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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Cultural Industry Reconsidered -Theodor W. Adorno

the following write up on Culture Industry Reconsidered is by Inchara Ravi


Culture Industry Reconsidered was written by Theodor W. Adorno, a German philosopher. He was born on September 11, 1903. He belonged to the Frankfurt School of social theory. The Frankfurt School takes its name from the Institute for Social Research established in Frankfurt, Germany in 1923. Adorno along with Max Horkheimer published a book named ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’ in 1947. In this book they use the term ‘cultural industry’ for the first time.

In the essay Cultural Industry Reconsidered, Adorno replaces the expression ‘mass culture’ with ‘culture industry'. This is to avoid the popular understanding of mass culture as the culture that arises from the masses. He prefers calling it ‘culture industry’ because of the commodification of the culture forms or artistic objects. He opines that the cultural forms create a means of income for their creators and profit has become more important than the artistic expression. Hence, culture has turned into an industry and the cultural objects are looked at as products. One of the characteristics of cultural industry is that it intentionally integrates both the high and low art.

By referring to the term industry, Adorno does not point to the production process instead he is looking at the ‘standardization of the thing itself’ and to the rationalization of distribution techniques and not strictly to the production process. It is industrial more in a sociological sense, in terms of incorporation of the industrial forms of organization even though nothing is manufactured. He also makes clear the difference between the technique used in cultural industry and the technique used in works of art. In the works of art the technique refers to the formal organization of the object, with its inner logic, where as in cultural industry it refers to the distribution and the mechanical production. Thus technique in cultural industry is external to the object where as in the works of art it is internal. Adorno opines that a work of art is not different than a commercial product in the industrial era.

Adorno says that the masses are secondary and are ‘an appendage of the machinery’ in the cultural industry. He argues that, the culture industry claims to bring order in the chaotic world it provides human being with something like a standard and an orientation, yet the thing that it is claiming to preserve is actually being destroyed. The mass media is supposed to enlighten the mass, to bring about rational thinking and also demystification. But mass media is deceiving people in the name of enlightenment. They are actually controlling the people rather than liberating their thoughts.

The current culture industry acts as if it satisfies the consumers’ need for entertainment, but masks the manner by which these needs are standardized, manipulating the consumers to obsess about its products. A relevant example for Adorno’s view on mass media is cinema and television. Each film is the replica of what has been already done, but people believe it to be different from what has been done before. As a result of this critical thinking, individuality of an object or an idea is lost due to the commodification by the cultural industry.

The essay also makes a reference to Benjamin’s theory of the ‘aura’. It says that the Culture Industry doesn’t have an alternative to the aura. Hence, it is going against its own ideologies. Adorno's concept of culture industry indicates the necessity for rethinking his theory of mass culture.


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