Adorno, T. and M. Horkheimer. [1944] 1993. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.”

Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer. [1944] 1993. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” In Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York: Continuum. Originally published as Dialektik der Aufklarung.

Argument publically made that structural institutions such as religion, capitalism, etc. and that there is a homogenization of culture.  “The striking unity of microcosm and macrocosm presents men with a model of their culture: the false identity of the general and the particular. Under monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through. The people at the top are no longer so interested in concealing monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows. 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 […]It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardization and mass production, sacrificing whatever involved a distinction between the logic of the work and that of the social system. This is the result not of a law of movement in technology as such but of its function in today’s economy. The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness.” (1). Contrast between few production centers and larger distribution and consumption centers. (kx ^ what the hell is up with this anti-semitism that seems present on page 2?! – noting that liberalism and jewish intellectuals are closely bound with commodity power…. are they being facetious about this?)

Individuals with leisure become consumers of the culture industry’s products – an inescapable force upon individuals: “While the mechanism is to all appearances planned by those who serve up the data of experience, that is, by the culture industry, it is in fact forced upon the latter by the power of society, which remains irrational, however we may try to rationalize it; and this inescapable force is processed by commercial agencies so that they give an artificial impression of being in command. There is nothing left for the consumer to classify.  Producers have done it for him. Art for the masses has destroyed the dream but still conforms to the tenets of that dreaming idealism which critical idealism balked at” (3). “The stunting of the mass-media consumer’s power of imagination and spontaneity does not have to be traced back to any psychological mechanisms; he must ascribe the loss of those attributes to the objective nature of the products themselves, especially to the most characteristic of them, the sound film[…] The culture industry as a whole has molded men as type unfailingly reproduced in every product. All the agents of this process, from the producer to the women’s clubs, take good care that the simple reproduction of this mental state is not nuanced or extended in any way” (4).

“The explicit and implicit, exoteric and esoteric catalog of the forbidden and tolerated is so extensive that it not only defines the area of freedom but is all-powerful inside it. Everything down to the last detail is shaped accordingly. Like its counterpart, avant garde art, the entertainment industry determines its own language, down to its very syntax and vocabulary, by the use of anathema. The constant pressure to produce new effects (which must conform to the old pattern) serves merely as another rule to increase the power of the conventions when any single effect threatens to slip through the net. Every detail is so firmly stamped with sameness that nothing can appear which is not marked at birth, or does not meet with approval at first sight” (5).

Even deviance comes pre-calculated, and becomes a means for the culture industry to claim power – “Whenever Orson Welles offends against the tricks of the trade, he is forgiven because his departures from the norm are regarded as calculated mutations which serve all the more strongly to confirm the validity of the system. The constraint of the technically-conditioned idiom which stars and directors have to produce as “nature” so that the people can appropriate it, extends to such fine nuances that they almost attain the subtlety of the devices of an avant-garde work as against those of truth. The rare capacity minutely to fulfill the obligations of the natural idiom in all branches of the culture industry becomes the criterion of efficiency […]The producers are experts. The idiom demands an astounding productive power, which it absorbs and squanders. In a diabolical way it has overreached the culturally conservative distinction between genuine and artificial style. A style might be called artificial which is imposed from without on the refractory impulses of a form. But in the culture industry every element of the subject matter has its origin in the same apparatus as that jargon whose stamp it bears.” (5)

“Style represents a promise in every work of art. That which is expressed is subsumed through style into the dominant forms of generality, into the language of music, painting, or words, in the hope that it will be reconciled thus with the idea of true generality. This promise held out by the work of art that it will create truth by lending new shape to the conventional social forms is as necessary as it is hypocritical. It unconditionally posits the real forms of life as it is by suggesting that fulfillment lies in their aesthetic derivatives. To this extent the claim of art is always ideology too […] That factor in a work of art which enables it to transcend reality certainly cannot be detached from style; but it does not consist of the harmony actually realized, of any doubtful unity of form and content, within and without, of individual and society; it is to be found in those features in which discrepancy appears: in the necessary failure of the passionate striving for identity. Instead of exposing itself to this failure in which the style of the great work of art has always achieved self-negation, the inferior work has always relied on its similarity with others—on a surrogate identity.” (6)

Imitation is necessary for the culture industry’s function, requiring “obedience to the social hierarchy” (6)  – imbuing top-down power (kx^ is this power always top down?  How do people resist this demand for imitation and obedience?  Can they?  Do people have agency to do so?)

To resist, one must first fit in, and become a mechanism within the capitalist enterprise (?)

“By craftily sanctioning the demand for rubbish it inaugurates total harmony. The connoisseur and the expert are despised for their pretentious claim to know better than the others, even though culture is democratic and distributes its privileges to all. In view of the ideological truce, the conformism of the buyers and the effrontery of the producers who supply them prevail. The result is a constant reproduction of the same thing” (8) – kx^ however, is the italicized true? Does everyone have equal access to all forms of culture?  Bourdieu 1984 would say absolutely not! Disagree also with: “Nothing remains as of old; everything has to run incessantly, to keep moving. For only the universal triumph of the rhythm of mechanical production and reproduction promises that nothing changes, and nothing unsuitable will appear” (8) – kx^ then, how do we explain Lierberson’s notion of reiteration of style?  How is it that fashions from decades past make a recurrence, with adaptions for modern use? In discussion of differentiation between light and serious art, light art is shamed for being a regurgitation of serious art – however, this has very classed connotation about access and creation – items and art forms that work to “distract” rather than “engage” are truly nefarious. “Pleasure hardens into boredom because, if it is to remain pleasure, it must not demand any effort and therefore moves rigorously in the worn grooves of association. No independent thinking must be expected from the audience: the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure (which collapses under reflection), but by signals. Any logical connection calling for mental effort is painstakingly avoided” (9) – kx^ however, in elements of the carnival, there are elements to distract, but in festivals, most actively aim to “elevate consciousness” and engage critical thinking – or so consumers say.

The fusion of culture and entertainment leads to a downfall, a depravity of culture, but also  perceived “intellectualization of amusement” – people have a tendency to identify self with the distractions and entrancements produced by the culture industry, allowing them to feel freedom, opportunity, ability to escape powerlessness.

Individuality is false: “Pseudo individuality is the prerequisite for comprehending tragedy and removing its poison: only because individuals have ceased to be themselves and are now merely centers where the general tendencies meet, is it possible to receive them again, whole and entire, into the generality. In this way mass culture discloses the fictitious character of the “individual” in the bourgeois era, and is merely unjust in boasting on account of this dreary harmony of general and particular. The principle of individuality was always full of contradiction. Individuation has never really been achieved. Self-preservation in the shape of class has kept everyone at the stage of a mere species being. Every bourgeois characteristic, in spite of its deviation and indeed because of it, expressed the same thing: the harshness of the competitive society. The individual who supported society bore its disfiguring mark; seemingly free, he was actually the product of its economic and social apparatus. Power based itself on the prevailing conditions of power when it sought the approval of persons affected by it” (18).

Art as a commodity: “No object has an inherent value; it is valuable only to the extent that it can be exchanged. The use value of art, its mode of being, is treated as a fetish; and the fetish, the work’s social rating (misinterpreted as its artistic status) becomes its use value—the only quality which is enjoyed. The commodity function of art disappears only to be wholly realized when art becomes a species of commodity instead, marketable and interchangeable like an industrial product. But art as a type of product which existed to be sold and yet to be unsaleable is wholly and hypocritically converted into “unsaleability” as soon as the transaction ceases to be the mere intention and becomes its sole principle” (20).

Advertising as strengthening and normalizing the bonds between consumers and products sold, capitalistic endeavors. It becomes “art for art’s sake,” demonstrating representations of social power. Comparing rapid spread of fads as “blitzkrieg” style attacks – occurring through language use and brand recognitions. “The triumph of advertising in the culture industry is that consumers feel compelled to buy and use its products even though they see through them” (24).


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