What is Cultural Reproduction? The Culture Industry

Theodor Adorno

With Max Horkheimer, wrote Dialectic of Enlightenment, from which the classical denunciation of the culture industry, "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception," comes.

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Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer used the term ‘culture industry’ to argue that cultural items (such as music, books, television and films, radio) were similar to other manufactured consumer goods. All products were produced with the aim of making profit, and co-ordinated along rationalised organisational principles.











Adorno and Horkheimer linked the idea of the ‘culture industry’ to a model of ‘mass culture’. ‘Mass culture’ means that consumption is standardised and passive. This type of consumption is homogeneous and vulgar: ‘mass’ taste. Adorno and Horkheimer argue that the production and distribution of homogeneous culture dominates and manipulates people. click here












They make three points:

1. economic concentration of culture production in a capitalist industry results in a standardised commercial commodity;
2. in contrast to the free and autonomous art, commodity consumer culture is repetitive and unchallenging;
3. drawing on Freud’s psychological theories, cultural consumption has become passive, leading to ‘obedient’ types of social behaviour.

The structures of economic ownership and control of the means of production directly shapes the activities of creative artists and consumers.











Two additional concepts are further analysed.

1. Standardisation: All products produced by the culture industry exhibit standardised features. There is nothing spontaneous about the process of cultural production, it has become like an ‘assembly-line’. Pop songs, hit films and best-sellers books are produced using strict formulae, ensuring that they are commercially successful.

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2. Pseudo-individuality: Cultural products, mass produced, have lost their originality. Their uniqueness lies in only very minor modifications. And yet, the particular (individual) is expected to identify with the general (mass culture). This is a false identity, and one encouraged through marketing techniques. click here and here














Through the combination of standardization and pseudo-individuality, Adorno and Horkheimer suggest that cultural products provide mere distraction and prevent people from reflecting on their own social and class position in the world.









This results in ‘regressive consumption’ that pacifies and controls consumers. This type of consumption does provide a temporary escape from the boredom of work. click here

People become a mass and are easily manipulated by capitalist corporations and authoritarian governments.








Rudolph Valentino
"Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams. " --Rudolph Valentino - 1923





Critique of Culture Industry Thesis (Bernard Miège):

1. Attachment to a limitid and rigid idea of artistic creation which results in a distrust for technology and artistic creation;

2. Reference to a culture industry -- singular -- misleads one into thinking we are faced with a unified field where various elements function as parts of the same process;

3. Adorno and Horkheimer are more interested in markets than in an industry.




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