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Archive for March 5th, 2007

Afterthought on Adorno’s Culture Industry: Introduction

Posted by fifthdimension on March 5, 2007


The concept of culture industry is a critique developed by Theodor Adorno along with Max Horkheimer, the two most important leaders of the Frankfurt school. It maintains that the culture industries exist to protect and enforce the spirit of a capitalist world order. However, the ‘culture industry ’ has undergone tremendous changes since Adorno developed his critique, yet many of Adorno’s key concerns still remain valid while others do not hold that much currency. This paper shall discuss the developments that have taken place in the culture industry and how these developments validate the critique developed by Adorno.

To begin with, let us first define what Adorno meant by “culture industry”. Although many critics and scholars are not unanimous with it, Adorno and Horkheimer coined the term “culture industry” term apparently as a replacement to the concept of “mass culture”, which they felt was semantically in disharmony with the truth. It should be noted that “industry”, here, does not necessarily imply the means of industrial production, although many works of culture commodification do reach us in this way. Instead, it denotes the standardization and psuedo-singularity of cultural items, and the regulation of their promotion and distribution. Adorno’s “culture industry” essentially stands on the aggregation of television, radio, film, and advertising concerns. Cultural products, which made up popular culture, also included jazz, magazines, and soap operas etc.

However, today, the terms “culture industry”, “mass culture” (and also “popular culture”) can be used interchangeably in as much as they are concerned with the present day mass media. The two essays by Adorno, first published in the late 1940’s, are perhaps the most precognitive works ever produced on the topic of mass culture. What he predicted on the merger of all forms of art into one, the sameness of advertising and entertainment still holds currency, considering the developments that have taken place in the “culture industry”—MTV’s music videos, and the planned catharsis of talk shows of the likes of Oprah and Jerry Springer.


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