[jahsonic.com] - [Next >>]

Culture industry

Related: bread and circuses - commodity fetishism - consumerism - culture - dumbing down of culture - entertainment - industry - mass culture - mass media - music industry - popular - show business

Related: cultural pessimism - cultural optimism

Key texts: Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944/1947)

Cultural pessimists such as Theodor Adorno and other philosophers of the Frankfurt school hold that culture industries cultivate false needs; that is, needs created and satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom, creativity or genuine happiness.

Camille Paglia, a postmodern cultural optimist responds: "All the P.R. in the world cannot make a hit movie or sitcom. The people vote with ratings and dollars. Academic Marxists, with their elitist sense of superiority to popular taste, are the biggest snobs in America." -- Camille Paglia in 'Sex, Art and American Culture' page ix. [Jun 2006]


Adorno and Max Horkheimer coined the term "culture industry" in their Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944/1947), first English translation 1972. The essay in question's full title is "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception".

Before the publication of this essay, the culture referred to in the "culture industry" was usually labelled mass culture.


"Culture Industries: A term usually used to designate those organisations that produce popular culture, i.e. television, radio, books, popular music and films. It is also used more widely to include all cultural organisations. According to the Frankfurt School, the culture industries serve an ideological function, ensuring capitalist hegemony, providing a bland and undemanding popular culture." --Penguin Dictionary of Sociology

The culture industry is a term used to describe the nature of the social, economic and political structures that are proposed by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. The theory basically states that our culture not only mirrors our society but takes an important role in shaping it through the process of standardisation and commodification, creating objects rather than subjects.

His theories stand in stark contrast to much of Postmodernism, denying that modern commercial culture is as valid as that which preceded it, as it creates an atmosphere which serves to reinforce the status quo through creating false needs and a "fetish character" to culture rather than one which actually tries to question beliefs and ideologies.

The product of this culture industry is one that is designed to fill the leisure time of the audience. Adorno lambasts the notion of "free time" which he sees as the opposite of leisure, and the idea of hobbies being an affront to genuine interests.

Critics of the theory say that the products of mass culture would not be popular if people did not enjoy it, and that culture is self-determining in its administration. However, the concept heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_industry [May 2005]


Adorno was to a great extent influenced by Walter Benjamin's application of Karl Marx's thought. Unlike Marx, however, Adorno did not consider capitalism on the verge of collapse. Instead he argued that capitalism had become more entrenched through its attack on the objective basis of revolutionary consciousness. Additionally, Adorno focused on culture rather than economics as Marx did. He argued that critical theory must maintain a certain standard. On this ground Adorno attacked many approaches commonly used in social studies. He was particularly harsh on approaches that claimed to be scientific and quantitative.

He is probably best known for his critique of mass culture in contemporary societies. He argued that the culture industry manipulated the masses. Popular culture was 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. It is culture industries that produce standardized cultural goods like factories. There are differences between the cultural goods that make them appear different, but they are in fact just variations of the same theme. Adorno called this phenomenon pseudo- individualization. Adorno saw this mass-produced culture as a danger to the more difficult high arts. Culture industries cultivate false needs; that is, needs created and satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom, creativity or genuine happiness. Some of the work on mass culture Adorno undertook together with Max Horkheimer. His work heavily influenced intellectual discourse on popular culture and scholarly popular culture studies. At the time Adorno began writing, there was a tremendous unease among many intellectuals as to the results of mass culture and mass production on the character of individuals within a nation, by exploring the mechanisms for the creation of mass culture, Adorno presented a framework which gave specific terms to what had been a more general concern.

At the time this was considered important because of the role which the state took in cultural production, Adorno's analysis allowed for a critique of mass culture from the left which balanced the critique of popular culture from the right. In both arguments the nature of cultural production was felt to be at the root of social and moral problems resulting from the consumption of culture. Where as the critique from the right emphasized moral degeneracy ascribed to sexual and racial influences within popular culture, Adorno located the problem not with the content, but with the objective realities of the production of mass culture and its effects, e.g. as a form of reverse psychology.

Many aspects of Adorno's work are relevant today and have been developed in many strands of contemporary critical theory, media theory, and sociology. Thinkers influenced by Adorno believe that today's society has evolved in a direction foreseen by him, especially in regard to the past (Auschwitz), morals or the Culture Industry. The latter has become a particularly productive, yet highly contested term in cultural studies. Many of his reflections on music have only just begun to be debated, as a collection of essays on the subject, many of which had not previously been translated into English, have only recently been collected and published as Essays on Music. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_Adorno#Theory [Jun 2005]

The theory of culture industry

At first sight diametrically opposed to the aristocratic view would be the theory of culture industry developed by Frankfurt School theoreticians such as Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse. In their view, the masses are precisely dominated by an all-encompassing culture industry obeying only to the logic of consumer capitalism. Gramsci's concept of hegemony (see: cultural hegemony), that is, the domination of society by a specific group which stays in power by partially taking care of, and partially repressing the claims of other groups, doesn't work here anymore. The principle of hegemony as a goal to achieve for an oppressed social class loses its meaning. The system has taken over, only the state apparatus dominates . --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_culture_studies#The_theory_of_culture_industry [Nov 2004]


The concentration of culture production within an industry that is dominated by a few corporate producers [Disney+ABC+MacDonald's] who manufacture, own the rights to and distribute a vast number of the mass-mediated cultural products that are found in the world. The consequences of such concentration are viewed as leading to a process of standardization of form and homogeneity of content. The impact is perceived as, at best giving the consumer little real choice, at worst promoting cultural forms that are dulling our ability to think critically about the world in which we live and reducing the diversity of values, beliefs and customs across the world. --http://www.eng.fju.edu.tw/Literary_Criticism/cultural_studies/adorno_introd.htm

The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture (2001) - Theodor Adorno

  • The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture (2001) - Theodor Adorno [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    A reader of essays by Theodor Adorno. TOC
    Introduction 1. On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening 2. The Schema of Mass Culture 3. Culture Industry Reconsidered 4. Culture and Administration 5. Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda 6. How to Look at Television 7. Transparencies on Film 8. Free Time 9. Resignation

    "A volume of Adorno's essays is equivalent to a whole shelf of books on literature." --Susan Sontag

    The creation of the Frankfurt School of critical theory in the 1920s saw the birth of some of the most significant writings of the 20th century. It is out of this background that the critic Theodor Adorno emerged. This is a selection of his essays, offering the reader insights into Adorno's thoughts on culture. Adorno argued that the culture industry commodified and standardized all art and 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 the modern world, where even the least cynical of consumers is aware of the influence of the media, Adorno's work should take on a more immediate significance. The book intends to be an unrivalled indictment of the banality of mass culture. --amazon.com

    This book is an unrivalled indictment of the banality of mass culture - Adorno's finest essays are collected here, offering the reader unparalleled insights into Adorno's thoughts on culture. --Book Description

    your Amazon recommendations - Jahsonic - early adopter products

    Managed Hosting by NG Communications