The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkeimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” in Dialectic of Enlightenment

The upshot of mass culture for Adorno and Horkeimer is that, due to the reach of captialism, the culture industry penetrates everywhere, creates its own whole, domesticates its subjects, grows ever stronger, and is inescapable.  Additionally it reduces things down to their components and then repeats them, creating the feeling of satiation without allowing room for creation.  Culture (because it is produced by industry and manufactured) “now impresses the same stamp on everything…a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part.” (120)  The individual is now entirely “subservient” to the “absolute power of capitalism.”

The result [of suiting to consumer’s needs, and of the management deciding for consumers what they want] is the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows ever stronger. No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest.  A technological rational is the rationale of domination itself.  It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself. (121)

So, the origins are hidden, and it is a continual cycle.

Not only that, but what is begun will permeate all other aspects of life.  “The ruthless unity in the culture industry is evidence of what will happen in politics.” (123)

Television aims at a symthesis of radio and film, and is held up only because the interested parties have not yet reached agreement, but its consequences will be quite enormous and promise to intensify the impoverishment of aesthetic matter so drastically, that by tomorrow the thinly veiled identity of all industrial culture products can come triumphantly out into the open, derisively fulfilling the Wagnerian dream of the Gesamthkunstwerk – the fusion of all the arts in one work. (124)

The man with leisure has to accept what the culture manufacturers offer him. Kant’s formalism still expected a contribution from the individual, who was thought to relate the varied experiences of the senses to fundamental concepts; but industry robs the individual of his function.  (124)

This is where he and Fiske are diametrically opposed – that there is somehow an uncritical consumption where choice is *never* excercised but that the individual accepts whatever he gets is what is being described here.   There is no way to produce, no way to speak back, no way to challenge.

Art for the masses has destroyed the dream but still conforms to the tenets of that dreaming idealism which critical idealism balked at. (125)

Because it pretends to be art.

I find an echo (pre-echo) of Azuma’s criticism of the otaku-consumer here as Adorno and Horkheimer describe entertainment with

“details are interchangeable…[these cliches] never do anything more than fulfill the purpose allotted them in the overall plan…When the detail won its freedom, it became rebellious and, in the period from Romanticism to Expressionism, asserted itself as free expression, as a vehicle of protest against the organization.  In music the single harmonic effect obliterated the awareness of form as a whole; in painting the individual color was stressed at the expense of pictorial composition; and in the novel pyschology became more important than structure.  The totality of the culture industry has put an end to this.  Though concerned exclusively with effects, it crushes their insubordination and makes them subserve the formula, which replaces the work.” (125-126)

This is simply AMAZING.  Literally it is as if Azuma was reading A&H as opposed to Lyotard or the critics he was actually inspired by.  His rallying cry against the database is much like A&H’s rallying cry against the totalizing effects of the culture industry.

Real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies. … the film force its victims to equate it directly with reality. (126)

The culture industry as a whole has molded men as a type unfailingly reproduced in every product. (127)

Thus not only does the culture industry break apart the pieces of the work, it also molds those who will consume it.  It is a “totality” that cannot be escaped because the individual is actually reproduced (produced) by it.

thoughts on ‘style’

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. (128)

thus there is no escape.

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 artifical style. (129)

In the culture industry the notion of genuine style is seen to be the aesthetic equivalent of domination.  Style considered as mere aesthetic regularity is a romantic dream of the past. (130)

By subordinating in the same way and to the same end all areas of intellectual creation, by occupying men’s senses from the time they leave the factory in the evening to the time they clock in again the next morning with matter that bears the impress of the labor process they themselves have to sustain throughout the day, this subsumption mockingly satisfies the concept of a unified culture which the philosophers of personality contrasted with mass culture. (131)

the freedom of the market (and of the culture industry), “was freedom for the stupid to starve.” (132)

The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. (134)

A constant sameness governs the relationship to the past as well.  What is new about the phase of mass culture compared with the late liberal stage is the exclusion of the new.  (134)

(novelty, but nothing truly new, nothing truly old)

It is quite correct that the power of the culture industry resides in its identification with a manufactured need, and not in simple contrast to it, even if this contrast wee one of complete power and complete powerlessness. Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work.  It is sought after as an escape from the mechanized work process, and to recruit strength in order to be able to cope with it again.  But at the same time mechanization has such power over a man’s leisure and happiness, and so profoundly determines the manufacture of amusement goods, that his experiences are inevitably after-images of the work process itself.  (137)

People don’t want to work, either, because they’re tired – so instead they want something that seems like it’s no work and this leads to bordom, but they don’t want something difficult because it would make them think.  This runs into a discussion of stupid plots, and how the part (of the whole) is always recognized by the viewer so it’s not avant gard.  He bemoans the fact that cartoons used to be cool and now they “confirm the victory of technological reason over truth.”

The quantity of organized amusement changes into the quality of organized cruelty. … In so far as cartoons do any more than accustom the senses to the new tempo, they hammer into every brain the old lesson that continuous friction, the breaking down of all individual resistance, is the condition of life in this society.  Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unforunate in real life get their thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment. (138)

The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses.  By repeatedly exposing the objects of desire, breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero, it only stimulates the unsublimated forepleasure which habitual deprivation has long since reduced to a masochistic semblance.  (139)

so then, the industry is like a circus, focusing on mastery of the physical (and technical) skill and not on the intellectual.  and

Inwardness, the subjectively restricted form of truth, was always more at the mercy of the outwardly powerful than they imagined.  The culture industry turns it into an open lie. It now has become mere twaddle which is acceptable in religious bestsellers, phychological films, and women’s serials as an embarrassingly agreeable garnish, so that genuine personal emotion in real life can be all the more reliably controlled.  (144)

Pleasure always means to not think about anything, to forget suffering even where it is shown.  Basically it is helplessness.  It is flight; not, as is asserted, flight from a wretched reality, but from the last remaining thought of resistance.  The liberation which amusement promises is freedom from thought and from negation.  (144)

What you get from this is individuals who are interchangable because the culture industry creates them.  So a man is simply a copy and his individuality is totally expendable.  To the industry they’re either consumers or workers, but either way they’re objects (not people) to the industry.

In one respect, admittedly, this hollow ideology is in deadly earnest:  everyone is provided for. …Everybody is guaranteed formal freedom.  No one is officially responsible for what he thinks.  Instead everyone is enclosed at an early age in a system of churches, clubs, professional associations, an other such concerns, which constitute the most sensitive instrument of social control.  Anyone who wants to avoid ruin must see that he is not found wanting when weighed in the scales of this apparatus. (149)

The tragic film becomes an institution for moral improvement.  The masses, demoralized by their life under the pressure of the system, and who show signs of civilization only in modes of behavior which have been forced on them and through which fury and recalcitrance show everywhere, are to be kept in order by the sight of an inexorable life and exemplary behavior.  Culture has always played its part in taming revolutionary and barbaric instincts.  Industrial culture adds its contribution.  It shows the condition under which this merciless life can be lived at all.  (152)

The possibility of becoming a subject in the economy, an entrepreneur or a proprietor, has been completely liquidated.  (153)

instead everyone is trained to be an employee and consumer.  Also, he has to capitulate, to sumbit, and only then is he accepted into society.

In the culture industry the individual is an illusion not merely because of the standarization of the means of production.  He is tolerated only so long as his complete identification with the generality is unquestioned.  (154)

No peculiarity is not determined by society, and this focus on the individual that is really a pseudo-individual is the aim of the culture industry.

The idolization of the cheap involves making the average the heroic.  (157)

And then the work of art tries to hide the fact that it’s bound up in the system.

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 (misinterpeted as its artistic status) becomes its use value – the only quality which is enjoyed.  (158)

The abolition of educational privilege by the device of clearance sales does not open for the masses the spheres from which they were formerly excluded, but, given existing social conditions, contributes directly to the decay of education and the progress of barbaric meaninglessness.  (160)

The upshot is that the culture industry is horrible, absolutely horrible.  period.  end of sentence.  Run now.


About kathrynpagel

Working on my PhD in Japanese literature, visual studies, and new media.
This entry was posted in mass and popular culture, theory and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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