Hadrian's Reviews > The Culture Industry

The Culture Industry by Theodor W. Adorno
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's review
Apr 03, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: art-music-architecture-etc, essays, nonfiction, society-culture-anthropology-etc, media-communications
Read in August, 2012

This is a rather intense series of essays by Adorno on the modern media. His style is both dense with references to Marx and Hegel and pungent in its scorn for media conventions - it's like drinking vinegar.

His cantankerous view of culture begins with modern music, which is loud, repetitive, has a strong beat, and offers little or no technical views or ambiguity to cause serious discussion. He moves from there to television, film, the shaping of thoughts by the radio, and comparisons of films to fascist propaganda themes. The idea of a hero or leader, the primordial 'All-Father', a heroic-Wagnerian-Hitlerian man of action, in contrast to the packaged 'spineless intellectual', which is weak and ineffectual.

He holds up a distinction between high and low culture, and states that very few have been able to successfully bridge the gap between both. 'High' culture, of literature, music, art, etc., can be used as a means of continual awareness and freedom, ambiguity and discussion and dialectic, but with the caveat that even these exalted means can be used to shoehorn people into little roles - the 'upper class' with monocles, tophats, etc., versus the 'plebs', or something similar.

A particularly interesting point is one which affects our post-industrial society - what do we do when we have to manufacture jobs in order for people to work - work for work's sake - or what do we do when people have enough free time, and how may it be spent happily? In modern terminology, what do we do in a post-scarcity service economy?

Now considering these essays are some 50 years old, their propositions are frightening, and their conclusions necessary. For even post-modern 'ironies' and 'self-awareness' and 'references' can be packaged, bought and sold nowadays. Even the idea of rebellion is being bought and sold. One thinks of those V-for-Vendetta masks, which are the copyright of Warner Brothers.

A challenging book.
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07/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by sologdin (last edited Dec 12, 2013 03:04PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

sologdin his analysis of jazz was somewhat comical, as i recall it. endlessly repetitive, like automated factories, or so. i happen to like jazz, but yaknow, we are adorno and we are surly.

Hadrian Yeah, that part is funny. The metaphor I keep using is that of a cranky old man who doesn't understand the 'bleep-bloop' music that those darn kids are playing.

message 3: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Interesting that a man with a degree in musicology can be so relatively out of touch with the popses, but then Adorno seemed to scorn anything that's popular.

I found it rather funny that he felt attracted to the atonality of Schoenberg's compositions, but dissed jazz...

sologdin he did write a sociology of music text, too. I don't recall being awed by it, but I think I lost the book in Katrina, so can't even go back to look at what annoyed me about it.

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