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Encyclopedia > Culture industry

Culture industry is a term coined by Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895-1973), who argued that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized cultural goods to manipulate the masses into passivity; the easy pleasures available through consumption of popular culture make people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances. Adorno and Horkheimer saw this mass-produced culture as a danger to the more difficult high arts. Culture industries may cultivate false needs; that is, needs created and satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom, creativity, or genuine happiness. Herbert Marcuse was the first to demarcate true needs from false needs. Max Horkheimer (front left), Theodor Adorno (front right), and Jürgen Habermas in the background, right, in 1965 at Heidelberg. ... Max Horkheimer (front left), Theodor Adorno (front right), and Jürgen Habermas in the background, right, in 1965 at Heidelberg Max Horkheimer (February 14, 1895 – July 7, 1973) was a Jewish-German philosopher and sociologist, known especially as the founder and guiding thinker of the Frankfurt School of critical theory. ... Mass society is a society in which the concerns of the majority – the lower social classes – play a prominent role, characterized by extension of voting rights, an improved standard of living for the lower classes and mass education. ... For other uses, see Happiness (disambiguation). ... Herbert Marcuse (July 19, 1898 – July 29, 1979) was a German-born philosopher, sociologist and a member of the Frankfurt School. ...

Contents

The Frankfurt School

Adorno and Horkheimer were key members of the Frankfurt School. They were much influenced by the dialectical materialism and historical materialism of Karl Marx, as well the revisitation of the dialectical idealism of Hegel, in both of which where events are studied not in isolation but as part of the process of change. As a group later joined by Jurgen Habermas, they were responsible for the formulation of Critical Theory. In works such as Dialectic of Enlightenment and Negative Dialectics, Adorno and Horkheimer theorised that the phenomenon of mass culture has a political implication, namely that all the many forms of popular culture are a single culture industry whose purpose is to ensure the continued obedience of the masses to market interests. In The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), they postulated a modern form of bread and circuses — the method used by the rulers of Ancient Rome to maintain their power and control over the people. This new “iron system” filled leisure time with amusements to distract the consumers from the boredom of their increasingly automated work; they were never left alone long enough to recognise the reality of their exploitation and to consider resisting the economic and social system. This pessimistic view of prevailing culture as an anti-enlightenment opiate for the masses draws strongly on Marxism for its condemnation of what is characterised as being continuing capitalist oppression. Max Horkheimer (front left), Theodor Adorno (front right), and Jürgen Habermas in the background, right, in 1965 at Heidelberg The Frankfurt School is a school of neo-Marxist social theory (which is more akin to anarchism than communism), social research, and philosophy. ... According to many followers of the theories of Karl Marx (or Marxists), dialectical materialism is the philosophical basis of Marxism. ... Historical materialism is the methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history which was first articulated by Karl Marx (1818-1883), although Marx himself never used the term (he referred it as philosophical materialism, a term he used to distinguish it from what he called popular materialism). Historical... Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818 – March 14, 1883) was a 19th century philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary. ... Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 - November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. ... Jürgen Habermas Jürgen Habermas (born June 18, 1929 in Düsseldorf, Germany) is a philosopher and social theorist in the tradition of critical theory. ... In the humanities and social sciences, critical theory has two quite different meanings with different origins and histories, one originating in social theory and the other in literary criticism. ... Dialectic of Enlightenment, written by Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno made its first appearance in 1944 under the title Dialektik der Aufklärung by Social Studies Association, Inc. ... Bread and circuses has come to be a derogatory phrase that can criticize either government policies to pacify the citizenry, or the shallow, decadent desires of that same citizenry. ... Marxism is both the theory and the political practice (that is, the praxis) derived from the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. ...


The Theory

Although Western culture used to be divided into national markets and then into highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, the modern view of mass culture is that there is a single marketplace in which the best or most popular works succeed. This recognises that the consolidation of media companies has centralised power in the hands of the few remaining multinational corporations now controlling production and distribution. The theory proposes that culture not only mirrors society, but also takes an important role in shaping society through the processes of standardisation and commodification, creating objects rather than subjects. The culture industry claims to serve the consumers' needs for entertainment, but conceals the way that it standardises these needs, manipulating the consumers to desire what it produces. The outcome is that mass production feeds a mass market that minimizes the identity and tastes of the individual consumers who are as interchangeable as the products they consume. The rationale of the theory is to promote the emancipation of the consumer from the tyranny of the producers by inducing the consumer to question beliefs and ideologies. Adorno claimed that enlightenment would bring pluralism and demystification. Unfortunately, society is said to have suffered another fall, corrupted by capitalist industry with exploitative motives. A multinational corporation (MNC) is a corporation or enterprise that manages production establishments or delivers services in at least two countries. ... Standardisation or standardization (sometimes abbreviated s13n), in the context related to technologies and industries, is the process of establishing a technical standard among competing entities in a market, where this will bring benefits without hurting competition. ... Commodification is the transformation of what is normally a non-commodity into a commodity, to assign economic value to something that traditionally would not be considered in economic terms, for example, an idea, identity, gender. ... This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ... An ideology is a collection of ideas. ...


Elements

Anything made by a person is a materialisation of their labour and an expression of their intentions. There will also be a use value: the benefit to the consumer will be derived from its utility. The exchange value will reflect its utility and the conditions of the market: the prices paid by the television broadcaster or at the box office. Yet, the modern soap operas with their interchangeable plots and formulaic narrative conventions reflect standardised production techniques and the falling value of a mass produced cultural product. Only rarely is a film released that makes a more positive impression on the general discourse and achieves a higher exchange value, e.g. Patton (1970) starring George C. Scott as the eponymous American general, was released at a time of considerable anti-war sentiment. The opening shot is of Patton in front of an American flag making an impassioned speech. This was a form of dialectic in which the audience could identify with the patriotism either sincerely (the thesis) or ironically (the antithesis) and so set the tone of the interpretation for the remainder of the film. However, the film is manipulating specific historical events, not only as entertainment, but also as a form of propaganda by demonstrating a link between success in strategic resource management situations and specified leadership qualities. Given that the subtext was instrumental and not "value free", ethical and philosophical considerations arise. Patton is a 1970 epic biographical film which tells the story of General George S. Pattons commands during World War II. It stars George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates, and Karl Michael Vogler. ... George Campbell Scott (October 18, 1927 - September 22, 1999) was a stage and film actor, director, and producer. ... In classical philosophy, dialectic (Greek: διαλεκτική) is controversy, Viz. ...


Normally, only high art criticises the world outside its boundaries, but access to this form of communication is limited to the elite classes where the risks of introducing social instability are slight. A film like Patton is popular art which intends controversy in a world of social order and unity which, according to Adorno, is regressing into a cultural blandness. To Hegel, order is good a priori, i.e. it does not have to answer to those living under it. But, if order is disturbed? In Negative Dialectics, Adorno believed this tended towards progress by stimulating the possibility of class conflict. Marx's theory of Historical Materialism was teleological, i.e. society follows through a dialectic of unfolding stages from ancient modes of production to feudalism to capitalism to a future communism. But Adorno felt that the culture industry would never permit a sufficient core of challenging material to emerge on to the market that might disturb the status quo and stimulate the final communist state to emerge. Teleology is the philosophical study of purpose (from the Greek teleos, perfect, complete, which in turn comes from telos, end, result). ...


Observations

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. This would deny Adorno contemporary political significance, arguing that politics in a prosperous society is more concernced with action than with thought. Wiggershaus (1994) notes that the young generation of critical theorists largely ignore Adorno's work which, in part, stems from Adorno’s inability to draw 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. Marx's dialectical method depended on the willingness of the working class to overthrow the ruling class, but Adorno and Horkheimer postulated that the culture industry has undermined the revolutionary movement. However, despite these problems, the concept has influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies. Popular culture, or pop culture, is the vernacular (peoples) culture that prevails in a modern society. ... Popular culture, sometimes abbreviated to pop culture, consists of widespread cultural elements in any given society. ... Popular culture studies is the academic discipline studying popular culture. ...


References

  • Adorno, T. W. Negative Dialectics. New York: The Seabury Press. (1973)
  • Adorno, T.W. A Sample of Adorno's ideas on the culture industry and popular music
  • Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford University Press (2002)
  • Cook, D. The Culture Industry Revisited. Rowman & Littlefield. (1996)
  • Hesmondhalgh, D. The Cultural Industries. Sage. (2002)
  • Steinert, H. Culture Industry. Cambridge: Polity (2003)
  • Wiggershaus, R. The Frankfurt School: its History, Theories, and Political Significance. MIT Press. (1994)
  • Witkin, R.W. Adorno on Popular Culture. Routledge. (2003)
  • Scott, Allen J. The Cultural Economy of Cities. Sage. (2001)

  Results from FactBites:
 
Culture industry (1283 words)
Cultural pessimists such as Theodor Adorno and other philosophers of the Frankfurt school hold that culture industries cultivate false needs; that is, needs created and satisfied by capitalism.
Before the publication of this essay, the culture referred to in the "culture industry" was usually labelled mass culture.
The culture industry is a term used to describe the nature of the social, economic and political structures that are proposed by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer.
Theodor Adorno , Culture industry reconsidered (1551 words)
In contrast, the technique of the culture industry is, from the beginning, one of distribution and mechanical reproduction, and therefore always remains external to its object.
If the culture industry is measured not by its own substance and logic, but by its efficacy, by its position in reality and its explicit pretensions; if the focus of serious concern is with the efficacy to which it always appeals, the potential of its effect becomes twice as weighty.
The total effect of the culture industry is one of anti-enlightenment, in which, as Horkheimer and I have noted, enlightenment, that is the progressive technical domination of nature, becomes mass deception and is turned into a means for fettering consciousness.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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