about mass media and the Culture Industry that are still in play today and should not be ignored . . .

1) Purchases (of mass-produced commodities) made by the individual aid in constructing identity (I find this to be increasingly true--just watch any music video and scan for brands to see who identifies with what products)

2) The culture industry/mass media create common knowledge (wikipedia, to name one example!)

3) How consolidation of ownership of corporations creates a monolithic set-up (a system in which "clones" of each other in the Culture Industry make money . . . i.e. Top Chef and Food Network's Next Star, The Office UK and The Office USA, etc. etc. etc.)

Something that I did not like however--but that I'm willing to admit I probably do as well--is how Adorno and Horkeimer seemed to place themselves above the masses. It was as if they believed they were able to see how the "culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises," while the rest of the masses were too stupid and subservient to notice the apparent brainwashing. (139) Hmmm, do we all assume to be smarter than the "average" viewer or media consumer??

I think the fact that they were from Germany allowed them to place themselves outside of society. Because they were not from the United States, they must have felt detached from the lifestyle there. This position allowed them to view themselves as being superior to everyone else because they were not duped by either the capitalistic system or the fascist system.

Now I understand what adorno and heck-meister were talking about when they saw the "propaganda" within American mass media. I don't know if I necessarily agree with their viewpoint, but I at least see the merit to their argument. I'd like to think that we buy a product based on our own self image and that the product doesn't make that image. I listen to music to reaffirm my self image, not to create my self image. I hope this makes sense because I just had a cup of coffee and my hands are a little jittery.

I am increasingly skeptical of the idea that we do make these choices on our "personal style." The illusion that we are making individual decisions itself is derrived from mass media; so many advertising tactics are emphaisze the idea that we are individuals through picking a certain products. So my point is, how do we know that the only reason we do feel we are making distinguished choices is not the because of the very illusion that the mass media creates?

P.S. I'll be back to point to some specific passages in the Adorno and Horkheimer essay when I have my readings with me! I am just blogging at work. :)

Self Image: Chicken or the Egg?
Submitted by BasilikonTron on 16 September 2007 - 10:20am.

That is an interesting idea, Bumpkins.

I could see it either way. For example, I only buy Spalding basketballs instead of Wilson, NCAA, etc, because I consider myself a professional basketball player and want the official NBA ball. I am merely reaffirming my own self-image.

On the flip side, what if I change my fashion from Hot Topic band clothes to American Eagle polos? I am simply reaffirming a new image of myself or am I buying an image and putting it on myself?

I placed this in the wrong spot.