You are on page 1of 3


Critically discuss the arguments put forward by Adorno and Horkheimer in their article 'The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.'

Prior to interrogating the arguments put thought in Adorno and Horkheimers The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. It is first important to give a brief historical overview of what the enlightenment period is and some of the thoughts that gathered momentum and influence. The start of the enlightenment period is widely considered (although still up for debate) to have started in the 18 th century with an emergence of scientific, philosophical and cultural debate. A sweeping understanding of the period is considered the move away form a theological way of thinking, to a more humanistic school of thought. This move away form the church is seen, as a way of creating a utopian self-sustaining society that required critical and constructive reason1 this could not be acquired without questioning authoritarian doctrines. The enlightenment period is considered as one of the greatest periods in western cultural and technological advance, prior to the Ancient Greek Enlightenment period. The enlightenment period is constantly being critiqued and revaluated in relation to contemporary belief and cultural ideology. The Frankfurt School is one of the most evaluated and studied schools of thought in modern Europe; they applied Marxism to a radical interdisciplinary social theory2. One of their most citied and studied texts in relation to the enlightenment period is The Cultural Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.

JW Yolton, The Blackwell companion to the Enlightenment, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995, Pg. 1 2 Encyclopaedia Britannica,

The cultural industries are those activities which deal primarily in symbolic goods goods whose primary economic value is derived from their cultural value3. The text is an evaluation of the cultural sector in relations to the commoditisation of culture as mass produced goods whether it be through film radio and journalism. Then taking it one-step further Adorno and Korkneimer state that the reason for such a commoditisation is to quell the masses into passivity. The cultural industry as a text is highly relevant today even more so that at the time of publication in 1944 (Original German text). Although clearly taking an extremist opinion of culture they are not without reason. Looking at the historical position this text belongs; it is relevant to note that it was published during the Second World War. A time of economic misery and European oppression the cultural industry was a way of aligning itself with the people and helping to ease their political and economic anxieties. One of the central arguments within the cultural industry is that there is no such thing as spontaneity Any trace of spontaneity4 form public in official broadcasting is controlled absorbed by talent scouts, studios competitions and official programs of every kind selected by professionals. Talented performers belong to the industry long before it displays them When juxtaposed with a prefabricated piece of contemporary television such as XFactor it is in keeping with this ideology of what this show represent highlighting some of the issues raised within the text. Analysing the X-Factor, we see the Marxist idea of political economy. The show as the commodity that has a use and exchange value and this is all brought about by human labour, they sing and act appropriately creating an experience that we all buy into. Also relating it to the idea that talent belongs to the industry before it displays them. Is what the X-Factor stands for we appropriate the use of talent to someone higher up who can control and create a value out of talent. Society does not even understand the use of talent without the notion of commodity. The Culture Industry as Mass Deception is also explained as a way for displacing our emotion and giving into passivity. This argument is valid as the use of items as a way of creating a cathartic experience is true. However when looking at Umberto Ecos ideas of hyper-reality he states once the total fake is admitted, in order to be enjoyed it must seem totally real5 this concept of the simulacra is what happens to be the case for our misreading of emotions. The culture industry misplaces our emotions, Marx understood this and said class-consciousness would help emancipate society from capitalist ideologies. The culmination of Adorno and Horkneimer touching on Marxist commodity fetishism is a folly as a value relationship Marxist understanding and belief in human nature is not contested. Ultimately Marx is saying that we do not assign multiple values to items and treat them in the same way, however society assigns different sets of values and this
Dr. Justin OConnor, The Definition of Cultural Industries J.L. Moreno, Theory of Spontaneity Creativity, Sociometry, Vol. 18, No. 4, Sociometry and the Science of Man, Nov 1995, Pg 364 Spontaneity is the variable degree of adequate response to a situation of a variable degree of novelty. Novelty of behaviour by itself is not the measure of spontaneity. 5 Umberto Eco, Faith in Fakes Travels in Hyper-reality, pg43
3 4

affirms the way that society behave. Marx takes the fetishism of items in an extreme direction saying that it is not the item that we fetish it is the relation to human labour and thus our relations take on this alienation and distance relationship with objects. If anything Marx has a low opinion of the intellect of society, believing us all to befall the commodity. And if society could not perceive the relationship then man would not be free to make decisions. So to remark that society is falling into a cycle of misplaced emotion and objectification is now highly questionable. However how is it that Capitalism the socio-economic system behind the culture industry has been able to infringe on all of our day-to-day life? They say that democracy is for all, however this is more the theory behind democracy rather than the actuality. Looking at the penetration of capitalism in Hellers The Power of shame she observes that that capitalism and industrialisation have penetrated our live in the market, science and technology6.

John Grumley, Dissatisfied Society, New German Critique, No. 58, 1993