While reading Adorno and Horkeimer, I was offended by their harsh critique of the public. They clearly have no faith in the mental capacities of film audiences. Films are open to numerous interpretations and this is why people love them. Artists use film as an outlet to express thier political and social sentiments. The audience can then do what they want with it. No one is forcing any ideals down their throats. I feel as though living in Hollywood jaded Adorno and Horkeimer. They were exposed to such an extreme side of the media and they grew to resent it. Perhaps if they had gotten off their high horses and appreciated film for what it is - a valuable platform for expression - they would have realized that film can actually be a tool to fight the system.

Amen, Snaggle. I also found many of their ostensibly classist remarks were actually highly racialized and gendered. Their lamentation of the demise of (a certain kind of) culture seemed to rely on an implicit comparison to some abstract glory days in which art spoke with originality and sophistication to the important problematics of the day. But whose problematics? In general, I'm suspicious of arguments that have recourse, if only implicitly, to the halcyon days of whatever - better film, authentic art, etc. - but occlude the question of "For whom?" Are we talking about the good old days when only European men had the material capacity to produce art? I'm certainly not saying that all film today (or in Adorno's day) represents an emancipatory celebration of oppressed peoples of all stripes; indeed, the question of whether artistic expression from traditionally marginalized sources is really achieving anything in the way of material gains is paramount - and complicated. My point is simply that more subaltern subjects - loosely defined - are making more films and recording more music, which is all reaching more people, than ever before. If we understand "originality" as "content created by people from divergent subject positions," then originality has increased exponentially, since before the twentieth century, and further since Adorno's day. It gets coopted all the time, of course. Look at hip-hop. Corporatized and subsequently emptied of much, if not all, subversive content. Still, the point remains: to critique the output of a system is, in an important sense, to critique the economic relations constitutive of that system. And on this score, A and H are making some weighty, and disturbing, claims about the racialized and gendered aspects of property distribution in the post-WWII world.

There have been a number of research studies on the media effects on audiences.

Two that I believe relate to A&H are the studies that are Dominant Text and Dominant Audience.

In Dominant Text, the media text is seen as monolithic and usually has a singular preferred meaning that it passes on to the audience. The audience is seen as passive, lazy, and very much vulnerable to the text's message.

In Dominant Audience, the media text is seen as containing multiple meanings. It is up to the audience--an active engaged audience--to extract meaning from the text.

I agree with you. I think the audience definitely is not as passive as A&H believe them to be (they are very much Dominant Text proponents). However, I also do not completely agree with the Dominant Audience approach because I think texts can have multiple meanings but there is probably a preferred or dominant one. I am in the middle.

Which do you agree with?

I think the practice of reading the media texts in a subversive manner--not in the manner in which its producers intended for the public to engage in them--suggests that audiences are capable of being engaged, active audeinces. Some examples are the manner in which gay/lesbian subcultures have 'queered up' a text intended to be presented as heteronormative--i.e. abercrombie advertisements, High School Musical.

I agree with maraudingcat: "The practice of reading media texts in a subversive manner" has been blown wide open by advances in digital media in the past months, years, decade. The digital format, given some basic consumer technologies, has infinite permutations; look, for example, at the rash of movie trailer mashups on youtube. I mean, who could have seen the homosexual subtext to Doc and Michael J. Fox's relationship in Back to the Future without some highly selective rearranging of media?

I'm also thinking of DJ Spooky AKA That Subliminal Kid AKA Paul Miller, who came to speak at Pomona spring 06. He's a remix artist who creates art entirely out of samples, found beats, found video clips, and other extant media. He spoke eloquently about the creation of culture from collected fragments, probably the most extreme iteration of Dominant Audience Theory there is--turning what you (are "supposed" to passively) receive, and stamping that with his own creative vision.

Also, re Derrida's play/slippage v. centered monoliths dichotomy, the digital remix allows for a quantity of play such that the structure hardly retains any meaning at all. An image/object has no intrinsic meaning; context arbiters all. Juxtapose the right clips of MJF and Doc and you get a forbidden romance, not a mentor-buddy flick. I guess Dada and sound poetry got here first (bricolage, unhinging context), but now, 70+ years later, it's part of the cultural wallpaper. Or even Pound's Cantos or Eliot's The Wasteland, drawing as heavily as they do from literary canons far and wide, blending tropes, allusions, and quotes with the author's poetry toward a larger meaning.

Cool, so we all sort of agree that A&H should give a little more credit to the average movie go-er. I'm there with you on that, HOWEVER, I think by talking so much about the potential of culture jamming/appropriating (which is hot, let's not lie) we're skimming right over the POWER that the mass media possesses over its audience.

One of Media Studies' main men, Stuart Hall, writes about the ways in which media has come to 'reconstitute' or redefine/shape/determine/resignify the meaning of the 'reality.' The basic idea is that in our day and age, the way that mass media talks about a specific issue, idea, culture, event, gender, etc. will have some effect on the way we understand the 'real world' antecedent.

For example, mainstream stereotypical 'gangsta' films pretty much always feature charicature representations of black thugs. Even if we don't necessarily associate black americans with this image, the repetition of this stereotype reads as 'real' on the movies screen, and thus enters into our understanding of blackness, even though it may be fictional. And to bring it back to A&H and Benjamin specifically, these kinds of movies SELL. So the culture industry keeps crankin' 'em out, and we, the audience, critical and subversive as we may be, continue going to see them -- and before you know it, blackness becomes (problematically) equated with criminality, vulgarity, violence, etc.

The point is this: we rely on mass culture to learn about the world. It has SO MUCH power over us, as a result. Dj Spooky, etc. have figured out ways to break with that, to subvert its dominance over meaning, working to unfix some of these ideas that have been driven into us.

Good point, Anonymous. I think it's important to keep in mind, as you say, that while certain technologies and literary theory paradigms have enabled the audience-dominant "re-mixing" of culture - and the subversive possibilities engendered by that shift - texts are still certainly "dominate" in the sense that they interpellate us to believe in, or at least conform to, a certain set of social, political, and economic relationships. I have a question, though: do you think that the impetus behind problematic representations (for instance, black Americans as thugs) comes back to economic considerations, i.e., the fact that such representations sell? Or, perhaps a better formulation of the question: are such representations coherently reducible to economic terms? In what sense is that kind of analysis explanatory, and in what sense does it occlude other systemic factors?