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The Culture Industry

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The creation of the Frankfurt School of critical theory in the 1920s saw the birth of some of the most exciting and challenging writings of the twentieth century. It is out of this background that the great critic Theodor Adorno emerged. His finest essays are collected here, offering the reader unparalleled insights into Adorno's thoughts on culture. He argued that the culture industry commodified and standardized all art. In turn this suffocated individuality and destroyed critical thinking. At the time, Adorno was accused of everything from overreaction to deranged hysteria by his many detractors. In today's world, where even the least cynical of consumers is aware of the influence of the media, Adorno's work takes on a more immediate significance. The Culture Industry is an unrivalled indictment of the banality of mass culture.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1944

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About the author

Theodor W. Adorno

443 books1,112 followers
Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno was one of the most important philosophers and social critics in Germany after World War II. Although less well known among anglophone philosophers than his contemporary Hans-Georg Gadamer, Adorno had even greater influence on scholars and intellectuals in postwar Germany. In the 1960s he was the most prominent challenger to both Sir Karl Popper's philosophy of science and Martin Heidegger's philosophy of existence. Jürgen Habermas, Germany's foremost social philosopher after 1970, was Adorno's student and assistant. The scope of Adorno's influence stems from the interdisciplinary character of his research and of the Frankfurt School to which he belonged. It also stems from the thoroughness with which he examined Western philosophical traditions, especially from Kant onward, and the radicalness to his critique of contemporary Western society. He was a seminal social philosopher and a leading member of the first generation of Critical Theory.

Unreliable translations hampered the initial reception of Adorno's published work in English speaking countries. Since the 1990s, however, better translations have appeared, along with newly translated lectures and other posthumous works that are still being published. These materials not only facilitate an emerging assessment of his work in epistemology and ethics but also strengthen an already advanced reception of his work in aesthetics and cultural theory.

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Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,346 reviews11.7k followers
April 20, 2022

Here is a short Youtube video capturing the spirit of Theodor W. Adorno's The Culture Industry. Such a clear synopsis of his philosophy, I wanted to include as part of my review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YGnP...

You will be hard pressed to find a more scathing, uncompromising indictment of popular culture than The Culture Industry, Selected Essays on Mass Culture by Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969). An accomplished classical pianist, composer and musicologist (he was a friend of composer Arnold Schoenberg) as well as a philosopher and sociologist with a razor-sharp mind, Adorno loathed how commercial interests standardize artistic and aesthetic enjoyment by pressing low-level conformity on an entire population for the purpose of maximizing sales and profits.

There are nine essays in this collection, covering such topics as music, film and television. Adorno's writing style can be a bit dense; if you decide to tackle these essays be prepared to spend some time rereading many sections carefully.

Additionally, one Goodreads friend said reading Adorno is like drinking vinegar. I completely agree: the majority of the ideas presented have a taste most bitter. This being said, in order to share some Adorno vinegar, below are my modest comments coupled with several quotes from an essay on a subject I'm sure is near and dear to all of us: Free Time.

"Free time depends on the totality of social conditions which continues to hold people under its spell. Neither in their work nor in their consciousness do people dispose of genuine freedom over themselves. . . . even where the hold of the spell (of social conditions, especially work) is relaxed, and people are at least subjectively convinced that they are acting of their own free will, this will itself is shaped by the very same forces which they are seeking to escape in their hours without work."

After years of training in Jersy Grotowski-style physical theater, an extreme and demanding method to free one's body, I took an improvisational acting class where a number of students were office workers. I could instantly see how, although these students were engaged in theater exercises, their movements were so restricted and mechanical, it was as if they were still at work in their office.

Adorno speaks of his own life: "I have no hobby. As far as my activities beyond the bounds of my recognized profession are concerned, I take them all, without exception, very seriously. So much so, that I should be horrified by the very idea that they had anything to do with hobbies - preoccupations with which I had become mindlessly infatuated merely in order to kill the time . . . Making music, listening to music, reading with all my attention, these activities are part and parcel of my life; to call them hobbies would make a mockery of them.

Adorno's words here can be taken as a direct challenge: Do you `kill time' when you are away from work? Do you need a hobby to occupy your attention?

"For the most part the very development of the imagination is crippled by the experience of early childhood. The lack of imagination which is cultivated and inculcated by society renders people helpless in their free time."

Again, are you easily bored and seek out mindless distractions? How frequently do you turn on the TV?

"People have been refused freedom, and its value belittled for such a long time that now people no longer like it. . . . This is one good reason why people have remained chained to their work, and to the system which trains them for work, long after that system has ceased to require their labor.

For the life of me I will never understand how many people spend most of their "free time" thinking and talking about their work. Even if their work is interesting, I fail to see how work can be so interesting and mesmerizing that they can't let it go. Tis true: all work and no play makes Johnny and Suzy very, very dull people.

"The accepted reason for playing team sports is that it makes believe that fitness itself is the sole, independent end of sport: whereas fitness for work is certainly one of the covert ends of sport. Frequently it is in team sport that people first inflict upon themselves (and celebrate as a triumph of their own freedom) precisely what society inflicts upon them and what they must learn to enjoy."

Ha! In a word, team sports acculturate individuals to forfeit their health, creativity and freedom as a first step in forfeiting their health, creativity and freedom when they step into the workplace.

Interestingly, Adordo concludes his essay by relating a study done by his Frankfurt Institute in Germany where members of the public where interviewed after watching the wedding of a Princess and a German diplomat broadcast by all the mass media. The findings were a surprise. Turns out, people were glued to their television sets but there was an element of skepticism about the importance of the event and a reluctance to take the whole thing too seriously. In Adorno's words: "it is indeed consumed and accepted but with a kind of reservation." In other words, Adorno and the Frankfurt School recognized people are not as dumb and gullible as intellectuals and philosophers might think. And thus, they concluded, it is this very capacity to stand back and critically evaluate the commercialized garbage offered up by the culture industry wherein people can realize their freedom.
Profile Image for John.
6 reviews10 followers
May 13, 2008
How old were you when you realized that the methods and modes that govern Hollywood cultural production are EXACTLY THE SAME as the propaganda machines that power some of the most oppressive totalitarian regimes in human history? I know how old I was. I was twenty-five and this realization came to me, not immanently, but because I read this critical text. Critical theory is exactly what gives voice to suspicions that all intelligent people have, but lack the ability to voice. Whereas some critical theorists give voice to (boring) suspicions on the nature of truth, the limits of cognition, the embedded psychic processes which produce reactions like nostalgia (and so on and so forth), Adorno gives voice to every right-thinking persons attractive/repulsive relationship with Hollywood. Read Adorno, but be warned: the perceptive door that this text knocks wide open will be just as painful as it will be illuminating.
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,975 reviews689 followers
March 19, 2009
I do this weird, masochistic thing whenever I can't make up my mind about an author, or musician, or filmmaker. I go in depth on them. I did it with Saul Bellow, with Lupe Fiasco, and with Lars Von Trier. And now I'm doing it with Adorno. Firstly, what I like about Adorno: his dissection of how culture is produced, his criticism of Enlightenment, the correlations he draws between reproduction and alienation. We're cool. What I dislike about Adorno: his profound elitism, especially the belief that he has tapped into a "true art" that stands above the menial processes of the culture industry. And this is paired with an aristocratic fatalism and denunciation of the common world. Not cool. And this little essay collection gathers both the best and worst of Adorno. My wrestling process with him is over, and now he's like the sort of nerdy guy you know who's cool to hang out with sometimes but most of the time he just needs to lighten up.
Profile Image for E. G..
1,112 reviews669 followers
May 10, 2017
Introduction & Notes

--On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening
--The Schema of Mass Culture
--Culture Industry Reconsidered
--Culture and Administration
--Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda
--How to Look at Television
--Transparencies on Film
--Free Time

Name Index
Subject Index
Profile Image for Matt.
205 reviews7 followers
January 20, 2013
Theodor Adorno is the original hipster, from a time before it was cool to be so. Furthermore, Adorno's work is, by modern standards, racist, sexist, and classist.

Adorno speaks of fetishization and conformity, but his own arguments begin to contradict each other. At the same time that he claims that only "original" art is good art, he vocalizes a very stringent worship of the old classical masters; suggesting in no uncertain terms that no ideal music has been produced since Mozart's "The Magic Flute." Beyond that, much of his argument stems from a very elitist mentality... At one point in the book, he compares jazz musicians to caged animals, and asserts that their work cannot live up to the high bar of the old masters.

Beyond the overt racism and sexism of the book, Adorno makes some degree of sense at times... Some of his arguments are sound - even backed up with evidence. He undercuts his own ethos, however, when he falls into the very traps he cautions against. If art is a strife for the "new," why recycle Classical music whole? Adorno's book reads like a red-faced manifesto, and his arguments only make sense in blurbs. If you read the whole book, applying logic as you go, you'll find that he is guilty of the logical fallacies of an angry man. On top of this, Adorno talks about other people with a condescending tone of a person who is too far up his own rear. The problems of society, he seems to think, come from no one else seeing what he, the enlightened T. Adorno, has discovered. "Smarmy" would be my choice of word to describe his attitude.

Furthermore, reading a book with such an aggressive tone can be hard on the reader; Adorno, for better or worse, is unrelenting. Reading this book feels like being yelled at for 200 pages, and at the end, you feel about as good about yourself as you would if a person actually *were* yelling at you for that long. Adorno not only offers a unflappably bleak view of human existence - one for which he makes no attempt to suggest a cure - he defends his negativity and dismal point of view by suggesting that the smart man (read: the thinking man... read: not you) thinks only of problems, but does not take action to solve them. The result, he seems to think, is that his resignation is justified because he continues to think about the awfulness of things only in the abstract. In reality, however, he simply comes off as a bee-in-his-bonnet Communist with no recourse for the world's social ills, only unhappy things to say about them. I recommend finding something else to read.
Profile Image for Ryan.
13 reviews80 followers
September 8, 2007
dear reader,

welcome! welcome, friend, to this week's review of "did you say CULTURE INDUSTRY?" by theodore "california dreamin'" adorno! please enjoy!


written in 1940's. maybe.
capitalism gives birth to corporations, mass media.
they create false needs.
we have true needs: freedom, independence, happiness.
they say: fuck that shit, $$$$.
population consumes false needs, becoming passive.
you buy fancy clothes, fancy car, nice home, body wash, makeup, cologne, go to hollywood movies, sign up for goodreads.
all of this makes the population passive.
years pass.
population stops objecting to evil and manipulation.
bad things happen: no rights, holocaust, u.s. sponsored genocide, corporate monopolies.
population successfully ignores all of this, opting instead to pay money to see a computer generated cowboy voiced by tom hanks make children's jokes.


haha chomsky you fucking hack, way to be 40 years too late
Profile Image for Sunny.
733 reviews36 followers
December 10, 2015
Stunning book about how culture isn’t just a random collection of our individual behaviours and norms transposed into something in the air which drives our etiquette and modus operandi. the book says quite the opposite. That we have been foisted into a construct which is self perpetuating and does not want us to take our eyes of the dumbpads and dumbphones we are usually subsumed within. A thinking man is a dangerous man to those fat cats that are relishing the taste and contours of the status quo. “Today anyone who is incapable of talking in the prescribed fashion, that is of effortlessly reproducing the formulas, conventions and judgments of mass culture as if they were his own, is threatened in his very existence, suspected of being an idiot or an intellectual.” Some of the chapters are stunning: on the fetish character in music and the regression of listening, the schema of mass culture, culture industry reconsidered, culture and administration, Freudian theory and the pattern of fascist propaganda, how to look at tv, transparencies of film, free time and resignation.
Profile Image for Tyler.
175 reviews1 follower
January 23, 2021
“The research finding, that among radio listeners the friends of light music reveal themselves to be depoliticised, is not accidental.”
-On the Fetish Characteristic in Music and the Regression of Listening.

Profile Image for Meghan.
5 reviews1 follower
December 3, 2009
I don't know what Marx had to say about the arts, but Adorno can be his spokesperson. Overall, Adorno is spot-on about how commodification of public goods, like the arts, has destroyed them in large part. He blames the market for fetishizing favorite tunes and celebrities, without regard for 'quality'. I already blamed the market and technology for the downfall of all things good, so I'm with him there.

But, I have never had such a love-hate relationship with an author. He makes me want to wring his neck in frustration... at times. There is an elitism so engrained in Adorno, and he can't see it. His definition of "high art" (worth our while) at best is defined as simply the more authentic and quality work; at worst, it is strictly classical music, and never excerpted or altered. To Adorno I ask, what about the music of the masses? The traditional or folk music created pre-Industrial Revolution? I haven't taken a class in music history, but Classical Music can't be as wholesome as Adorno portrays it to be. Weren't there class barriers to even being invited to symphonies?

Love-hate aside, its thought provoking.
Profile Image for Xander.
410 reviews138 followers
May 27, 2021
This is a bundle of essays by Theodor Adorno published posthumously in 1991. The essays span the period 1938 to 1968 and all cover various aspects of Adorno’s theory of culture as one branch of the capitalist system of production.

From the outset, I have to confess that I reject critical theory and find its claims not only pompous and misguided, but also nonsensical and overly reductionistic. To me, critical theory is a lens with which to look at society and interpret all of its various aspects. Nothing wrong with that, of course. The problem is that it is deeply rooted in the personal experience of Jews in fascist Europe of the 1920’s and 1930’s of last century. This ‘theorizing’ springs from the Institute for Social Investigation (better known as the Frankfurt School) which Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Walther Benjamin founded in order to investigate and interpret the social troubles and problems of their time.

All of them were intellectuals, who already distinguish themselves with the tendency to theorize everything in the delusion that this is the way to understand the world. When this tendency is combined with their life experiences as Jews in Nazi Germany and fascist Europe of last century, one gets a very selective, one-sided and coloured way of looking at things.

Horkheimer and Adorno, in their Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), introduced the term ‘culture industry’ as a replacement for the term ‘mass culture’. Both of them Marxists, they viewed cultural objects as products of the capitalist system of products. In a capitalist society, culture functions as a means to keep the labourers subjugated through propaganda.

Within this framework, each cultural product promises exactly those things which it doesn’t deliver. People might hope for their horrible situation to end or desire another station in life; instead of helping people to act on these desires and help them better their life, the culture industry makes them forget that these desires are actual possibilities.

How does this work in practice? Well, Adorno falls back on the Kantian idea of a priori structures which order the empirical world. The culture industry perpetuates itself through the use of schemas which confirm and emphasize the current status quo. In this sense, all culture is propaganda: from radio to television and from music to newspapers – everything is ultimately concerned with (1) promoting the correct attitudes and (2) objectifying the world, resulting in (3) the voluntary acceptance of hierarchical subjection which benefits society.

Such a life is terrible and deadening to the mind, which is why every person within a capitalist society has, in order to survive, to constantly consume products (including cultural products) to not feel alienated and outcast from society:

“Before the theological caprices of commodities, the consumers become temple slaves. Those who sacrifice themselves nowhere else can do so here, and here they are fully betrayed.” (p. 39)

Capitalism destroys all individuality and transforms human beings into objectivities, parts of a whole which is leading and determining in everything. The only aim of the capitalist system is the production of more value through more exploitation, everything and everyone else is only means to this end. Within this system, culture functions to ensure the continuing voluntary subjection of all human beings, through making them forget they are individuals with the power of imagination and the capacity for social change. Each cultural product is valued for its use value – in effect, its metaphysical promise (of hope, of something better, etc.) which seems to emanate from every object. According to Adorno, this myth of positivity (in the sense of objectivity as well as in the sense of experiencing positive feelings) only exists through the veil of technology. It is in this sense that he claims:

”Where they [the masses] react at all, it no longer makes any difference whether it is to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony or to a bikini.” (p. 37)


”Sport itself is not play but ritual in which the subjected celebrate their subjection. They parody freedom in their readiness for service, a service which the individual forcibly extracts from his own body for a second time.” (p. 89)

All these essays, whether they deal with the fetish character of music, with self-indoctrination through television or with the psychology of fascism forced on the masses through technology, breathe a sicking pessimism which simply isn’t to my taste. For Adorno, all culture is nothing but propaganda for the masses, indoctrination to create servile, mindless slaves which produce and consume in an endless cycle. It almost sniffs of a conspiracy theory, especially when Adorno loses his composure (i.e. his claims that it is simply the tendency of the system in general to produce these social effects) and starts blaming particular characters or personalities.

In his essay on the relation of Freudian theory with fascist propaganda, he claims fascism (almost?) equals capitalism and the technologies an industrial society produces enable those with fascist personalities to brainwash the masses to make them obey every desire or whim. Adorno goes as far as to psychoanalyze Hitler in terms of the father figure, libidinal drives, expelling otherness, inferiority complex, idealisation through narcissistic libido, etc.

Mass indoctrination as mass hypnotization is what Adorno sees when he looks as modern day culture. For him, there’s no essential difference to the way Hitler and his cronies subjugated an entire people through social and economic power or the way the masses in the USA self-indoctrinate themselves into slaves serving capitalist society. Everything, from tv to atomic bombs and from Reader’s Digest to radio programmes – everything is both an expression of and a means to perpetuate capitalism. All of western society is nothing but a totalitarian objectivity which has subjugated and destroyed nature, myth and humanity.

”Mass culture is a kind of training for life when things have gone wrong.” (p.91)

My two main objections to critical theory are perfectly illustrated in the above summary of Adorno’s way of thinking.

1. It treats literally all aspects of modern (western) life as simply expressions of the social-economic superstructures and views literally through the lens of (economic and/or military) power-relations. This approach doesn’t recognize the huge variety and multi-layered nature of life and society. Also, it is only able to view everything through the social-economic framework through abstraction, in the process losing all relevant distinctions and nuances.

When you look through half-closed eyes, everything will look more or less the same. Problems begin when you’ll begin to substitute this vague image for reality. It is simply not true that (sticking to culture) all cultural objects do what Adorno claims they do and that they are produced the way he claims.

2. Because of the Marxist foundation of critical theory, almost everything is transformed into a power struggle between oppressors and oppressed. Marxism (the political ideology, not the economic analyses of Marx) has the tendency to intoxicate innocent minds. It does so by playing on the hopes of young people and their innocent, factual experience of inequalities. Next, society as a whole is turned into a battlefield for change for the better, social justice. Once this phase has been reached, one cannot look at things in a neutral fashion anymore: everything is either good or bad - most, of course, bad. All existing structures are bad and flawed, all people opposing your view are obstacles on the path to social progress.

All this leads to the conclusion that critical theory is political activism, not science. Yet thousands of inexperienced young students take these ideas for truth and mistake theorizing about society (whether from a Marxist point or view or from any other perspective) for doing science. It is sad to see how this political activism has corrupted many important branches of science, possibly doing irreversible damage...

You can already see this bleak view on life in Adorno’s early writings Everything is regression; everything is bad and problematic - from airplanes to cinemas. The writings of Adorno and his Frankfurt School are nothing but the ramblings of clinically depressed human beings. And while I can sympathize with them on a psychological level – Who couldn’t, after learning about their life experiences? – it is incredibly sad that this way of thinking about and looking at the world has become so popular nowadays, especially with young students. Western societies would have been more peaceful and healthier places if Adorno and his clique had received clinical therapy for their depression instead of saddling society with an intoxicating and toxic way of looking at the world.
Profile Image for Castles.
466 reviews16 followers
January 20, 2020
A funny book this one. At the beginning of it, I disliked his lash about jazz and his obsession with Tchaikovsky. The middle of the book was just Chinese to me, with high academic language and complex paragraphs that make you wonder whether he’s trying to be a snob on purpose and why the hell can’t he just simplify his ideas and make them accessible. But by the end of the book in his articles about mass media and how we spend our free time, I fell in love.

I wonder he would’ve made of jazz today. He lashed on it so hard, but I can’t understand how come he didn’t see the beauty of its oral tradition of jazz, like ‘the real book’ with its simple chords, open for interpretation and overall the democratic quality of this genre. I also internally screamed while reading those passages: Jazz and classical music are not enemies!

And besides, whatever happened to the intellectual energy that was molded into jazz in later decades, how could he ignore that?

When he hinted that Tchaikovsky is somewhat kitsch, I really wondered if there’s any music at all this person actually liked.

I like how he describes thrillers that the reader knows how they are going to end, but keeps watching because it keeps him on safe ground and it’s an infantile need to feel protected.

By the time he declared that there are no such things as hobbies rather than “what I’m choosing to be interested in in my free time”, I fell in love.

His article about our free time is mesmerizing.

So it’s mixed feelings with this book. It’s smart and original and it makes you speak, not mentioning the academic value of his writings (that’s where I first heard about Adorno). Some passages were really beautiful. but because of its complex language, I can’t deny that along with the reading, I really wanted this book to end already.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
150 reviews185 followers
August 31, 2008
Adorno is brilliant. The profound aspect of his views on mass culture is the rather postmodern, ironic perspective that he throws on consumer manipulation. For Adorno what is essentially important is not that popular culture is debasing the attention span of the masses, it is the way in which capitalist institutions-say for example, television networks-convince the spectator that they are all too aware of what low brow art really is. In turn this assures people that it is okay to patronize cheap, homogenized art because they are cognizant of its poor quality.

In E Pluris Unum, David Foster Wallace elaborates on this Adornoesque mode of thinking when he talks about how postmodernism as a stylistic mode of fiction writing is now rendered obsolete because the television networks have capitalized on this cultural brand of self referential irony. It's astonishing how much weight Adorno's thought has carried over years of neo-Marxist, critical theory.

However, in the last essay, entitled Resignation, he seems to offer very little hope in revolutionary action. He paradoxically states that action is in fact resignation. I must admit that there is an almost zen-like quality to his confidence in the fact that mere critical awareness of the controlling evils of late capitalism is sufficient enough in itself as a form of intellectual rebellion.

"For the individual, life is made easier through capitulation of his impotence; within the circle of their own company, the few become the many. It is act - not confused thinking - which is resignation".
Profile Image for John David.
322 reviews288 followers
March 6, 2012
More a collection of related essays and less a book with a coherent, unified message, this is a set of nine essays on a variety of topics. I’ll list them here just to give the reader some idea of the vast area these essays cover. They are “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening,” “The Schema of Mass Culture,” “Culture Industry Reconsidered,” “Culture and Administration,” “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda,” “How to Look at Television,” “Transparencies on Film,” “Free Time,” and “Resignation.”

Like much of the writing that comes out of the Frankfurt School, this is heavily influenced by Marxism, especially their idea (Horkheimer collaborated with Adorno in writing some of the more important essays in this collection) that mass consumer culture has become commodified, reified, and fetishized. The “culture industry” refers to the processes of standardization, marketing, and distribution which become a part of objects themselves, and therefore indistinguishable from them. Everything has been subsumed under the logic of the mass market, which creates what Adorno and Horkheimer term “false needs” – those needs that capitalism invents, and that capitalism can uniquely satisfy.

What I found of particular interest with the idea of the culture industry was the resonance that it has with so many other critical thinkers like Baudrillard, Debord, Lyotard, and Marcuse, yet being written several years before the most important work of these thinkers (Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation” didn’t come out until 1981, Debord’s “The Society of the Spectacle” until 1967, and Lyotard’s “The Postmodern Condition” until 1979). Some of the essays in the second half of the book – “How to Look at Television” and “Transparencies on Film,” especially – reminded me explicitly of the best writing on media of Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, and Raymond Williams.

While I credit Adorno for being an innovative, insightful social critic, the orthodox Marxism can become a little laborious and grating after a few essays. The best of his thought isn’t a result of his Marxism at all, but rather his sociological and psychological observations, as is the case with most of the media criticism here. Whether it is the translation or the original writing, the style is at its worst overly turgid and obfuscating, which makes it only digestible in small doses, but Adorno seems like he is always worth the effort. I will probably come back to this again and again in an attempt to inform my readings of later Frankfurt School members, especially Fromm, Lowenthal, and Habermas.
Profile Image for Katie.
158 reviews43 followers
June 10, 2020
Is this book essential reading for anyone? Almost definitely not, though the message is pertinent. Does that make this book any less great? No.

Like all brilliant, glimmering Adorno, I understand perhaps half. The lengthy rants against people in the office questioning why he doesn't have a suntan or hobbies are unironically a joy to read. Adorno at his best.
Profile Image for Schedex.
48 reviews15 followers
December 14, 2020
Ein parataktisches Geflecht an rhetorischen Feinheiten und treffendsten Aphorismen, deren Sinngehalt bis heute nur noch virulenter geworden ist:

"Unweigerlich reproduziert jede einzelne Manifestation der Kulturindustrie die Menschen als das, wozu die ganze sie gemacht hat. Darüber, daß der Prozess der einfachen Reproduktion des Geistes ja nicht in die erweiterte hineinführe, wachen alle seine Agenten, vom producer bis zu den Frauenvereinen."

"Von Kultur zu reden war immer schon wider die Kultur. Der Generalnenner Kultur enthält virtuell bereits die Erfassung, Katalogisierung, Klassifizierung, welche die Kultur ins Reich der Administration hineinnimmt. Erst die industrialisierte, die konsequente Subsumtion, ist dies Begriff von Kultur ganz angemessen. Indem sie alle Zweige der geistigen Produktion in gleicher Weise dem einen Zwecke unterstellt, die Sinne des Menschen vom Ausgang aus der Fabrik am Abend bis zur Ankunft bei der Stechuhr am nächsten Morgen mit den Siegeln jenes Arbeitsganges zu besetzen, den sie den Tag über selbst unterhalten müssen, erfüllt sie höhnisch den Begriff der einheitlichen Kultur, den die Persönlichkeitsphilosophen der Vermassung entgegenhielten."

"Was widersteht, darf überleben nur, indem es sich eingliedert. Einmal in seiner Differenz von der Kulturindustrie registriert, gehört es schon dazu, wie der Bodenreformer zum Kapitalismus. Realitätsgerechte Empörung wird zur Warenmarke dessen, der dem Betrieb eine neue Idee zuzuführen hat."

"Der Herrscher sagt dort nicht mehr: du sollst denken wie ich oder sterben. Er sagt: es steht dir frei, nicht zu denken wie ich, dein Leben, deine Güter, alles soll dir bleiben, aber von diesem Tage an bist du einm Fremdling unter uns. Was nicht konformiert, wird mit einer ökonomischen Ohnmacht geschlagen, die sich in der geistigen des Eigenbrötlers fortsetzt."

"Das Neue der massenkulturellen Phase gegenüber der spätliberalen ist der Ausschluß des Neuen. Die Maschine rotiert auf der gleichen Stelle. Während sie schon den Konsum bestimmt, scheidet sie das Unerprobte als Risiko aus. Mißtrauisch blicken die Filmleute auf jedes Manuskript, dem nicht schon ein bestseller beruhigend zu Grunde liegt. Darum gerade ist immerzu von idea, novelty und surprise die Rede, dem, was zugleich allvertraut wäre und nie dagewesen. Ihm dient Tempo und Dynamik. Nichts darf beim Alten bleiben, alles muß unablässig laufen, in Bewegung sein. Denn nur der universale Sieg des Rhytmus von mechanischer Produktion und Reproduktion verheißt, daß nichts sich ändert, nichts herauskommt, was nicht paßte."

"Ihr Sieg ist doppelt: was sie als Wahrheit draußen auslöscht, kann sie drinnen als Lüge beliebig reproduzieren."

"Neu aber ist, daß die unversöhnlichen Elemente der Kultur, Kunst und Zerstreuung durch ihre Unterstellung unter den Zweck auf eine einzige falsche Formel gebracht werden: die Totaliät der Kulturindustrie. Sie besteht in Wiederholung. Daß ihrer charakteristischen Neuerungen durchweg bloß in Verbesserungen der Massenreproduktion bestehen, ist dem Interesse ungezählter Konsumenten an die Technik, nicht an die starr repetierten, ausgehölten und halb schon preisgegebenen Inhalte"

"Soviel ist richtig daran, daß die Gewalt der Kulturindustrie in ihrer Einheit mit dem erzeugten Bedürfnis liegt, nicht im einfachen Gegensatz zu ihm, wäre es selbst auch der von Allmacht und Ohnmacht. - Amusement ist die Verlängerung der Arbeit unterm Spätkapitalismus. Es wird von dem gesucht, der dem mechanisierten Arbeitsprozeß ausweichen will, um ihm von neuem gewachsen zu sein. Zugleich aber hat die Mechanisierung solche Macht über den Freizeitler und sein Glück, sie bestimmt so gründlich die Fabrikation der Amüsierwaren, daß er nichts anderes mehr erfahren kann als die Nachbilder des Arbeitsvorgangs selbst. Der vorgebliche Inhalt ist bloß verblaßter Vordergrund: was sich einprägt, ist die automatisierte Abfolge genormter Verrichtungen."

"Donald Duck in den Cartoons wie die Unglücklichen in der Realität erhalten ihre Prügel, damit die Zuschauer sich an die eigenen gewöhnen."

"Fun ist ein Stahlbad. Die Vergnügungsindustrie verordnet es unablässig. Lachen in ihr wird zum Instrument des Betrugs am Glück."

"Vergnügtsein heißt Einverstandensein. Es ist möglich nur, indem es sich gegenüber dem Ganzen des gesellschaftlichen Prozesses abdichtet, dumm macht und von Anbeginn den unentrinnbaren Anspruch jedes Werks, selbst des nichtigsten, widersinnig preisgibt: in seiner Beschränkung das Ganze zu reflektieren. Vergnügen heißt allemal: nicht daran denken müssen, das Leiden vergessen, noch wo es gezeigt wird. Ohnmacht liegt ihm zu Grunde. Es ist in der Tat Flucht, aber nicht, wie es behauptet, Flucht vor der schlechten Realität, sondern vor dem letzten Gedanken an Widerstand, den jene noch übriggelassen hat."

"Zur Demonstration seiner Göttlichkeit wird das Wirkliche immer bloß zynisch wiederholt. Solcher photologische Beweis ist zwar nicht stringent, aber überwältigend. Wer angesichts der Macht der Monotonie noch zweifelt, ist ein Narr. Kulturindustrie schlägt den Einwand gegen sich so gut nieder wie den gegen die Welt, die sie tendenzlos verdoppelt."

"Die Arbeiter, die eigentlichen Ernährer, werden, so will es der ideologische Schein, von den Wirtschaftsführern, den Ernährten, ernährt. Die Stellung des Einzelnen ist damit prekär."

"Das lückenlos geschlossene Dasein, in dessen Verdopplung die Ideologie heute aufgeht, wirkt umso großartiger, herrlicher und mächtiger, je gründlicher es mit notwendigem Leiden versetzt wird. Es nimmt den Aspekt von Schicksal an. Tragik wird auf die Drohung nivelliert, den zu vernichten, der nicht mitmacht, während ihr paradoxer Sinn einmal im hoffnungslosen Widerstand gegen die mythische Drohung bestand. [...] Tragisches Lichtspiel wird wirklich zur moralischen Besserungsanstalt."

"Der herrschende Geschmack bezieht sein Ideal von der Reklame, der Gebrauchsschönheit."

"Was man den Gebrauchswert in der Rezeption der Kulturgüter nennen könnte, wird durch den Tauschwert ersetzt, anstelle des Genusses tritt Dabeisein und Bescheidwissen, Prestigegewinn anstelle der Kennerschaft."

"Jeder Film ist die Vorschau auf den nächsten, der das gleiche Heldenpaar unter der gleichen exotischen Sonne abermals zu vereinen verspricht: wer zu spät kommt, weiß nicht, ob er der Vorschau oder der Sache selbst beiwohnt."

"Die intimsten Reaktionen der Menschen sind ihnen selbst gegenüber so vollkommen verdinglicht, daß die Idee des ihnen Eigentümlichen nur in äußerster Abstraktheit noch fortbesteht: personality bedeutet ihnen kaum mehr etwas anderes als blendend weiße Zähne und Freiheit von Achselschweiß und Emotionen. Das ist der Triumph der Reklame in der Kulturindustrie, die zwanghafte Mimesis der Konsumenten an die zugleich durchschauten Kulturwaren."
Profile Image for Gizem Kendik Önduygu.
63 reviews92 followers
May 26, 2013
Adorno Selamlar,

Seninle Uluslararası İlişkiler zamanı Eleştirel Kuram, Frankfurt Okulu’nda şeyyapmıştık. Uluslararası İlişkilerde sana çok yer vermiyorlar söylemem lazım. Ben kültür endüstirisine şimdi gelebildim. İlla ama illa kültürün sistematiğini, sahteliğini çözecem diyenlerin kaynak metinlerindensin. Sanırım Türkiye’de radyo televizyon, iletişim, sanat tarihi ve marxisim çalışmalarında biraz daha fazla itibarın var.

Horkheimer ile 1947’de ortaya attığın kültür endüstrisinin üzerine çok şey oldu. Bazı şeyleri öngörememen normal ama hala benzer sistematikler işliyor, rahat.

Kültür endüstrisi, endüstriyel kültürün ilkeleri, yapay haz, tikellik ve bireysellik, amaçsallık, deneyimsiz sözcük kullanımı ve reklama girmişsin. Jazz üzerine yazdıklarını okumadım ama burada da jazzdaki normlaştırılmış doğaçlamaya giydirmişsin. Sağolasın.

Bir de gerçekten okuldaki öğrenci protestoları olayının seni ölüme götüren kalp krizine etkisi varsa ona üzüldüm.
Profile Image for Philip Crowther.
33 reviews
February 24, 2023
didn't *actually* finish it yet on this read-through, but every essay that I have read since I picked it up, I've read at least two or three times bc this shit is dense, and spaced re-readings are the only way I'm going to retain most of the information in here in a way that I'll be able to re-apply it to my own lived experience. anyways, this text is excellent; sometimes, adorno will lose me for a couple of pages, but once I'm at a part that I'm able to tune in for, it's like constant mental lighting strikes. looking forward to finishing it, however long that takes me (like I said, it's dense, so it really depends on how much energy I have for that kind of thing)
Profile Image for Cavanşir Gadimov.
191 reviews29 followers
February 1, 2017
Adorno ve Horkheimer'in kültür endüstrisi kavramı üzerinde üç makalenin yer aldığı bir kitap. Özellikle sosyal bilimler ve iletişim bilimleri ile ilgilenen ve okuyan kişilerin Frankfurt okulunun bu üyelerinin geliştirdiği kültür endüstrisi kavramını anlayabilmek için güzel bir kitap.
Profile Image for Madhab Dwibedy.
26 reviews22 followers
November 14, 2021
Things when r created not for the shake of consumption , bt r created for the shake of calling it freedom and forcing u to buy for the shake of being urself , u can never stop to consume bt just beg to be free to consume
Profile Image for Pongprapas.
16 reviews
February 1, 2020
Theodor Adorno: the original snob before it was cool, criticizing listeners of popular music for being stupid, regressive, childish, whose primitivism is that of “the forcibly retarded.” I like him.

Nonetheless, it would be off the marks, if not plain wrong, to say that Adorno is a snob in the first place: he is not an elitist (or is he?) who looks down upon the masses. What he intends to attack is not the listeners, but rather the culture industry itself, which includes the entertainment industry in charge especially of the production of popular music, and those in control, who must rely on, inter alia, commodification of art, infantilization of the masses, and exclusion of the other, to maintain order and the status quo. His whole objective is to reclaim art’s autonomy and its ability to truly negate and criticize from the culture industry which entirely subsumes such negative elements.

In The Culture Industry, Adorno’s essays cover a wide range of topics, in his (I assume) usual dense prose, with an overarching focus on the culture industry and the production of art. While I can only write about the tiniest bit of the book here, it is appropriate to say that it deserves to be read and is perhaps more relevant than ever in the age of Netflix, YouTube, and Spotify.

“On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening,” in The Culture Industry, ed. J. M. Bernstein (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 46-47:
“They are not childlike, as might be expected on the basis of an interpretation of the new type of listener in terms of the introduction to musical life of groups previously unacquainted with music. But they are childish; their primitivism is not that of the undeveloped, but that of the forcibly retarded. . . . They are not merely turned away from more important music, but they are confirmed in their neurotic stupidity, quite irrespective of how their musical capacities are related to the specific musical culture of earlier social phases. . . . Together with sport and film, mass music and the new listening help to make escape from the whole infantile milieu impossible.”

Ibid, 51:
“There is actually a neurotic mechanism of stupidity in listening, too; the arrogantly ignorant rejection of everything unfamiliar is its sure sign. Regressive listeners behave like children. Again and again and with stubborn malice, they demand the one dish they have once been served.

A sort of musical children’s language is prepared for them; it differs from the real thing in that its vocabulary consists exclusively of fragments and distortions of the artistic language of music. In the piano scores of hit songs, there are strange diagrams. They relate to guitar, ukelele and banjo, as well as the accordion—infantile instruments in comparison with the piano—and are intended for players who cannot read the notes.” (!!!)
Profile Image for Kotryna.
74 reviews41 followers
March 13, 2018
Sometimes one needs a book to survive the boredom of a flight, however, in this case - one needs to be stuck on an airplane to survive this book. Elitist doesn't begin to describe it: the guy really didn't appreciate jazz, dancing, having hobbies, and basically every other form of entertainment. On a more serious note, Adorno tries to deconstruct the fetishism of the culture on an industrial scale (still in a very elitist and often contradictory way), and hints to few important points about culture becoming a compulsory consuming exercise. I would not recommend reading this without researching a bit more about the historical context of Adorno's life and work but taken critically this is a serious piece of cultural criticism, no matter if one agrees with it or not.
Profile Image for Jon Wlasiuk.
Author 1 book3 followers
January 1, 2021
One of the moist important contributions of the Frankfurt School was the application of psychology to culture. While Adorno’s critical analysis of mass culture is blind to the Information Age of our own time, his meditation on the relationship of all artistic endeavors to commodity capitalism remains relevant.
Profile Image for My Little Forest.
301 reviews
November 4, 2022
Complementary reads: Byung-Chul Han's (한병철) Transparenzgessellschaft and Harari's 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

Also, there are a few Black Mirror episodes that tackle these recurrent themes of: McLuhan's "the extension of man", the collective imaginary/ consciousness, mass consumption.
Profile Image for Katrina Sark.
Author 7 books36 followers
April 3, 2018
Introduction by J.M. Bernstein

p.2 – No one statement of Adorno’s concerning the great divide between artistic modernism and the culture industry is either more famous or better encapsulates his view than the one found in his letter to Walter Benjamin of 3 March 1936. There he states the both high art as well as industrially produced consumer art “bear the stigmata of capitalism, both contain elements of change. Both are torn halves of an integral freedom, to which, however, they do not add up.” (Erns Bloch et al. Aesthetics and Politics. Transl. and ed. by Rodney Taylor. London: NLB, 1977, 123.)

p.4 – The culture industry, which involves the production of works for reproduction and mass consumption, thereby organizing “free” time, the remnant domain of freedom under capital in accordance with the same principles of exchange and equivalence that reign in the sphere of production outside leisure, resents culture as the realization of the right of all to the gratification of desire while in reality continuing the negative integration of society. While Adorno nowhere identifies the culture industry with the political triumph of fascism, he does imply, both directly and indirectly, that the culture industry’s effective integration of society marks an equivalent triumph of repressive unification in liberal democratic states to that which was achieved politically under fascism.
While most of the central tenets of his theory of the culture industry were already formulated in “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening” (1938), an essay best regarded as a polemic against Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Adorno’s philosophical and historical placement of his culture industry theory makes its first perspicuous appearance in his and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. This work charts the self-destruction of Enlightenment. Its central claim is that the very same rationality which provides for humankind’s emancipation from the bondage of mythic powers and allows for progressive domination over nature, engenders, through its intrinsic character, a return to myth and new, even more absolute forms of domination.

p.5 – Under capitalism all production is for the market; goods are produced not in order to meet human needs and desires, but for the sake of profit, for the sake of acquiring further capital. […] production for exchange rather than use is a feature of most economic forms.

p.8 – In their “Introduction” Adorno and Horkheimer state that since public opinion has become a commodity, and language the means for promoting that commodity, then established linguistic and conceptual conventions could not be trusted, relied upon.

p.9 – Culture has become openly, and defiantly, an industry obeying the same rules of production as any other producer of commodities.

p.10 – Adorno stresses the ersatz character of the pleasure the culture industry offers the consumer. Real pleasure is not even on offer. […] “representation of fulfilment as a broken promise. The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses. Works of art are ascetic and unashamed; the culture industry is pornographic and prudish.”
The purposelessness of pure works of art, which denies the utility and instrumentality that reign in the world outside art, is premised on commodity production. The “autonomy,” the freedom from external purposes, of pure works derives from their being produced “privately” and not on demand for a particular consumer (church, state, patron). Works of art are commodities just the same, indeed pure commodities since they are valuable only to the extent that they can be exchanged.
The effectiveness of the culture industry depends not on its parading an ideology, on disguising the true nature of things, but in removing the thought that there is any alternative to the status quo. “Pleasure always means not to think about anything, to forget suffering even where it is shown.”

p.12 – Watching television or the latest Hollywood movie is not a sign that one has, after all, through the manipulation at work and sustain a critical distance from what is on offer. However, Adorno does not regard strict belief or naivete as a condition for the culture industry to succeed.
“The triumph of advertising in the culture industry is that consumers feel compelled to buy and use its products even though they see through them.”

p.13 – simultaneously seeing though and obeying

p.14 – fulfil a conservative ideology of justifying the status quo by presenting a benign image of society requiring only conformity added by the “insight” and limited individual effort recommended by the column for personal success.  Oppressive conformism

p.17 – Consumer culture is the degradation of culture.

p.20 – Adorno’s critics have turned his version of the unifying and pacifying character of the culture industry back onto the theory itself: it is his theory that unifies and pacifies the culture industry which in reality is more dynamic, diverse and conflictual than the theory allows. Since mass media mediate social conflict and negotiate social change, they can be said to “reflect, express, and articulate social reality in a mediated fashion.” For the sake of gaining an audience and possessing credibility, mass media must reproduce social reality.

p.21 – If Adorno’s analyses of the culture industry overstates its power of manipulation, his critics contend that his theory of high art overstates its negativity, its power of refusal. Increasingly since the late 1950s, high modernist art has lost its critical status.

p.22 – postmodernism’s transgression of the modernist canon of prohibitions amounted to an overcoming of the separatist strategy of his modernism; postmodernism actively sought a (re-)unification of high and low art that was equally a democratic reaction to the elitism of high modernism.

p.23 – aestheticization of social reality:
“Just as art works become commodities and are enjoyed as such, the commodity itself in consumer society has become image, representation, spectacle. Use value has been replaced by a packaging and advertising. The commodification of art ends up in the aestheticization of the commodity. The siren song of the commodity has displaced the promesse de bonheur once held by bourgeois art, and consumer Odysseus blissfully plunges into the sea of commodities, hoping to find gratification but finding none.” (Andreas Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture and Postmodernism. London: Macmillan Press, 1986, 21).
Lacking and adequate conception of individuality, the new cultural matrix releases aggression in at least equal measure to its release of desire.

p.26 – Adorno’s theory and analyses continually call attention to the difference between pseudo-individuality and individuality, pleasure and happiness, consensus and freedom, pseudo-activity and activity, illusory otherness and non-identical otherness.

2 – The Schema of Mass Culture

p.61 – The commercial character of culture causes the difference between culture and practical life to disappear. Aesthetic sembrance (Schein) turns into the sheen which commercial advertising lends to the commodities which absorb it in turn.
On all sides the borderline between culture and empirical reality becomes more and more indistinct.

p.62 – Everything, including war, has its own poetry.

p.67 – The difference between “serious” and “light” culture is either eroded or expressly organized and thus incorporated into the almighty totality.

p.71 – Mass culture treats conflict but in fact proceeds without conflict. The representation of living reality becomes a technique for suspending its development and this comes to occupy that static realm which revealed the very essence of variété.

p.79 – Mass culture is incompatible with its own objectivity. It constantly refers back to materials whose essence resists such an objective presentation.

p.82 – Mass culture is a system of signals that signals itself. The millions who belong to the underclasses formerly excluded from the enjoyment of cultural goods but now ensnared provide a welcome pretext for this new orientation towards information.

p.83 – the monopolistic compulsion to handle, to manipulate, to absorb everything, the inability to leave anything beyond itself untouched. The less the system tolerates anything new, the more those who have been forsaken must be acquainted with all the latest novelties if they are to continue living in society rather than feeling themselves excluded from it. Mass culture allows precisely this reserve army of outsiders to participate: mass culture is an organized mania for connecting everything with everything else, a totality of public secrets.

p.92 – Mass culture only recognizes refined people. Even the slang of the street kids that can never be reproduced too realistically merely serves to ensure that the laughing viewer is never tempted to use such language himself.

p.93 – As a focus of regression mass culture assiduously concerns itself with the production of those archetypes in whose survival fascistic psychology perceives the most reliable means of perpetuating the modern conditions of domination.

p.96 – Participation in mass culture itself stands under the sign of terror.

3 – Culture Industry Reconsidered

p.98 – The term culture industry was perhaps used for the first time in the book Dialectic of Enlightenment, which Horkheimer and I published in Amsterdam in 1947. In our drafts we spoke of “mass culture.”
In all its branches, products which are tailored for consumption by masses are manufactured more or less according to plan.
The seriousness of high art is destroyed in speculation about its efficacy.

p.100 – Culture, in the true sense, did not simply accommodate itself to human beings; but it always simultaneously raised a protest against the petrified relations under which they lived, thereby honouring them. In so far as culture becomes wholly assimilated to and integrated in those petrified relations, human beings are once more debased.

p.104 – Culture cannot represent either that which merely exists or the conventional and no longer binding categories of order which the culture industry drapes over the idea of the good life as if existing reality were the good life, and as if those categories were its true measure.
The power [and omnipresence] of the culture industry’s ideology is such that conformity has replaced consciousness.

7 – Transparencies on Film

p.178 – The Oberhauseners attacked the nearly sixty-year-old trash production of the film industry with the epithet “Daddy’s Cinema.” Representatives of the latter in turn could come up with no better retort than “Kiddy’s Cinema.”
What is repulsive about Daddy’s Cinema is its infantile character, regression manufactured on an industrial scale.

p.183 – That, among its other functions, film provides models for collective behaviour is not just an additional imposition of ideology. The movements which the film presents are mimetic impulses which, prior to all content and meaning, incite the viewers and listeners to fall into step as if in a parade.

p.186 – Every commercial film is actually only the preview of that which it promises and will never deliver.
Profile Image for Gary Bruff.
119 reviews32 followers
July 30, 2015
I always enjoy reading works of the Frankfurt School, not so much for what they say as for what they represent. Whether it is Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer, or any of the other Weimar intellectuals, a close reading always rewards the reader with cautionary tales of brewing fascism and flights of the philosophical imaginary wherein the individual triumphs over the inhuman and the unjust.

Adorno's The Culture Industry is a great book by a German intellectual living in exile in the United States. The book does not have the sweeping universality of the only other book I have read by him, his and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment. But The Culture Industry, by being in most cases less abstract, is perhaps the more readable and enjoyable work.

In these cogent and often challenging pages about what could later be called 'the media,' Adorno expresses his scorn and criticism against what we have come to regard as popular culture. In doing so, Adorno navigates between the Scylla of snobbery and the Charybdis of mass populism. Take music for example. For Adorno, something essential is lost when music is divorced from its live performance through radio and phonograph records. More than a Benjaminian mass production of art is at stake. In fact, the performer and composer are cut entirely loose from the performance. What results is art as commodity rather than as event, and so the listener comes to fetishize music as something disembodied, emanating from nowhere and broadcasting everywhere. For Adorno, jazz represents the nadir of listening as the spectre of pop begins to take center stage. I personally enjoy greatly the jazz music which Adorno criticizes. But his tirades against jazz (and jazz dancing) are not really about jazz as it would become after bebop (Adorno at any rate should have recognized how the art form matured after its pop childhood). What Adorno was truly objecting to was pop music in general and as it would become. Pop music enters our culture with a hook, and that hook eventually turns into some kind of advertisement, even if it is only advertising the song itself as commodity or the 'artist' as fetish and star. This is where the snobbery comes in. But this music is also the cultural nexus of modern expression and consumption. If Adorno objects to the culture industry it is because he cares about the folk, not because he feels superior to them.

The second half of Culture Industry is dedicated mostly to revealing how people are manipulated and controlled, primarily through visual media and the press. Even a harmless distraction on television can be as harmful as some more obvious and insidious propaganda. In either case, our structures of desire are pacified and made malleable by the two dimensional representations (always shallow, often libidinal) that we too often take as our primary window on reality. Adorno's goal: to cause us to become distanced from and thereby disenchanted with the glitzy and slick milieu of our contemporary pop culture. For this milieu is transformed into the modern folklore or our civilization, that is to say it provides the stereotypical layering of our consciousness with the heroes and villains, the gods and demons, of our time. This mediated culture is all we now have in common with our fellow commoners. Adorno would have us not destroy popular culture per se but merely awaken us from it like from a bad collective dream.

The last two articles are the more readable if the less profound. In 'Free Time,' Adorno takes a look at hobbies and avocations, and explains why he doesn't have any. He prefers to write or to play music, which are not hobbies but are rather his real life's work, regardless of whether he is being paid to do them or not. A final note on 'Resignation' explains how he is not accepting of the way things are. Although he is powerless to change much that he does not like, and although he works within the system he opposes, he denies the claims leveled against him that he is only a critic with no plan for radical and necessary action.

So even though The Culture Industry is old it is certainly not old school. I appreciate how Adorno, with his carefully orchestrated dialectics regarding modern popular culture, is not a broken record. His insights are as fresh now as they were then. All that is required is a little translation of the details into a more modern idiom in order to make the threat and promise of the very real culture industry come alive for the modern reader.
Profile Image for Nicolas.
87 reviews25 followers
September 22, 2012
On ne présente plus l’École de Francfort, ce groupe d’intellectuels allemands sévissant depuis l’avant-guerre, fondateurs de la théorie critique. Les auteurs de ce texte (1947), Max Horkheimer et Theodor W. Adorno, en furent – avec Herbert Marcuse – les principaux représentants.

Bien avant Debord, ceux-ci veilleront, à travers ce pamphlet, à éreinter méthodiquement une industrie culturelle déjà bien établie ; flinguant indifféremment Donald Duck – canard boiteux du taylorisme universel, recevant sa ration de coups à l’instar de ces malheureux spectateurs amusés, s’habituant ainsi à ceux qu’ils reçoivent eux-mêmes – ou même le jazz, cette entreprise de nivellement sonore :

« Aucun Palestrina ne fut aussi puriste dans la chasse à la dissonance inattendue et non résolue que l’est l’arrangeur de jazz éliminant tout développement non conforme à son langage. S’il adapte Mozart au jazz, il ne se contente pas seulement de modifier les passages trop sérieux ou trop difficiles, mais également dans ceux où le compositeur harmonisait la mélodie différemment, peut-être plus simplement que la coutume ne le veut aujourd’hui » (p. 22).

Pour ces auteurs, l’industrie culturelle ne vise pas à sublimer, mais à réprimer, voire à dominer. Elle s’inscrit dans le contexte plus large de la rationalité technique d’une société aliénée : « les autos, les bombes et les films assurent la cohésion du système jusqu’à ce que leur fonction nivellatrice se répercute sur l’injustice même qu’elle a favorisée » (p. 10). Et cet argumentaire pisse-froid n’épargne rien, surtout pas l’humour ! Préférant, là encore, Baudelaire et Hölderlin, dépourvus d’humour, aux vedettes hilares d’Hollywood : « Dans la société frelatée, le rire en tant que maladie s’est attaqué au bonheur et l’entraîne dans sa misère intégrale » (p. 49). Haro sur la LOL-culture – toujours d’actualité – « s’amuser signifie toujours : ne penser à rien, oublier la souffrance même là où elle est montrée. Il s’agit, au fond, d’une forme d’impuissance » (p. 57). Dans le capitalisme avancé de l’après-guerre, l’amusement est donc ce bain vivifiant prescrit en continu par l’industrie du divertissement. Il est avant tout recherché par ceux désirant échapper au processus du travail automatisé, espérant ainsi être à nouveau en mesure de l’affronter (p. 41).

Aussi, l’industrie culturelle, telle que dépeinte par Horkheimer et Adorno constitue, fondamentalement, une attaque en règle contre l’individu. Une société où chacun est interchangeable, un exemplaire, l’individu est normalisé : « de l’improvisation standardisée du jazz à la vedette de cinéma qui doit avoir une mèche sur l’oreille pour être reconnue comme telle, c’est le règne de la pseudo-individualité » (p. 78). Par conséquent : « c’est uniquement parce que les individus ont cessé d’être eux-mêmes et ne sont plus que les points de rencontre des tendances générales qu’il est possible de les réintégrer tout entiers dans la généralité » (p. 79). Nous soulignons.

Sur l’Art. Proche de l’analyse benjaminienne Horkheimer et Adorno épinglent la démocratisation de l’art : « Les œuvres d’art sont ascétiques et sans pudeur, l’industrie culturelle est pornographique et prude » (p. 48). La valeur d’usage dans la réception artistique est remplacée par sa valeur d’échange, au lieu de rechercher la jouissance on se contente d’assister aux manifestations « artistiques » et d’être au courant » (p. 86). Dès lors, pour les auteurs, l’objet d’art n’a aucune valeur en soi, il devient fétiche – sa valeur sociale servant d’échelle de valeur objective, seule qualité dont jouissent les consommateurs.

Gommez 1947. Plusieurs décennies avant Baudrillard, la société de consommation [post-] moderne se voit d’ores et déjà théorisée, ainsi que la publicité, son bras armé. Un constat d’hominescence réifiante et de personal-branding avant l’heure : « les consommateurs sont contraints à devenir eux-mêmes ce que sont les produits culturels, tout en sachant très bien à quoi s’en tenir » (p. 104).
Profile Image for Juanjo.
124 reviews7 followers
October 3, 2022
There are many deterrents to reading Adorno: he often goes back to Hegel, Kant, Marx & Freud, but he also draws from his vast cultural knowledge of the arts and of aesthetics. The subject & themes are complex enough, and his intricate prose also does no favors. And even then, after understanding what it has to say, he may appear to be opinionated, or to suffer from tunnel vision. But any difficulties with the text or any biases he presents don't take away from how interesting it can be as well. Even when disagreeing with him, he often has very interesting insights. And though his writing is challenging, it's not out of elitism, for it comes across as genuine and carefully crafted; plus often very beautiful.

Chapters 1-4 more or less all postulate on the same things. Chapter 1 is concerned with music. In the current system, previous forms of music are stripped of their actual worth by being turned into commodities and fetishized, and new forms of music born in this system are inherently part of it and thus also serve as a commodity. It has some good writing on western classical music but it mostly serves to showcase that it's being defiled. Also, it can be argued that Adorno is not against these "new" art forms like jazz because he believes they are "bad music" as it's often claimed, but rather because in his vision of art, something is presented as a commodity cannot have aesthetic value. So he's both lamenting the loss of old and the "absence" of new art.

However, the levels of praise he has for classical music are on the same degree as his objections and insults against 'modern music'. There's a very apparent separation between what he constantly refers to as "vulgar, infantile, regressive..." music, and classical music (however castrated it may be), when one reads stuff like *"guitar, ukelele and banjo, [...] accordion – infantile instruments in comparison with the piano"*, which are more prejudices than a critical look at art. In a way it may seem his dismissal of modern art is partially a distaste for it. And after all, one can also believe that for art created under capitalism there still exists the possibility of artistic merit. Maybe art does not completely change all its use value for exchange value as he claims, and even in a system where even banality and blasphemy are now diversionary it can change and adapt, as Berio claimed.

Still, just like in chapter 2 it's an interesting look at how, in his view, the system works to transform our conceptions in society. Chapter 2 has more of an emphasis in the workings of this framework as a whole. Where culture and reality inspire eachother and replace imagination and freedom in individuals. The system decides what is real, what we should know, and what our responses should be; in what he mentions is a shift into a more obfuscated form of control. The system maintains the idea of culture as something that may be used to challenge the system, while in reality is just the system internalizing its own negativity for profit where art is fetishized as a means of revolution. Sometimes there's some good points and some of his typical attacks on modern culture such as "people don't enjoy the act of dancing to jazz, but the notion that they are dancing to jazz". Again, more interesting when it talks about the standard pattern culture follows than his own judgements of it.

As for chapter 3, it attempts to better define what he previously wrote about in 'dialectic of enlightenment'. It reconceptualizes 'mass culture' as 'the culture industry', to better display is not 'a culture born from the masses', but an industry that reshapes culture by mixing high and low art, producing a homogenized result with none of the values from either sphere.

Conceptions of high and low art aside (which are not so much a distinction based on their 'worth' but the dimension they operate in), the most important aspect here is probably the standardisation of culture and turning it into a system exclusively of commodities, where the individuals that partake in it have little means of rebellion against it. For Walter Benjamin, artworks produced under such system, which are cut off from their origins, lose their aura but in turn gain new potential to be emancipated from these constraints that defined in in the first place. But Adorno thinks that rather than disappearing, the aura is kept as a foggy mist which maintains the illusion of it, so people still believe to obtain fulfillment from it. It describes a culture of conformity and anti-individualism where even intellectuals can't escape participating in, which is very in line with his pessimistic outlook. However, it often chooses to end chapters in a hopeful note.

And chapter 4 shows us the part of culture (supposed to be a 'free' thing) which is linked with administration. As the administrative world is shaped by capital, we must take a look at how this also influences art. How much of our idea of culture is filtered through institutions & organisms like museums, which are dependent on administration. How art by virtue of being apolitical and impractical also serves as an opposite which affirms usefulness in its opposite which is capital and administration. My only problem at this point is how a bunch of stuff is already been said in previous chapters and now just being repeated or presenting a slight variation of that system in a different context.

Chapters 6 through 9 are shorter and more varied. 5 talks about the unprecedented rise of fascism, which is also a welcome change in topic. It references the text 'group psychology and the ego' by Freud, where Freud is concerned with how groups emerge, mostly as an ontological possibility of if a human can and would enter a group. Freud's vision of members of the group being an ego, leaders being an ego ideal etc... is not at all relevant to me, but Adorno's observations and different conclusions are. It's an interesting critique of various aspects of fascism as well as an analysis of some of the stuff that brings it together. It reevaluates some of the stuff Freud said like how moving away from religion is a good step always but Nazis found an even more efficient tool of manipulation in (manipulated) science than in religion.

6 and 7 are pretty similar: one is on television, another on film. I find it's both rightfully but overly critical of film and television as mediums, he points out all their faults which are still prevalent to this day, but like with other forms of modern art, he's not really one for seeing them as legitimate. There's some claims like how film is not just 'low art' but 'the projection of the will of those in control onto their victims', or that film is doomed to not be a real form of art unless it can find a value other than its aesthetic. Then again, he also recognizes in the previous chapter that soviet cinema had a space for regular people and its psychology. That's mostly his critique of television: it's derivative and it imposes and normalizes on us certain beliefs and expectations about society. His alternative for that is that television should instead gravitate more towards ordinary people and how their lives are affected by terror and impotence. He regards both forms as more prevalent tools for imposing themselves than previous stuff like books. And on film he mostly critiques Walter Benjamin, they pretty much have opposing views on the subject.

Chapter 8 is about free time. Has probably the most pretentious part of the book, the "i have no hobbies because i take everything super seriously" monologue which more than a sound argument just feels like a cop-out. But it's also balanced by a nice analysis of how we have come to distribute our time within the current system, and how the it turns our leisure into an economy we are forced to partake in. But again, it often feels excessively critical to the point where it blames people for needing an outlet from working. There's perhaps a middle ground between "constant distraction" from society or "no rests" from it. He himself ends by saying people are naturally inclined to freedom but may just need a little push.

And chapter 9 closes with an essay in defense of critical theory, where for him any action must be backed by a proper critical base, and no real result can come out of actions that have not been fully thought out. On its attempts to dismiss anti-intellectualism, perhaps it also becomes too devoted of intellectualism, in the sense that, again, a middle ground is perhaps possible. But he does write nicely.

So yeah, it's a brick to go through sometimes but at the same time it's very intuitive to a degree. In the same way Debord or Baudrillard are, when they describe (decades ago) more or less similar systems which are pretty similar to what we are now well accustomed to. And it's both 'enlightening' and disheartening to see how much of the stuff he describes 80 years ago is still pretty much the these aspects of our society work, unchanged, unchangeable.
Profile Image for Erica.
59 reviews
May 27, 2020
It is impossible to do justice to brilliance of the substantive observations contained in this volume in a brief review, however polemical Adorno becomes at times. To be sure, it took a radical thinker to come so close to the truth of how completely capitalist economic ideology penetrates every aspect of postmodern human life, and how unfree we really are in all actuality.

Adorno’s two most important contributions in this collection are as follows:

1) A fleshed out criticism and dissection of his concept of the culture industry—that is, the mass media entertainment complex as a capitalist system that is self-perpetuating. The culture industry commodifies art and information to the detriment of critical thinking, using repetition of simplistic themes and seldom allowing for the pushing of comfort zones. It is built on the backs of a recurring set of limited stock characters frozen in time by technology who are subject to simultaneous fetishization and subjugation at the hands of the collective. It teaches a limited value system aligned with capitalist propaganda such as the mythology of meritocracy, binary concepts that encourage prejudice against out-groups, the idea that being “good” is being a hard worker, and being a hard worker can win you a slice of the American Dream. And so on.

2) Adorno’s essay on Fascist propaganda and the psychology of Fascist systems: this essay hints further at the notion that we ignore the intellectual and moral threat of retrograde via the culture industry at our own peril. Indeed, the groupthink of Fascism is seemingly bolstered by the manner of thinking engendered by the culture industry.

Further building on the social psychology of LeBon and Freud, Adorno takes a step toward specificity in the aftermath of the Nazi regime, musing on the unique traits that separate Fascist group psychology from that of other populist movements. One quote is particularly disturbing in light of our current political situation. I’ll just leave this here...it might sound slightly familiar in 2020 America.

“The foremost source [of Fascist control over the masses] seems to be the already mentioned basic identity of leader and follower which circumscribes one of the aspects of identification. The leader can guess the psychological wants and needs of those susceptible to his propaganda because he resembles them psychologically, and is distinguished from them by a capacity to express without inhibitions what is latent in them, rather than by any intrinsic superioity. The leaders are generally oral character types, with a compulsion to speak incessantly and to befool the others. The famous spell they exercise over their followers seems largely to depend on their orality: language itself, devoid of its rational significance, functions in a magical way and furthers those archaic regressions which reduce individuals to members of crowds. Since this very quality of uninhibited but largely associative speech presupposes at least a temporary lack of ego control, it may well indicate weakness rather than strength. The fascist agitators’ boasting of strength is indeed frequently accompanied by hints at such weakness...hints which, to be sure, are skilfully merged with the idea of strength itself. In order successfully to meet the unconscious dispositions of his audience, the agitator so to speak simply turns his own unconscious outward. His particular character syndrome makes it possible for him to do exactly this, and experience has taught him consciously to exploit this faculty, to make rational use of his irrationality, similarly to the actor, or a certain type of journalist who knows how to sell their innervations and sensitivity. Without knowing it, he is thus able to speak and act in accord with the psychological theory for the simple reason that the psychological theory is true. All he has to do in order to make the psychology of his audience click, is shrewdly to exploit his own psychology.”
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