Published on March 7, 2014
Omar Khatab Watto
Adorno and Horkheimer: “The culture industry: enlightenment as mass deception” (1947) The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness.
The Culture Industry as Mass Deception, 1944 Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno
Culture Industries was proposed by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt school in 1944. It was presented as critical vocabulary in the chapter “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, of the book Dialectic of Enlightenment.
• Highly interested in social and cultural theory from a philosophical perspective • Many theories were based from Marxist viewpoints and had to do with authority in society • Felt that a “culture industry” had commoditized mass media and limited self identity
Max Horkheimer ,was a German philosopher- sociologist, famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the 'Frankfurt School' of social research. His most important works include The Eclipse of Reason (1947) and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947). Through the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer planned, supported and made other significant works possible.
In Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), which Horkheimer co-authored with Adorno, he extended his social cultural criticism to western civilization. He wrote this work in California while he was in exile. His question was why and how the terror of Nazi and Stalinist mass murder arose from modernity. Against the popular view that barbarianism was opposite to the idea of Enlightenment, he argued that barbarianism, terror, and irrational elements were inherent to Enlightenment. In the work, Horkheimer explained the process and the reason of how and why the Enlightenment rationality, supposed to be the key factor of liberation and freedom, became instrumental rationality and brought about suppression of individuals, cultural poverty, and barbarism.
Others works of Horkheimer : •Dialectical of the illustration •Critical theory •Traditional theory and critical theory •Authority and family and other writings •Critic of the instrumental reason •Society, reason and freedom •Authoritarian state
Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art, The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. Interested parties explain the culture industry in technological terms…No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is greatest. A technological rationale is a rational of domination itself (emphasis added).
Commodity fetishism is the basis of theory of culture industry, that stresses cultural forms like popular music, film and television function to secure the continuing economic, political and ideological domination of capitalist societies. Culture industry reflects the consolidation of commodity fetishism, the domination of exchange value and the ascendancy of state monopoly capitalism. The commodities produced by the culture industry are governed by the need to realise their value on the market. Profit motive determines the nature of cultural forms. 10
It shapes the tastes and preferences of the masses. Thereby, moulding their consciousness by inculcating the desire for false needs. It works to exclude real needs, alternative and radical concepts, and politically oppositional ways of thinking and acting. Adorno saw culture as something which has imposed upon the masses, and makes them prepared to welcome it given they do not realise it is an imposition. 11
Adorno (1991) wrote, products which are tailored for consumption by masses, and which to a great extent determine the nature of that consumption, are manufactured more or less according to plan. This is made possible by contemporary technical capabilities as well as by economic and administrative concentration. The culture industry intentionally integrates its consumers. The masses are not primary but secondary, they are an object of calculation, an appendage of the machinery. The customer is not king, though the culture industry would have us believe, not its subject but its object. 12
Process of standardisation and pseudo-individualisation. Standardization products acquire the form common to all commodities, like the Western, familiar to every movie-goer. Substantial core similarities between popular songs, movie, TV. It constructs framework. Pseudo-individualisation The core is hidden by stylistic variations as uniqueness. Incidental differences confers a sense of individuality that each products (i.e. popular songs) affects an individual air. It constructs details. 13
Pseudo-individualisation serves to obscure the standardisation and manipulation of consciousness practised by culture industry. The framework entails standardisation which draws out a system of response-mechanisms wholly antagonistic to the ideal of individuality in a free, liberal society. The details must provide the listener a sense of this suppressed individuality. 14
Culture Basic casual factor in its own right; Its innovative and original character of the Frankfurt School’s contribution. Industry The fundamental productive power of capitalism; The continuing adherence to Marxism. 15
It assumes that people have true or real needs to be creative, independent and autonomous, in control of their own destinies, fully participating members of meaningful and democratic collectivities and able to live free and relatively unconstrained lives and to think for themselves. True needs cannot be realized in modern capitalism because the false needs, which capitalist system has to foster in order to survive, come to be superimposed over them. False needs work to deny and suppress true or real needs. 16
False needs created can be fulfilled at the expense of the true needs which remain unsatisfied in light of consumerism and commodity fetishism. People do not realise their real needs remain unsatisfied. The School views the culture industry ensuring the creation and satisfaction of false needs, and the suppression of true needs. It is so effective in doing this that the working-class is no longer likely to pose a threat to the stability and continuity of capitalism. 17
Adorno (1991) stresses to ignore the nature of the culture industry, is to stop resistance to its ideology. Popular music offers relaxation and respite from the rigours of mechanised labour because it is not demanding or difficult. People desire popular music, partly because capitalists hammer it into their minds and make it appear desirable. Their consumption of standardised products mirrors the standardised, repetitive and boring nature of the work in production. Standardised production goes hand-in-hand with standardised consumption. 18
Cultural forms such as popular music act as “social cement”. Adorno gave awareness to most people in capitalist societies live limited, impoverished and unhappy lives. Popular music and films do not deny this awareness, but act to reconcile people to their fate. Adorno (1991) observed “the actual function of sentimental music and film lies in the temporary release given to the awareness that one has missed fulfillment …… it is catharsis for the masses, …… Music and film permits its listeners and audiences the confession of the unhappiness reconciles them, by means of this ‘release’, to their social dependence.” 19
The ideology of culture industry is manipulative, underpinning the dominance of the market and commodity fetishism. It is conformist and enforcing the general acceptance of the capitalist order. The concepts of order which the culture industry hammers into human beings are always those of status quo. The power of ideology of culture industry is that conformity has replaced consciousness. 20
Studies of CCCS concerns working-class youths. They viewed the working-class youths are class is being constructed and therefore is an imagined communities. They concerned the relationship between hegemonic ideas in shaping working-class youths and youth subcultures. They identified mainstream culture, parent culture, youth culture, leisure culture, consumer culture, yet they are all in conflict with blurred boundaries. 21
Youth subcultures are sub-ordinate to mainstream adult and parent cultures. Viewed as folk devils or deviant. Working-class youths are subjected to uncertainty position. Youths are anchored into different social class. The appearance of youth subculture acts as symbolic resistance to dominant social order. Youths are viewed as active agents in theories of subculture. 22
Cohen (1997) defines three level of subculture analysis: 1. Social Structure Power structure: gender, class that is uncontrollable. Human beings are anchored into different positions according to the social structure they situated. Choices and chances are limited to the determined position. Agencies are limited to those structural positions. 23
2. Culture 3. Constructed related to the determined social class. Everyday life practice, such as meaning, tradition, cultural practice and rituals, behaviours, language used. Different kinds of youth subculture represent its symbolic meaning and relation to dominant class and ideas. Personal autobiography Personal experiences of culture and structure. The specific meaning of subcultural life to the person or class. 24
We think that were living in a good and rational society. Living in a democracy, we compare ourselves with other countries which have dictatorship and consider ourselves to be in a better position. The creation of this perception is one of the major roles of Culture Industry.
Culture Industry refers to the standardization and false-singularity of cultural items, and how these cultural items are regulated. It says that we, as people, have become standardised because corporations produce standard products which fit our needs and demands. So corporations produce our needs and desires.
If the cultural products lose their sense of meaning and authenticity due to their mass production, so do the individuals who buy them. Subconsciously, we may not realize that each time we buy a new and trendy product, we are merely buying the new trendy “thing” to add to our very own material product of a self. The truth is that we are buying this product because it is frequently publicized through media only to illustrate this materialized commodity of “cool” that everyone must have. We are truthfully as much of a commodity as the product itself. Regardless, we have a situation where the consumers are being victimized by the producers in that they know what we like and give us what we want; therefore, we no longer have genuine experiences. We may “think” we are expressing our sense of self and individuality by buying the latest Samsung phone of a different colour, because in our mind, we find that typically everyone buys blue or silver and we want to be different; thus we conclude we are being unique.
Whether you like it or not, advertising plays a crucial role in our everyday lives. Advertising effectively grabs the public’s attention through the use of television commercials, billboards, magazines, etc. It is the advertisement that attracts the consumer to buy a product and ascribe the connotation of “coolness” to it. Inevitably, the product and the advertisement become two of a kind.
Adorno and Horkheimer proposed that films, radio programmes, magazines, etc. — that are used to manipulate mass society into passivity. Adorno and Horkheimer criticise the ‘Culture Industry’ for promoting a society that is drowning in a society of mass culture and industrialisation, instead of encouraging freedom and individuality.
The Culture Industry in short can be represented as the “Enlightenment” or knowledge as mass trickery or fraud. In other words, we may be compelled to wonder if we live in a world of mass deception in which we are simply kept in the dark.
‘Mass deception' and ‘Social control' describe the ideas and theories that Adorno and Horkheimer earnestly prescribed. Adorno saw what he referred to as ‘the culture industry’ as constituting a principal source of domination within complex, capitalist societies. The Culture Industry is characterized by three specific ideas: Monopoly, Mass Production, and Technology.
The crudest way to oppress is to physically force people to do things or prevent them from doing things.
The next level up is to use the threat of physical force to persuade them. This uses no physical force. Also, this is often accompanied by restricting freedoms of expression. The oppressed in this situation still know that they are being oppressed, but they know they must comply.
The best method that has been found so far is one where you directly control the boundaries in which people think. In this way they don't even know that they are being oppressed, believing they act they way they do of their own free will.
It creates a calm and conformist society, which we can’t really break out from.
Culture industry prefers effects and style over substance and content. That’s one of the reasons why a films like ‘The Iron Man’ is such a huge hit. Also, most of Salman Khan films are doing great business despite being low in content.
Critics of the theory say that the products of mass culture would not be popular if people did not enjoy them, and that culture is self-determining in its administration. Adorno’s has been criticized for not drawing practical conclusions from his theories. Adorno is also accused of a lack of consistency in his claims to be implementing Marxism. Whereas he accepted the classical Marxist analysis of society showing how one class exercises domination over another, he deviated from Marx in his failure to use dialectic as a method to propose ways to change.
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