Friday, August 21, 2009

The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception

Sarah Levinn

The influence of pop culture is undeniable. Attempting to stray from forms of mass media, therefore, proves to be a difficult task. While members of society desperately seek avenues to stand out as individuals, they are continually led into the machine that is the Culture Industry, which is theorized in depth by Adorno and Horkheimer. It is through this industry that a culture is produced and force-fed to a population and begins the process of manipulating their interests. As culture becomes standardized, people become passive and contented by continually consuming mass media.

Avoiding this trend of cultural passivity is impossible by the standards of capitalism, according to Adorno. “The only choice is either to join in or to be left behind” (15), a claim that heavily reflects on economic progress in addition to cultural change. Adorno drives this point home when he says, “freedom to choose an ideology – since ideology always reflects economic coercion – everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same” (24). With the ever-growing advertising industry, this statement is becoming harder to deny.

As members of society continue to seek individuality, Adorno emphasizes the growing blurring between what is artificial and what is real. People are constantly being convinced that if they invest in a certain product, that they will achieve power, control, distinction, or some other grand prize that will boost them above others. This is witnessed today in celebrity culture, with that elite class of people being the ideal. The path to this ideal, unfortunately, is no more unique for one person than the next. The producers within the culture industry simply employ the pleasure-seeker as another customer and treat him like the rest. Ultimately, the consumer of the Culture Industry is doomed for a continually degenerating sense of individualism.

Adorno T, 1991, ‘The Culture Industry’; ‘The Culture Industry Reconsidered’, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, Routledge, London.

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