Thinking of Adorno & The Cultural Industry

Theodor Adorno uses the term ‘cultural industry’ to refer to an industry of mass deception. He draws attention to the ways in which culture is consumed, and states that “the cultural industry misuses its concern for the masses in order to duplicate, reinforce, and strengthen their mentality, which it presumes is given and unchangeable” (p. 99). It is important to note that Adorno’s work in the 1940s were conditioned by the Nazis’ closure of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research and its reinstitution at Columbia University, New York. Then, later, Adorno and Horkheimer developed the idea of the ‘cultural industry’ and draw critical attention to the commodification of art (Hesmondhalgh & Pratt, 2005). Adorno observes the culture industry as an arena in which critical tendencies or potentialities were eliminated. He argues that the culture industry, which produced and circulated cultural commodities through the mass media, manipulate the population. He also argues that popular culture is identified as a reason why people become passive; the easy pleasures available through consumption of popular culture made people docile and content, no matter how terrible their economic circumstances. The differences among cultural goods make them appear different, but “they are in fact just variations on the same theme” (Adorno). The support of creative industries discourses is used by many as a ‘cultural pill’ to alleviate society economic failures (e.g. INGOs). Furthermore, the critique of market-driven processes from a critical post-structural approach is that markets and neoliberalism discourses commodify culture in which cultural products deepen and expand capitalistic processes through consumption. As a result art goods become commoditized for mass consumption. In this sense cultural consumption is determined neither by the makers nor the buyers, but by the owners of means of productions.

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