Sarah hb

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Theodor W. Adorno - Culture Industry Reconsidered

(My very poorly expressed opinions on and summary of the chapter)


Theodor W. Adorno (1903-69) was a leading member of the Frankfurt School and in 1963 gave a lecture entitled ‘Culture Industry Reconsidered’. Four years later this radio lecture was published.

The text is succinct, packing a vast amount of thoughts into comparatively few pages (eight to be precise), and although Adorno’s mind flits from one idea to the next, the essay flows well. The language is relatively easy to understand and only a few paragraphs require the reader to return to them for a second look.

In this study, ‘mass culture’ is redefined as ‘culture industry’ in order to separate it from those supporters of ‘mass culture’ and the so-called benefits it has to offer.

The main argument appears to rotate around the notion that the critical thinker and individuality of a person, object or idea is subject to damage and even destruction due to the commoditisation and normalising sameness of art that is caused by the Culture Industry. The links between this writing and that of Benjamin’s are consistent and it even makes a reference to Benjamin’s theory of the ‘aura’ saying how the Culture Industry doesn’t have an alternative to the aura so basically it tries to conserve it. However, this is not possible so it’s almost going against its own ideology here.

Adorno discusses the masses saying that they are secondary not primary and are ‘an appendage of the machinery’. The Culture Industry appears to be there in order to bring a mode of order to the people inhabiting the supposedly chaotic world they reside in, yet things that the CI claim to preserve actually end up being destroyed. An example is made of colour film and also of homeland depictions which lose their uniqueness to banality and general sameness. The CI ‘impedes the development of autonomous independent individuals who judge and decide consciously for themselves.’

The power of the CI’s ideology means that conformity has replaced consciousness and people are actually cheated out of the same happiness that the CI claims to imbue one with. Therefore, the overall effect is one of anti-enlightenment even though the CI is trying to turn itself into a public relations haven that goes about manufacturing ‘good will’. The people are, at times, almost force fed every day commodities such as ‘pocket novels’ and family TV shows. Advocates of the CI would say that these mundane things of the Culture Industry can offer advice and create stress reducing patterns of behaviour yet the advice is clichéd and the behaviour patterns are conformist.

As for the term ‘Industry’ it is not necessarily referring to the production process but instead to the ‘standardisation of the thing itself’ and the products of the Culture Industry is actually an eternal sameness that changed about as much as man’s motivation for profit.

Adorno also makes a brief reference to ‘Technique’. He states that the art technique remains concerned with the ‘internal organisation of the object with its inner logic’ and the technique of the Cultural Industry is ‘one of distribution and mechanical reproduction that always remains external to its object.’

This text is easily accessible to all and does not need its reader to have thought too hard about what it is that is going on around them in the world and so this is quite useful. However, I find it hard to imagine that not everyone has spent time in their formative teenage years mulling over these concepts and despising the mass deception they are living in. Therefore this piece of writing is nothing new but it certainly reiterates the main points and reminds us what it is that we are all subject to.

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