"The whole world is passed through the filter of the culture industry".
(Horkheimer and Adorno)
Frankfurt School theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno wrote a critique of the culture industry within capitalist society in a chapter called “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” in the book Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944). In this work, they compare the production of culture through such media as film, radio, and magazines to that of a factory in which consumers are manipulated into a state of docile passivity.
This densely written treatise reviles the easy pleasures of popular culture that perpetuate desire and create insatiable psychological needs that cycle into the capitalist structures of consumer demand.
Musing on the promise of art, they write: "The moment of the work of art by which it transcends reality cannot, indeed be severed from style; that moment, however, does not consist in achieved harmony, in the questionable unity of form and content, inner and outer, individual and society, but in those traits in which the discrepancy emerges, in the necessary failure of the passionate striving for identity."
This article is depressing, suggesting the absence of independent thought by producers and consumers of culture. Not everyone is a passive, docile body. In fact, if you've read this far, I would suggest that you could consider yourself anything but a docile body. The profiliteration of blogs offering an unfiltered critique of cultural products such as films, videos and exhibitions provides a contrary example of active participation. Others have criticized the piece as lacking in practical application. Nevertheless, the essay remains a seminal piece in the discourse on media and communication and is worth diving into.
|McQueen Jewelled Shoes at the Met|
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
For further reading:
Adorno, Theodor W. and Horkheimer, Max. "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception" (1944).
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