Horkeimer & Adorno: The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception

Horkheimer, Max and Theodor Adorno. 1944. "The Culture Industry as Deception" (325-329)

"That is the triumph of advertising in the culture industry: that consumers feel compelled to buy and use its products even though they recognize them as false."

This "essay" is from the 1944 book Dialectic of Enlightenment by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer Marx did not really write about culture — it is, after all, a part of the superstructure, not part of the material base of society where real conflict is rooted. Part of Horkheimer and Adorno's project was to analyze contemporary society and explain why the revolution had not occurred as predicted. Put simply, they argue that the content of popular culture is produced by processes that are akin to factory production. The cultural goods found in magazines, radio, records, and films effectively lull the masses into passive, docile, accepting dupes of a system that might otherwise be oppressing them economically. More than just being a tool of false consciousness, they suggest that popular culture creates false "needs" that can be fulfilled by mass produced commodities, contributing to modern man's alienation. The more challenging "high" arts, by contrast, challenge us to cultivate our true needs: freedom, creativitity, authenticity, and the like.

  1. Culture as paradoxical commodity. Mass produced culture merges with its own advertisement.
  2. "Old" adverstising was about information connecting buyers and sellers.
  3. Advertising and brands as the stuff of culture. "the pure representation of social power" (326.7)
  4. DJR: are they pointing to the rationalization of cultural production, brought about through the adoption of cultural tools by the advertising arm of the rationalized economic enterprise?
  5. Semiotics — signifier as arbitrarily linked to signified, releases word/name power to be used for anything. What we'd call "branding"?
  6. Propaganda — playing with language, creating collective consciousness, false consciousness doesn't happen, it is done.
  7. "…freedom…everywhere proves freedom to be the same." (cf. Janis Joplin) (328.8)
  8. The way in which we do all manner of things "bears witness to the attempt to turn oneself into an apparatus meeting the requirements of success, an apparatus which, even in its unconscious impulses, conforms to the model presented by the culture industry." (329.1)
  9. "…personality means hardly more than dazzling white teeth and freedom from body odor and emotions." (329.2)

References and Further Looks

  1. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_industry]
  2. Alternative source text at Marxists.org
  3. Alternative source text at Scribd
  4. [http://analepsis.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/the-culture-industry-enlightenment-as-mass-deception/]

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