You are on page 1of 73

UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 1

On the Corruption of Film Culture:


The Possibility of a Critical Theory of
Film through Adorno’s Critique of the
Culture Industry

-------------

A Thesis
Submitted to
Faculty of Arts and Letters
University of Santo Tomas

-------------

In Partial Fulfillment
Of the requirements for the degree,
Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy

-------------

By

DANE ARVEE PINEDA NAVARRO


April 2019
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 2

ABSTRACT

In this thesis, I discuss the possibility of an Adornoian critical theory of film


despite capitalism’s corruption and commodification of film. In the first part, I
elucidate the regressive effects of capitalist corruption on cultural goods,
particularly film, and the degradation of its emancipatory character. In the second,
I discuss Adorno’s philosophy regarding the arts and its position in society. In the
third, I elucidate his social philosophy and aesthetic theory to formulate an
Adornoian philosophy of film which is capable of immanently combating the ills
of the film culture imposed by the capitalist system. Ultimately, the goal of a critical
theory of film is to engender an emancipated cinema, free from the imposition of
capitalist influence.

Keywords: film, culture industry, aesthetic theory, Adornoian philosophy of film


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 3

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABSTRACT………………………………………………………………………2

CHAPTER I……………………………………………………………………….5

I. INTRODUCTION ………………………………………………………………5

II. STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM ……………………………………………8

III. LITERATURE REVIEW………………………………………………………..9

A. Adorno on Pop Culture……………………………………………………..9

B. Adorno and the Avant-Garde’s on the Aura of the Arts…………………..11

C. Adorno and Benjamin on the Aura of the Arts……………………………12

IV. RESEARCH DESIGN........................................................................................15

CHAPTER II: ADORNO ON THE CAPITALIST CORRUPTION OF FILM

CULTURE……………………………………………………………………….17

I. The Arts and Its Fetishization…………………………………………………..18

II. Schematization of the Culture Industry………………………………………..24

III. The Capitalist Corruption of Film Culture……………………………………..26

A. The Repetition of Cinematic Schema……………………………………..27

B. The Rise of Fetishized Cinema……………………………………………29

CHAPTER III: ADORNO ON THE ARTS AND FILM……………………......32

I. Aesthetic Theory……………………………………………………………….33

A. Autonomy of the Art………………………………………………………33

B. Arts as a Catalyst for Social Change……………………………………...37


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 4

C. Arts as an Antithesis of the Empirical World……………………………..37

D. Adorno and the Cinema…………………………………………………...39

CHAPTER IV: ADORNOIAN PHILOSOPHY OF FILM……………………...44

I. Predominant Characteristics of Existing Films………………………………...45

A. Social Character of Films…………………………………………………50

II. The Immanent Character of Film……………………………………………...54

III. The Emancipated Cinema……………………………………………………..57

CHAPTER V: SUMMARY, CONCLUSION, AND RECOMMENDATION….61

I. Summary and Conclusion………………………………………………………61

II. Recommendation……………………………………………………………….69

BIBLIOGRAPHY………………………………………………………………..71
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 5

CHAPTER I

I. INTRODUCTION

Films, being a modern form of art, possess similar social and aesthetical

qualities with that of traditional art. Advanced capitalism commodified all forms of

art through the rise of the culture industry. Theodor Adorno argued in his essay on

the culture industry how capitalism further destroyed films’ epistemological

character through its extreme commercialization. He argues that arts in general;

film in particular, bear the capacity to emancipate and heighten the consciousness

of mankind to progress towards the liberation of the human spirit from ignorance

and apathy.

The corruption of the film culture occurred when films are commodified by

the capitalists by destroying their emancipatory force and the aesthetic value. The

great technological and socio-economic advancement engendered the emergence

of “Pop Culture,” along with the transformation of different arts including: music,

dance, and theatre. The combination of these arts gave birth to film as a form of

advanced art.

Film was drawn from past traditions of arts, particularly the fields of oral

traditions or storytelling; written traditions or literature; and visual traditions such

as theater. The historical background of film traces as far back at ancient Greek

theaters and dance, which had a considerable lot of similar components in the

present film world.


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 6

Film viewing has become one of the most sought after activity of the masses

ever since its popularization. It has become a primary theme for the leisure time of

the masses. The masses made use of film to enjoy, relax, and temporarily liberate

them from the harsh and time-constrained society. It is in the cinema where they

are able to be in an alternate universe where their only role is to view and consume

the images and the storyline of the film.

Furthermore, the aforementioned line of thinking corresponds with

Adorno’s critique of the culture industry. He is considered to be one of the most

prominent detractors of culture industry. He denounced the industry’s destructive

characteristic concerning the aura and consciousness of the arts. His discourse on

film in this thesis, in relation to the destructive character of the culture industry, is

entirely constrained to its aspect of production and function under capitalist system.

Furthermore, following Adorno’s arguments regarding the arts, commercialization

of film hinders cognitive activities and self-reflection of the consumers, by feeding

them a false sense of reality and artificial world which alienates them from the

empirical realities of the world, particularly the social issues surrounding him. This

temporary liberation from the social concerns traps man in an uncritical state of

cognition.

Nevertheless, film is an excellent tool for the cultivation of the masses and

educating them, especially in relation to social issues. Through a cinematic

experience and portrayal of social dilemmas, the masses can critically engage with
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 7

the film where they are able to philosophize and rationalize the social issues it

showcases. A film can serve as an alternative view of the world, with the lenses

acting as its eyes, capturing what the human fails to perceive.


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 8

II. STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

The aim of this study is to formulate a philosophy of film in accordance

with Theodor Adorno’s critical theory, that combats the regressive effects of the

capitalist system to the art of cinema and uphold the emancipatory characteristic of

film as a tool for mass enlightenment. The main question of this research is: “How

does Adornoian critical theory of film counter the corruption of film culture and

aesthetics?” Moreover, it aims to address the following sub-questions:

1. How does capitalism corrupt film culture according to Adorno?

2. What is his aesthetic theory?

3. How does Adornoian film philosophy offer ways to antagonize

capitalism?
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 9

III. LITERATURE REVIEW

III.A Adorno on Pop Culture

Traditional music and high European culture were at the core of Theodor

Adorno's philosophy. In his critiques of the culture industry, he demanded high

standards concerning arts. He deemed arts as a representation of one’s culture and

tradition. He does not only see art simply as an object of representation but it is also

a matter of ethical quality and social consciousness. For him, the arts could either

create or discourage social advancement towards greater freedom. But under the

capitalist system, that advancement was constrained by the delimiting influence of

commodification.

Pop culture is a product of the capitalists’ domination of high culture; a

metamorphosis of high arts into varying forms of mass art. It is a profit driven

industry that rides on several forms of art to fulfill its goal of acquiring wealth from

the masses through the use of cultural products. It drowned our consciousness

through our immersion with the world it dominates. The intense influence of this

capitalist scheme on our consciousness denied us of our freedom and curved us to

comply with its needs for profit. Even after all the degrading effects brought down

upon by the capitalists, arts ceaselessly denied these efforts to protect and uphold

its aesthetical value. Arts, even the advanced forms and the corrupted, strive to

fulfill its aesthetical and epistemological characteristic serving as a critique of the

empirical world it reflects. Nevertheless, he did not immediately reject all forms of
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 10

popular art; in fact he was very welcome with films produced by Charlie Chaplin

and the anarchistic humor of the Marx brothers.1 He discovered grave issues with

both – and these issues originate from his significant regard and interest for

pleasure, that stems out from his desire to achieve true enlightenment through

strong ethical concerns. Interesting as it may appear, his attacks against pop culture

are driven by the inclination to recognize and avoid obstacles to our enlightenment.

“What Adorno offers is not a judgment of taste but a theory concerning the moral

and political projects inhering in both ‘serious’ art and ‘popular’ art.”2

Adorno adored the talents of certain popular artists, however, sticking to his

philosophy, these talents do not have a place for his ideas, he argued that all that

truly matters is the purpose of the skill or talent and the significance it provides in

the attainment of the freedom. Pop culture isn't just a synthetic form of art (however

it is that, he asserts) yet a destructive form of art – it hinders genuine freedom. For

Adorno, this is about freedom in encountering, deciphering and understanding fine

arts. This freedom requires a fine art to give us existence to occupy it, and to

encounter it as a brought together entirety.

For Adorno, a grave degree of damage incurred by pop culture is the aggress

to our capacity to act freely. No space is left for customers to show 'critical thinking

and immediacy' – rather, they are cleared along in a progression of predictable

1
Robert W. Witkin, Adorno on Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 2003), 1.
2
Ibid.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 11

minutes, every one of which is so natural to process that they can be 'sensibly

engaged even in a state of distraction'.

III.B Adorno and the Avant-Garde’s on Aura of the Arts

Adorno looked at art as a tool for the emancipation of human consciousness

from apathy and ignorance. He argued that arts inclination to its historical context

enables it to relate to its viewers.

Similarly, Herbert Marcuse and other avant-gardes shared the same

viewpoint of art with Adorno. In his essay “Reappraisals of Critical Theory,” Peter

Uwe Hohendahl writes: “In certain ways both Marcuse's and Adorno's definitions

of culture stayed very close to a rather narrow traditional conception of high culture

(Kultur). Their work can positively invoke "culture" as the canonical tradition in

literature or music.”3 These shared ideas on the position of high culture,

particularly the arts, in Adorno and Marcuse’s writings elevated the discourse on

the condition of the aura of the arts during the advanced stage of capitalism in

America. As Hohendahl writes: “For Marcuse and Adorno the ‘core’ of culture, the

advanced art work, escapes cultural hegemony through its own formal structure,

which articulates the opposition against the social relations in which it is

embedded.”4 This explains the role of the autonomy of the art in the era of

3
Peter Uwe Hohendahl, “Reappraisals of Critical Theory,” Reappraisals: Shifting
Alignments in Postwar Critical Theory (New York: Cornell University Press, 1991), 210.
4
Ibid., 211.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 12

commodification. The autonomy of an artwork asserts its indifference and aesthetic

distance to the empirical world. This distancing of the arts to the empirical is further

explained in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory.5 He states that: “Aesthetic identity seeks

to aid the non-identical, which in reality is repressed by reality's compulsion to

identity.”6 Without a doubt, art must be in accordance with Adorno's negative

dialectic. It is in this context that art is a counter-pressure to society—a society

fixated on identity.7 The non-identical characteristic of the artwork is what enables

it to critique the empirical world through its utopian quality that rests on its

transcendental aesthetic distance. The utopian quality of the art bears its function

as a transcendental reflection of the empirical world through which it views itself.

Modernization of the arts, literature, and music was a development for new

sorts of ways of expression, new ways of materializing the transcendental

characteristic of the arts. Modern art proponents made use of unending

experimentation to express new substances and concepts. The spirit of autonomous

art could, at present, still be found in the Modernists, who endeavored not to

surrender to commodification, taking a position against pop culture to provide the

world with alternatives, with a desire for the freedom of the human mind.8 The

5
Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. by Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis,
Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
6
Ibid,. 5.
7
Paolo A. Bolanos, “The Critical Role of Art: Adorno between Utopia and Dystopia,”
Kritike, 1 (June 2007), 29-30.
8
Moya K. Mason, “Adorno: World of Art and What Is at Stake,” Manganese – Metabolism,
Mineral, Bones, Osteoporosis, Diabetes, Cellular Energy (2018)
http://www.moyak.com/papers/adorno-modernist-art.html.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 13

unwillingness of the artworks to fall under the corrupt and degrading schema of the

advanced stage of capitalism sparks a light of hope for the advance forms of arts to

serve as a tool for emancipation and liberation. Through upholding its auratic

quality, the arts maintained its metaphysical position as a transcendental reflection

of the empirical world.

III.C Adorno and Benjamin on the Aura of Arts

Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin had very contradicting views on the

aura of the arts. In his paper, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical

Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin talks about a shift in perception and its effects in

the wake of the approach of film and photography in the twentieth century.

Benjamin writes about the shift in the sense of perception of man when it comes to

art; the manner in which we perceive and see the visual artwork has is different now

and its outcomes continue to strive for resolution. Benjamin here endeavors to

address something explicit about the modern age; of the impacts of modernity on

the work of art specifically. Film and photography point to this development.

Benjamin, in his paper, discusses about the decay of the aura through the

mechanical reproduction of art itself. The aura for Benjamin speaks to the

authenticity and essence of an artwork that has not been duplicated.

As Benjamin proceeds, a strain between new modes of perception and the

aura emerge. The removal of authority (the duplication of a work of art) within the
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 14

work of art infers a loss of its historical context and authority, be that as it may,

with respect to mass utilization, this freedom isn't unforeseen. The cameraman, for

instance, mediates with what we find in a way which an artistic creation can never

do. It coordinates the eye towards an explicit place and an explicit story; in the same

time as it is radical and progressive it is likewise authoritarian. It guides us to a

specific side of a story and neglects different parts. It dulls our observation towards

the work of art and presents diversion as a mode of reception.

For the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction


emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on
ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes
the work of art designed for reproducibility . . . but the instant the
criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic
production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being
based on rituals it begins to be based on another practice, politics.9

Benjamin clarifies that in this new period of mechanical reproduction the

cogitation of a screen and the idea of the film itself has changed so that the

individual never again thinks about the film per se; the film thinks for them. An

always moving picture in the disjunction of the physical capture of watching a

moving picture move, changes the structure of perception itself. Inside the

reproducibility of pictures there is an increase towards man's submission to the film

itself.

9
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of mechanical Reproduction,” in
Illuminations (London: Fontana, 1992), 218.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 15

IV. RESEARCH DESIGN

This study aims to provide an analysis of the dilemma of film culture in

correspondence with Adorno’s writings on “popular culture” and aesthetic theory.

In this research task, I aim to create a study regarding Adorno’s social philosophy

and aesthetic theory and its relation to film culture. The study ends with the

formulation of an Adornoian philosophy of film to counter the degradation of film’s

art value and consciousness under modern capitalism.

The study is divided into 5 parts. In the first chapter the study focuses on

the background of the study and the review of literatures. This part aims to relate

scholarly articles to strengthen the argument of the thesis. On the second Chapter

“Adorno on the Capitalist Corruption of Film Culture,” focuses on his take on the

dilemma faced by arts in general; film in particular, during the advanced stage of

capitalism. In this chapter, the study discusses the commercialization of film, the

rise of film as an industry under modern capitalism, and the degradation of film’s

aesthetic value and emancipatory power. The third chapter entitled “Adorno on the

Arts and Film,” focuses on Adorno’s notion of arts and film and its value in

accordance to his Aesthetic Theory. This part explains how film is considered as an

art and an emancipatory tool. Fourthly, on “Chapter IV: Adornoian Philosophy of

Film,” I formulated an Adornoian philosophy of film by understanding and the

application of Adorno’s aesthetic theory that shall serve as a film’s framework. In

doing so, I infused Adorno’s social philosophy on the consciousness of films to


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 16

give rise to a new kind of film that can counter its corruption under advanced

capitalism. Lastly, the fifth chapter serves as the summarization and concluding

part of my thesis, wherein all the arguments and concept are put together to fortify

the social function of film as an emancipatory tool for mass enlightenment.

Furthermore, this chapter also includes the recommendation part of my thesis

wherein it shall serve as a stepping stone for further researches concerning the arts.

This shall provoke future researches to endeavor in the fields of aesthetic theory

and critical social philosophies.


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 17

CHAPTER II

ADORNO ON THE CAPITALIST CORRUPTION OF FILM CULTURE

This chapter discusses the dilemmas faced by the film culture under the

capitalist era, using his essays on the emergence of mass culture namely; “On the

Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening,”10 “The Schema of

Mass Culture,”11 “Transparencies on Film,”12 “How to Look at Television,”13 and

“Culture Industry Reconsidered,”14 through these texts I connected the condition of

the different arts under the capitalist era to the condition of present-day film culture,

particularly its commercialization, degradation, and its loss of emancipatory power.

Adorno’s philosophy strongly denounces the “culture industry.” For him, it

poses great threats not only to traditional culture and high arts, but also to the main

goal of humankind which is liberation from barbarism to enlightenment. The

culture industry represents the shift of traditional culture and high arts to a

capitalistic mode of existence. The regress of culture and arts to its capitalistic

condition brought about the commodification, commercialization, and destruction

of its basic tenets and the aesthetic quality of its products.

10
Cf. Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture,
(London: Routledge Classics, 1991), 29.
11
Cf. Ibid., 61.
12
Cf. Ibid., 178.
13
Cf. Ibid., 158.
14
Cf. Ibid., 98.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 18

I. The Arts and Its Fetishization

This subchapter discusses the shift of the high arts into its regressed and

commodified form due to its extreme commercialization under the culture industry.

Advancements in the field of technology and socio-economics brings forth the

greatest threat to the high arts. The extreme commodification and

commercialization in the capitalist system of production has transgressed even the

aura of high arts. The dominating influence of the capitalist schema penetrated the

aesthetic distance of the high arts through its use of mechanical reproduction to

massively disseminate the works of art which disregard the object’s autonomous

essence and ‘particularity.’15 The constant reproduction of the arts has regressed its

essence and authenticity in a pure form of commodity. As Bernstein opines in his

introduction of the anthology of Adorno’s essays, “Under capitalism all

productions is for the market,”16 wherein the market consists of the masses, are

duped to be passive and uncritical of their choices as main consumers of the

products of the capitalist system. Every cultural goods produced by the culture

industry are curtailed to be passively consumed by the masses through its

fetishization.17 The commodification of arts not only destroyed its essence, but also

robbed it of its capacity to serve as an emancipatory power to liberate the

15
Referring to the uniqueness and individuality of an object or a work of art that separates
it from the other.
16
Theodor Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, (London:
Routledge Classics, 1991), 5. An introduction by J.M. Bernstein.
17
The fetishization of the cultural products shifts the focus of the masses into tricking them
to put greater importance on the exchange value rather than the use value of the product.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 19

consciousness of the masses. Following Adorno’s reasoning, the destruction of aura

of high arts led to its commodification and fetishism that further regressed its

aesthetic value and authenticity. As one of his commentators, Witkin puts it:

The products of the culture industry, in Adorno’s view did not come
from the people, were not an expression of the life-process of
individuals or communities but were manufactured and
disseminated under conditions that reflected the interests of the
producers and the exigencies of the market, both of which demanded
the domination and manipulation of mass consciousness.18

The capitalist influence on the consumerist consciousness of the masses into

tricking them into buying the cultural products of the culture industry, further

increases the fetishization of the cultural goods through commercialization. The

cultural products of the culture industry as Witkin has stated are not made to satisfy

the necessities of the masses, but rather are created to accelerate the capitalist aim

for domination. This dominative fetishization of the cultural products immensely

affected the consciousness of the masses.

Furthermore, Witkin also explained Adorno’s rejection of the

commodification and fetishization of the art on the ground of alienation of the social

relations on the production of the corrupted form of art. In his writing he stated that:

Adorno’s whole argument concerning the fetish-object turns on the


fact that objects of mass production and mass consumption are
abstracted from the social relations through which they are produced
and, therefore, from the constitutive of the subjects who both
produce and consume them.19

18
Robert W. Witkin, Adorno on Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 2003), 2.
19
Ibid., 54.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 20

Capitalists found a way to exploit the masses and at the same time oppress

them by being both the consumer and producer of the cultural goods that further

alienates them from the empirical realities surrounding them. Through this system

of oppression, the masses fall under the illusory scheme of the culture industry by

providing them fetishized products or cultural goods disguised as auratic or

authentic cultural goods. Adorno on his analysis of the man’s spending of his free

time explains that “… the individual in his leisure time, where the Hollywood

dream machine, radio television, music industry, were disempowering him further

rendering him even more conformist and dependent,”20 this fetishized cultural

goods further damages the consciousness of the masses by serving as a false

emancipatory tool. This illusory character of the culture industry’s products further

alienates the masses away from real enlightenment or critique of the empirical

world.

In his essay “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of

Listening” Adorno stated that: “it can be asked whom music for entertainment still

entertains. Rather, it seems to compliment the reduction of people to silence, the

dying out of speech as expression, the inability to communicate at all.”21 The

intense commercialization of the high arts and music turned the masses into passive

spectators and listeners of culture. This passivity is caused by the destruction of the

20
Ibid., 2.
21
Theodor Adorno, “On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening,”
The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, ed. by J.M. Bernstein, (London: Routledge,
1991), 30.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 21

aura of the arts. The masses being uncritical in their consumption of cultural goods

are now incapable of uplifting the level of discourse. This is due to the reason that

they absorbed no new thing that can improve their consciousness; rather they are

fed with the same schema of cultural goods in different appearances. Witkin

explains that: “Those persistent themes of Adorno’s critique of modern culture ̶ the

commodification, fetishization and standardization of its products, together with

the authoritarian submissiveness, irrationality, conformity, ego-weakness and

dependency behavior of its recipients…”22 These are the effects brought upon by

the commercialization of the arts, the masses have become uncritical of the products

they acquire or consume. The effect of the capitalist production of cultural goods

on the consciousness of the masses regressed their ability to comprehend and

critique what is handed down to them.

On his discussion regarding the destruction of the aura of the arts, Adorno

argues that in the advanced capitalist system, the aura of the art, the wall that

separates it from the social norms, is constantly being torn down by the corruptive

powers of the mechanical production.23 Espousing this line of argumentation, it

can be said that art loses its autonomy due its commodification. The aura of the arts

is where its aesthetical distance lies, the autonomy of the art is what separates it

22
Witkin, Adorno on Popular Culture, 3.
23
Theodor Adorno, “Paralipomena,” Aesthetic Theory, trans. by Robert Hullot-Kentor
(Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 315.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 22

from the regressive social conditions that hinder it from providing an alternate view

of the material world.

The aura of the art introduces the utopian characteristic of art as an antithesis

of the material world. In this utopian characteristic of the art, it is able to critique

the empirical world through its perfection or aesthetic characteristic. With the

emergence of the commercial value of the arts in the advance capitalist period, the

distance between art and the empirical world in criticizes diminished. With the

demolition of the aesthetic distance of art and the empirical world, the functionality

of the arts was distorted. In the distortion of the function of the arts came its

degradation to a simple form of amusement and product of the culture industry for

monetary and escape24 purposes. Furthermore, in his essay “The Culture Industry

Reconsidered,” he stated that “the total effect of the culture industry is one of anti-

enlightenment,”25 the cultural arts subjugation to the culture industry robbed it of

epistemological characteristics and its ability to serve as an antithesis of the

material world. The Marxist and Hegelian influence on his aesthetic theory and

notion of the arts argues that arts are both autonomous and a social fact.26 In order

for an art to be able to fulfill its societal function it must first be autonomous and

24
Today, modern arts like pop songs and Hollywood films are used as a temporary
liberation from the present condition of an individual.
25
Theodor Adorno, “The Culture Industry Reconsidered,” The Culture Industry: Selected
Essays on Mass Culture, ed. by J.M. Bernstein, (London: Routledge Classics, 200), 106.
26
Adorno, “Art, Society, Aesthetics,” Aesthetic Theory, (Minneapolis, Minnesota:
University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 23

distant to the empirical world to serve as an alternate view or model of reality.27

But under the influence of the culture industry, the arts are unable to fulfill its duty

as a critic of society due to its commodification. The commodification of the arts,

to stress it again, demolishes the aesthetic distance of the arts and sucks the arts in

its empirical space which destroys the arts aura and autonomy. The autonomy of

the arts is destroyed by it being influenced by other societal facts which transform

the former autonomous artwork to a biased critic of society. Furthermore, arts

emancipatory aesthetics is replaced by the illusory essence of the culture industry

posing as an agent of enlightenment. Adorno on his essay “On the Fetish Character

in Music and the Regression of Listening” writes: All ‘light’ and pleasant art has

become illusory and mendacious. What makes its appearance aesthetically in the

pleasure categories can no longer give pleasure, and the promise of happiness, once

the definition of art, can no longer be found except where the mask has been torn

from the countenance of false happiness28

The illusory characteristics of the products of the culture industry dupe the

masses into a state of false happiness or enlightenment. This ‘barbarism of

perfection’29 that the culture industry constantly implements, through schematic

standardization and duplication of the autonomy and aesthetic value of high arts,

27
Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. by Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis,
Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 224.
28
Adorno, “On the Fetish character in Music and the Regression of Listening,” The Culture
Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, 33.
29
Ibid., 44.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 24

increases the stupidity of the masses as the main consumer of cultural goods. The

confusion brought about by this mimetic characteristic of the culture industry’s

product steer the masses consciousness into the inauthentic and duplicated cultural

goods that further adds up to their regression as a passive consumer. As Adorno

argues on his critique of the products of the culture industry:

The forms of hit songs are so strictly standardized, down to a number


of beats and the exact duration, that no specific form appears in any
particular piece. The emancipation of the parts from their cohesion,
and from moments which extend beyond their immediate present,
introduces the diversion of musical interests to the particular sensory
pleasure.30

II. Schematization of the Culture Industry

One of the main characteristics of the products of the culture industry that

Adorno strongly despises is its repetitiveness and the standardization of its

qualities. For Adorno the repetition of the essence of cultural goods threatens the

ability of the masses to be critical of the products they consume, as he writes:

“Regressive listeners behave like children. Again, and again and with stubborn

malice, they demand the one dish they have once been served.” With the culture

industry putting the same essence in varying appearances in all of its products, the

mass are stupefied in the same event. Being unable to distinguish the authentic art

from the illusory, the masses are subjected to the schematic force of oppression by

the capitalists. The inability of the masses to reject the illusory products of the

30
Ibid., 49.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 25

culture industry is due to the fact that the distance between the authentic

autonomous arts and the empirical world are constantly being torn down by the

commercialization of the arts. The constant destruction of aura and the repetition

of the arts poses a threat to its duty as a social antithesis as for Hegel and Adorno.

As Adorno writes:

It is only a play as repetition of the prescribed models, and the


playful release from the responsibility which is thereby achieved
does not reduce at all the time devoted to duty except by transferring
the responsibility to the models, the following of which one makes
into a duty for himself.31

For Adorno, cultural goods produced by the culture industry are

functionless and has no real aesthetic value and is only created to confuse or

mislead the masses in their plight for liberation and genuine happiness. The

appearance of the products of the culture industry as the ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’

objects of the new system of economy is only a mask it utilizes to further deceive

the masses.

What parades as progress in the culture industry, as the incessantly


new which it offers up, remains the disguise for eternal sameness;
everywhere the changes mask the skeleton which has changed just
as little as the profit motive itself since the time it gained
predominance over culture.32

The only real use of the products of the culture industry is for the benefit of

the capitalists. This repetitive characteristic of the cultural goods produced by the

31
Ibid., 57.
32
Adorno, “Culture Industry Reconsidered,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on
Mass Culture, 100.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 26

capitalists only traps the masses in an unending cycle of suppression and

stupefaction that they are unconsciously under the spell of. Moreover, the very evil

of the culture industry is its autocratic characteristic that aims to control and

manipulate the consciousness of the masses under its illusory scheme of oppression

under the guise of cultural goods that pose as an emancipatory tool, but in reality,

are also the same tools utilized by the capitalist to take hold of the masses money,

time, and consciousness.

III. The Capitalist Corruption of Film Culture

The focus of this subchapter is to correlate the corruption undergone by the

high arts under the monopolistic influence of the capitalist system. I limited the

discussion of cinematic corruption purely on its repetitive and fetish character. Film

is considered to be one of the modern forms of art due to its technological origin

and production. Bearing similar aesthetic characteristics of that of the high arts,

particularly the epistemological character, film is also subjected to the same

dilemma faced by the high arts under the capitalistic system of production.

The progression of the corruption of film culture worsens along with the

advancement of the capitalist system, where the purpose for every cultural good

produced under it is made for acquiring capital. Similar with the other forms of art,

film possesses its own aesthetic value and autonomy. The film being under the

system of capitalism had its autonomy and aesthetic value degraded. Being a

descendant of the cultural goods of the modern era, film is robbed off of its
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 27

functionality to serve as an antithesis of society and fully realize its aesthetic value

and duty. Film consciousness was influenced by great capitalist schemes into

conforming to its repetitive illusory appearance as a tool for the amusement of the

masses and to temporarily liberate them from the social conditions that they face.

III.A the Repetition of Cinematic Schema

In the repetitive schema of culture industry influenced films, masses are

duped down to being a passive spectator of the film, not being able to critically

engage with it due to its low and unoriginal depictions. “Every commercial film is

actually only the preview of that which it promises and will never deliver.”33 The

illusory appearance of commercialized film as an agent of enlightenment mislead

its consumers into consuming useless and inauthentic emancipation, all they

receive is the temporary liberation brought upon them by the same cultural goods

that oppresses their consciousness and choices in life. With this followed the

conformity of the masses to the schema of the culture industry unconsciously.

In his tirade with the culture industry, Adorno stated, “The power of the

culture industry’s ideology is such that conformity has replaced consciousness.”34

The masses were ‘confirmed in their neurotic stupidity’ of the inauthenticity of the

culture industry. As Adorno argues: “The repetitiveness, selfsameness, and the

33
Robert W. Witkin, Adorno on Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 2003), 186.
34
Adorno, “The Culture Industry Reconsidered,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays
on Mass Culture, 104.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 28

ubiquity of modern mass culture tend to make for automized reactions to weaken

the forces of individual resistance.”35 The repetitive and standardized characteristic

of the culture industry influenced films destroyed the ability of the masses to

formulate or engender critical thought by subjecting them to unoriginal aesthetic

facades that offers no space for critical reflection. Following the inability of the

masses to critically engage with the standardized films, the resistance to these

products also diminished. They were regressed as passive spectators of the very

same cultural goods that they treat as a form of amusement and liberation, that cages

them in ideology and stupefaction with its regressive quality and false emancipatory

capability that further digs their hole in the unending fall on intellectual suppression

and oppression. The masses are furthermore reduced to mere consumers of the

same cultural goods that oppress them. As Fuchs opined “Adorno’s hatred of the

commodity form of the media and culture can be read as an appeal for the creation

and sustenance of non-commercial, non-profit media and culture,”36 It is in this

sense that Adorno proposes the way on how the arts could regain their autonomy

and emancipatory power as an agent of enlightenment. The creation of film and

other similar arts that is not allied with capitalist ideology but purely for the service

of the masses and their liberation from the oppressive and stupid schema of cultural

35
Adorno, “How to Look at Televison,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass
Culture, 159.
36
Christian Fuchs, "Theodor W. Adorno and the Critical Theory of Knowledge," Critical
Theory of Communication: New Readings of Lukács, Adorno, Marcuse, Honneth and Habermas in
the Age of the Internet, (2016), 80.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 29

goods produced by the culture industry. This type of films and arts shall pave the

way for the rise of immanent criticizing of the empirical world through aesthetical

techniques.

III.B the Rise of Fetishized Cinema

With the formulation of the standardized and repetitive schema of culture

industry films, came the rise of the fetishized cinema. In this advanced stage of

capitalism, culture industry films are merely produced to incur wealth and attain

the desired economic ends. The very focus of this type of films is purely

commercial, undermining the emancipatory character of films. Culture industry

films are consumed purely for their illusory characteristic as a tool for liberation.

The domination of the capitalist influence on films subjected it to an

extreme form of commodification. Following this, came the rise of the box office

type of cinema; a purely commercial oriented cinema that greatly relies on celebrity

power, stereotypes, and standardized plots. Hollywood films are a testament to this

kind of standardization. The great interest on achieving economic ends subjected

Hollywood films into a standard that enables it to be a tool for earning profit. A

facet of this capitalist standardization is its utilization of good-looking actors to

attract viewers through their physicality and conventional appearances rather than

their acting skills. Similar with the trend on the field of music, Reyes opines that:

Miserably, the popular music industry has now degraded into an agora of
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 30

entertainers/performers and not anymore of artists. These capitalist-authored artists

see each other as commodities and no longer as unrepeatable subjectivities. Under

this new simulated landscape, physical appearance is given primacy over artistry

and rendition, and the qualities of dissonance and pedagogy are put into oblivion.37

The degradation of film culture into a predicament of physical appearances and

conventionality regressed its aesthetical value into a spectacle of laughs and

romantic excitement.

This commodified form of leisure, entraps the consciousness of the masses

into a temporary state of liberation from the social realties that turns them into

passive and uncritical individuals. Furthermore, this passivity to the illusory and

regressive products of the culture industry affects their consciousness. As the

consumers of films, the masses fall into a state of standardization engender by the

capitalist system to further control the buying consciousness of these individuals.

As Witkin opines: “The repetitive and formulaic character of cultural goods, their

utter standardization, makes them more ‘cozy’ and predictable and capable of

answering to the individual’s need for security and for meeting the producer’s need

for predictability for the market.”38 The capitalist influence on the cultural products

and its effect on the insecurity of the masses made them more suspectable to the

corruption of consciousness. Our need for compliance and social anxiety of missing

Raniel SM Reyes, “The “False” of Contemporary Philippine Society: Adorno,


37

Immanent Critique and Popular Music,” Baybayin vol.1 no.1 (August 2015), 77.
38
Robert W. Witkin, Adorno on Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 2003), 5.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 31

out further entraps us into consuming standardized goods and obliterating our

resistance to the dominating influence of the capitalist system.


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 32

CHAPTER III

ADORNO ON THE ARTS AND FILM

Theodor Adorno’s view on the arts centered the gist of his critical social

theory. His critical social theory is his response to the growing influence and power

of the capitalist system. Along with the emergence of modern capitalism, the

commodification of the high arts also came along. He gave much importance on

the state of the high arts during his time; his critiques on capitalism are mostly

concerned with the state of high arts and its destruction. Due to this, he wrote

countless accounts and essays grounded upon this issue. Furthermore, he

formulated an analytic theory on high arts. Adorno’s Aesthetic theory is heavily

influenced by the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, and G.W.F. Hegel.39

In the first sub-chapter, I will discuss the Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic

Theory and the influences of Immanuel Kant and his notion of formal autonomy of

the arts. The influence of Karl Marx and his notion on the function of art as a

catalyst for social change that is grounded on his social philosophy and his critique

of capitalism. And lastly, G.W.F. Hegel influence on Adorno and his argument on

arts as an antithesis of society, in line with Hegel dialectical process. The book

starts and finishes with reflections on the social character of art. These reflections

gave rise to two inquiries. Firstly, the modernized Hegelian inquiry of whether art

39
Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. by Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis,
Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 33

can survive in a late industrialist setting. Secondly, a modernized Marxian question

whether art can add to the change of this world. While tending to the two inquiries,

He holds from Kant the idea that art is characterized by formal autonomy. He

consolidates this Kantian accentuation in line with Hegel's accentuation on

intellectual import and Marx's accentuation on arts embeddedness in the society all

in all.40

On the second sub-chapter, I discussed Adorno’s view on the film as a

formal form of art, and its similarities with the qualities possessed by high arts.

Although burdened with his limited writings on film, I incorporated his aesthetic

theory on arts in the field of film. Furthermore, this serves as an aesthetic critique

of film that proves its capacity to be autonomous and distant from the binds of

capitalist production and its capacity to serve as an alternate view of the world,

therefore as an alternate tool for critical thinking.

I. Aesthetic Theory

I.A Autonomy of Art

Following Kant’s philosophy on the formal autonomy of art, Adorno

contends that “the truth of an artwork lies in its autonomous aesthetic logic that is

not subsumed under the logic of domination so that it constitutes a different, non-

40
Adorno, “Art, Society, Aesthetics,” Aesthetic Theory, (Minneapolis, Minnesota:
University of Minnesota Press, 1997).
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 34

instrumental logic. Art becomes social by its opposition to society, and it occupies

this position only as autonomous art,” 41


the assertion of arts’ transcendental

aesthetic distance as an opposition of the society it empowers itself to serve as an

alternate view of the empirical world through reflective manner. In line with Kant’s

notion of the formal autonomy of art, he argues that art must be functionless.

Adorno states that: “By “crystallizing in itself as something unique to itself, rather

than complying with existing social norms and qualifying as something “socially

useful,” it criticizes society by merely existing.”42 In this functionlessness is where

art can assert its autonomy. Being detached from the world, art is able to emancipate

itself from the political and economic influences. The liberation of art from the

influences of the political and economic sphere enables itself fully to realize its

value and aesthetic qualities. Along with this, the full realization of arts’ aesthetic

engenders its critique and commentary of the material world, while being detached

from it. As Adorno contends:

At the center of contemporary antinomies is that art must be and


wants to be utopia, and the more utopia is blocked by the real
functional order, the more this is true; yet at the same time, art may
not be utopia in order not to betray it by providing semblance and
consolation. If the utopia of art were fulfilled, it would be arts
temporal end.43

For Adorno, art has a natural utopian quality that permits it to transgress the

utilitarian conventionality of commodification and exchange value. Through this

41
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 225-226.
42
Ibid.
43
Ibid., 41.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 35

manner it can work within reality as a nuisance that delivers a negative knowledge

of existence. This social quality of its aesthetics perceives the world from a point

of view that would take into consideration its redemption of aura, free from

exploitive aspect of capitalist production practice and the overall regress of

humanity. In this sense, it is the art theory's task to bring about this type of art, as

Bell argues, is similar to an examiner endeavoring to bring what is quelled in what

is being examined to the dimension of articulation.44 Furthermore, in doing as such,

we can see the artworks connection to the material condition of its creation on

which it reflects and represents.

Moreover, Adorno, in Aesthetic Theory criticized the psychoanalysts’

notion of the autonomy of the arts as a product of the unconscious of an individual.

He anchored his critique on Kant’s subjectivist approach to the autonomy of the

arts, which aims to magnify the effect of art on its spectator. As he writes:

“Psychoanalysis treats artworks as nothing but facts, yet it neglects their own

objectivity, their inner consistency, their level of form, their critical impulse, their

relation to non-psychical reality, and, finally, their idea of truth.”45 We often forget

or set aside the true essence of art by failing to grasp its authenticity, by only

looking at its surface or its root. “Artworks are not Thematic Apperception Tests of

their makers. Part of the responsibility for this philistinism is the devotion of

44
David M. Bell, “Art’s Utopian Function,” (April 2011)
https://nomadicutopianism.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/art-and-utopia/.
45
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 9.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 36

psychoanalysis to the reality principle: Whatever refuses to obey this principle is

always merely "escape"; adaptation to reality becomes the summum bonum.”46 This

phenomenological and psychoanalytic approach to art devalues it to simply as a

material object born out of certain experiences which individuals use to cope up or

ignore the trauma brought about by the past experiences.

The degradation of the arts to this state threatens its autonomy. It is in this

state is where arts metaphysical walls are torn down, and be absorbed by the world

outside. In the process of absorption, the art loses its ability to critique and reflect

on the material empirical world at a distance. Following the Kantian aesthetic

analytics, arts should not be condemned to the experiences of the creator, for

Adorno and Kant, arts must be subjective, in this subjectivity, the arts are able to

assert its autonomy by being free from the objective grasp of its creator. In this

liberation from its creator, it will be able to reflect and critic the material world

subjectively.

I.B Arts as a Catalyst for Social Change

Adorno’s critical theory regarding arts aesthetic social character stems from

his Marxist foundations. Annexing from his previous arguments, he argues as well

that art has the ability to serve as a catalyst for social changes. Without abandoning

its autonomy, the arts can serve as a tool through asserting its emancipatory powers

by engaging and criticizing the material world in a distance. This distance, for him

46
Ibid.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 37

is where the aura of the arts lies, along these boundaries, arts are able to analyze

and reflect with the material world without being absorbed into the material world’s

domain. He explained:

Art's double character as both autonomous and fait social is


incessantly reproduced on the level of its autonomy. It is by virtue
of this relation to the empirical that artworks recuperate, neutralized,
what once was literally and directly experienced in life and what was
expulsed by spirit. Artworks participate in enlightenment because
they do not lie: They do not feign the literalness of what speaks out
of them. They are real as answers to the puzzle externally posed to
them. Their own tension is binding in relation to the tension external
to them.47

Following his Marxist materialist roots, Adorno proposes the social

characteristic of an artwork as a reflection of the material world, although still not

endangering its own autonomy. Art, following this line of thinking, and its social

characteristic, can serve as a catalyst for social change by relating itself to the same

condition as that of the material world.

I.C Arts as an Antithesis of the Empirical World

Annexing the Marxist ideology of art as a catalyst for social change, Adorno

correlated this proposition in Hegel’s dialectic notion of arts’ aesthetics. In

Adorno’s relationship with Hegel’s dialectics and aesthetic theory he opines that

“art exists within reality, has its, function in it, and is also inherently mediated with

reality in many ways. But, nevertheless, as art, by its very concept it stands in an

47
Ibid., 5.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 38

antithetical relationship to the status quo.”48 Similar with the Marxist view, he

follows the Hegelian notion of art as something that is both social and distant and

autonomous of itself. He states:

Art, from the empirically existing, takes up a position to it in


accord with Hegel's argument against Kant: The moment a limit is
posited, it is overstepped and that against which the limit was
established is absorbed. Only this, not moralizing, is the critique of
the principle of l 'art pour tart, which by abstract negation posits art
as absolute. The freedom of artworks, in which their self-
consciousness glories and without which these works would not
exist, is the ruse of art's own reason. Each one of their elements binds
them to that over which, for their happiness, they must soar and back
into which at every moment they threaten once again to tumble. In
their relation to empirical reality, artworks recall the
theologoumenon that in the redeemed world everything would be as
it is and yet wholly other.49

In here Adorno argues for the dialectic perception of the arts, “Art perceived

strictly aesthetically is art aesthetically misperceived. Only when art's other is

sensed as a primary layer in the experience of art does it become possible to

sublimate this layer, to dissolve the thematic bonds, without the autonomy of the

artwork becoming a matter of indifference.”50 For him, the purely aesthetical

approach to the perception of art delimits its capacity to assert its emancipatory

capability. It is important to have a dialectical approach or a dualistic point of view

on the process of perceiving of a work of art. This dualistic point of view enables

48
, Theodor W. Adorno “‘Extorted Reconciliation’. On Georg Lukács’ Realism in Our
Time,” Notes to Literature, Volume 1, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), 224.
49
Ibid., 6.
50
Ibid.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 39

us to engage both in the aesthetic and social qualities of the arts being perceived.

The work of art's fundamental and illusory autonomy, thus, is the way to arts' social

character, to be specific, to be "the social antithesis of society."51

I.D Adorno and the Cinema

Adorno was not very fond of the idea of film or it being regarded as an art.

As he contends, the film is a product of the mechanical production which is devoid

of authenticity and aesthetic in itself.52 This characteristic of film, according to

Adorno, is a threat to our consciousness for it eliminates our ability to critically

engage with it. As Adorno writes:

It is undeniable that Daddy’s Cinema indeed corresponds to what


the consumers want, or, perhaps, rather that it provides them with
an unconscious canon of what they do not want, that is, something
different from what they are presently being fed. Otherwise, the
culture industry could not have become a mass culture.53

The cinema, for Adorno, dumbs us down to a passive spectator of the film,

leaving us without new critical knowledge. Despite his tough denouncement on

films, he did not fully reject film as something that can align itself with those of the

high arts. In his essays on the culture industry, he proposed some aesthetical

theories on how film can assert its aesthetical qualities and emancipatory prowess.

51
Ibid, p.8
52
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass
Deception” Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York: Continuum, 1947).
53
Theodor Adorno, “Transparencies on Film,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on
Mass Culture. (London: Routledge, 1991), 184.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 40

His critique on film follows his thought, rooted on the combined theories on art by

Kant, Marx, Hegel. Adorno, following the Hegelian theory of arts as both

autonomous and social, critiqued the film’s fictitious technique. For him “fictional

characters never resemble their empirical counterparts no matter how minutely they

are described…,” with regards to its authenticity and autonomy “film, therefore,

must search for other means of conveying immediacy: improvisation which

systematically surrenders itself to unguided chance should rank high among

possible alternatives.”54 The fictitious technique of film representing the empirical

world through unrealistic appearances, further stirs away the capability of film to

pose as an aesthetical reflection of the empirical world. This inauthentic and

infantile technique of description and representation ceases to emancipate critical

thought due to the lack of logical consistency and inability of the masses to reflect

on it.

Adorno’s critique on the autonomy and authenticity of the film is grounded

on its technique and technological aspect. “The late emergence of film makes it

difficult to distinguish between technique and technology as clearly as is possible

in music… Film suggests the equation of technique and technology since, as

Benjamin observed, the cinema has no original which is then reproduced on a mass

scale: the mass product is the thing itself.55 As for him, film is both the product and

the means that the product is created. In this, he asserts the unification of the films’

54
Ibid., 179.
55
Ibid., 179-80.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 41

technique and technology, films use technology in accordance to film techniques

in order to capture and create images and scenes. As for the case of Adorno, he

argues against the objectivity of the technology of the film which drowns its

subjectivity. He argues that certain film techniques and technology imposes to us

only a certain or limited view, it is in here that it only focuses on its own objective

projection by solidifying its subjective definition of itself. “Irrespective of the

technological origins of the cinema, the aesthetics of film will do better to base

itself on a subjective mode of experience which film resembles and which

constitutes its artistic character.”56

The social embeddedness of film as a social art transgresses its aesthetics,

furthermore its consciousness. Adorno, on “Transparencies on Film,” writes: “By

virtue of this relationship to the object, the aesthetics of film is thus inherently

concerned with society. There can be no aesthetics of the cinema, not even a purely

technological one, which would not include the sociology of the cinema.” 57 This

strengthens the role of film as a social tool for change. It is here, where it can relate

and reflect on its societal context. “The lesson to be learned from this phenomenon

is dialectical: technology in isolation, which disregards the nature of film as

language, may end up in contradiction to its own internal logic.”58 Films must not

neglect its social characteristic and function. The forgetting of its function denies it

56
Ibid.
57
Ibid.
58
Ibid., 184.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 42

of its own nature and aesthetic value. Films’ incapability to assert its characteristics

deems itself functionless in society, therefore contradicts its own nature.

Film, in its full realization of its own authenticity and autonomy, can serve

as an alternate view of the empirical world that shall challenge the status quo. It is

in here that film, without withdrawing from its position as autonomous, is able to

critique and reflect on the empirical world and its condition. Through this reflection

and critique, it enables its emancipatory capability by challenging the material

world. As Adorno writes, “among its functions, film provides models for collective

behavior is not just an additional imposition of ideology. Such collectivity, rather,

inheres in the innermost elements of film. 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.”59 Without abandoning Adorno’s

philosophy and its own autonomy and relation to society, the very characteristic of

film, as mass art, can serve as a facilitator or generator of critical thought through

a greater number of spectators. As he contends: “Art unrelated to the objective spirit

of its time is equally unimaginable as art without the moment which transcends it.

The separation from empirical reality which pertains to the constitution of art from

the outset requires precisely that moment.”60 This separation of the film from the

empirical reality endangers, not only its authenticity but as well as its spectators.

59
Ibid.
60
Theodor Adorno, “Transparencies on Film,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on
Mass Culture. (London: Routledge, 1991), 185.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 43

This separation engenders the alienation of both the film and the mass that further

regress their consciousness into something uncritical and passive. As for Adorno:

“The conformity to the consumer, on the contrary, which likes to masquerade as

humanitarianism, is nothing but the economic technique of consumer

exploitation.”61 This exploitation of the masses as passive consumers shall make

sense of the following chapter addressing the corruption of the arts, particularly

film.

61
Ibid., 185.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 44

CHAPTER IV
ADORNONIAN PHILOSOPHY OF FILM

As the concluding chapter of this study, this chapter aims to infuse the

knowledge and theories acquired to formulate an Adornoian philosophy of film. It

shall serve as a philosophical framework for the consciousness of future films as a

critical medium for emancipation. I used the first subchapter “Predominant

Characteristics of Existing Films,” to deliberate the varying characteristics or genre

of film. This subchapter discusses the characteristics of film as bastardized,

commercial, and critical. I presented several films that were reviewed and analyzed

through their storyline and genre. This subchapter serves as the basis on what genre

of film best fits the characteristics of the criteria of an Adornoian philosophy of

film.

Furthermore, I used the subchapter on “Social Character of Films,” as the

main discussion of the characteristic of film as bearer of social ideologies and

reflection of social realities. Ideologies are a primary object to the formulation of a

film’s consciousness. Ideologies in this particular subchapter are not to be utilized

for certain political ideas; the main purpose of ideologies is to clarify the line of

consciousness of films. Film as a reflection of social realities revolves around its

function as a cinematic portrayal of pervading social conditions.

In the second subchapter “Immanent Character of Film,” I put forth the

social function of film. This subchapter focuses on the function of film as an


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 45

immanent critique of the social and empirical world. Without foregoing its

aesthetical character, film shall take upon its relationship with the empirical world

as an antithesis.

I used the last subchapter, “The Formulation of an Adornoian Philosophy

of Film,” to incorporate all the arguments and ideas presented in the previous

subchapters to engender a philosophical framework of film as a critical and non-

commercial medium for philosophizing. This final subchapter discusses I the

characteristics of film that coincide with Adorno’s social philosophy and aesthetic

theory. This subchapter incorporates these characteristics into a philosophical

framework that shall serve as the basis for the creation of future films that shall

embody the epistemological function of art as an emancipatory tool for the

cultivation of the masses’ consciousness and reason. Through this philosophical

framework grounded on Adorno’s thoughts and philosophy, my thesis will be able

to fulfill its goal of engendering new kinds of film that shall serve as an

emancipatory tool and critique to put forward higher level of discourse and a

heightened masses consciousness.

I. Predominant Characteristics of Existing Films

Films are characterized by certain genres and comprised of techniques and

standards; are grouped to a genre that best fits the characteristic of their storyline,

may it be fiction, comedy, or romance. In the advanced stage of capitalism, these

genres are the most popular and commercialized for their great appeal to the
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 46

masses. This subchapter created a socio-philosophical analysis of certain films that

characterize the commercial, bastardized, and social characteristics of certain films.

In particular, I used (not in chronological order) Not Another Teen Movie62 to

showcase the commercial and bastardized characteristic of film. I will also use Lav

Diaz’s Ang Babaeng Humayo63 (The Woman Who Left) to highlight the social

characteristic of film, and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Time64s to contextualize the

ability of film to bear both the bastardized and social characteristics. Furthermore,

with the help of the varying techniques of the capitalist schema, I critically

examined the standardization of films’ formulation.

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times possesses the social critical consciousness

of film. The film is set during the industrial revolution, where capitalism is gaining

more and more power. It portrays the ills of society during the era of machineries.

The film depicts the aspects of alienation suffered by the protagonist, particularly

alienation from the product of his labor. It portrays the position of proletariats in

the capitalist system as cogs of the machines. In a particular scene, Chaplin’s

character mindlessly works in the production line, repeating the same action needed

to continue the function of the production line. The protagonist, being unable to

62
Not Another Teen Movie, Directed by Joel Gallen, (USA: Columbia Pictures, 2001). The
selection of this particular film is due to its parodical and idiotic character which constitutes one of
the prevailing genres of capitalist films that generate high box office success.
63
Ang Babaeng Humayo, Directed by Lav Diaz, (Philippines: Cinema One Originals,
2016). This Lav Diaz masterpiece’s cinematic portrayal of the pervading social conditions in the
Philippines bears the social character of film through its socially conscious elucidation.
64
Modern Times, Directed by Charlie Chaplin (United Artists, 1936). This timeless
masterpiece of Chaplin still proves to be one of the best socially critical film. The comedic, yet
realistic illustration of social conditions justify it artistic conception of critical thought.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 47

keep up with the pace of the machines was accidentally fed into the machinery.

This scene depicts the uncritical and mindless influence of the capitalist system on

the producers and the domination of the machineries over the rational individuals.

Chaplin, however, chose to showcase this dilemma through a comedic and

metaphorical manner. Nevertheless, it did not fail to assert its critical characteristic

by engaging itself with the social critique of the growing influence of capitalism in

the economic sphere. Through making light of the social ills that man is subjected

to, Chaplin was able to engage the masses to the consciousness of his work.

Not Another Teen Movie in summation is a parody movie produced to

criticize the repeating storyline of other teen movies that fall under the genre of

comedy and romance. Most of its scenes are compromised by the repetitive plots,

techniques, and standards of teenage films. Although it bears the characteristic of

critique it falls short on its emancipatory function by producing no critical thought.

Moreover, it also serves as repetition of the schema of other parody films that do

not bear the emancipatory capability that an artwork must possess. Every cliché

romantic woes of every capitalist film are embodied in this film. The complete

bastardization and commercialization of films due to its idiotic scheme and

storyline that Not Another Teen Movie clearly portrays, weakens the capabilities of

cinema to position itself as a tool for emancipation.

However, there are films that embody the function of art as an emancipatory

tool. Lav Diaz’s masterpiece Ang Babaeng Humayo, tells the story of a wrongly
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 48

accused woman, imprisoned for thirty years for a crime she did not commit. Losing

both time and family during her imprisonment further enraged her to exact revenge

on her tormentor, moreover, the mastermind behind her suffering. Along with this,

Diaz critically presented and portrayed the dominant social ills of our country

through his films. His films mostly revolve around the themes of justice and crime,

coinciding the socioeconomic plague of extreme poverty and the polymorphous

facet of class distinctions existing in our country. In the film, a particular frame

captures the make shift homes of those in the slums from those of the homes of the

ruling class. This portrayal of the division of the demographic society represents

the pervading class distinction existing within the country, moreover, it showcases

the disconnection of the ruling class from the masses. This critical representation

of society embodies the social character of film and its aesthetics as grounded on

society.

Adorno’s critique of the schema of mass culture focused mainly on the

psychosocial effects of the standardization of culture industry films, nevertheless,

he also put importance to the critique of certain film techniques that confine cinema

to the standards of the capitalist system. In one of his essays, he critiqued the time-

constrained characteristic of culture industry films. As he opines: “In commercial

film production, however, the aesthetic logic inherent in the material is caught in a

stage crisis even before it is given a chance to really unfold.”65 This time-constraint

65
Theodor Adorno, “Transparencies on Film,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on
Mass Culture, (London: Routledge, 1991), 184.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 49

of the capitalist standards hinder films to fully convey its meaning, resulting to the

omission of certain important aspects of its storyline. Furthermore, the time-

constraint also shortens the amount of time for critical reception and reflection. This

fast-paced projection of films, the fast transition from one frame to another, hinders

its audience to absorb the aesthetic of the film. This dominant characteristic of film

technique pervading the aesthetic of existing films adds up to its alienation from

emancipation. This film technique can be clearly seen from the present-day

Hollywood films; following the two-hour standard of presentation, represses the

cinematic narration of its aesthetics and meaning.

Nevertheless, there are films who rejected this dominating economic

character of film techniques. Lav Diaz’s films are a great example of these films

and its deviance from the capitalist standards. His slow-paced and novelistic

approach to film making enables his masterpieces to fully convey its meaning and

function as a cinematic representation of social realities. In relation to Adorno’s

critique of film, “It is in the discontinuity of that movement that the images of the

interior monologue resemble the phenomenon of writing; the latter similarly

moving before our eyes while fixed in its discrete signs.”66 Diaz’s lengthy

technique of film making, allowing scenic nuances to enter his frames, allows the

audiences to deeply engage with the film, allowing them to perceive the naturality

of the shot, furthermore the realness of its aesthetics. Moreover, this nuanced

66
Theodor Adorno, “Transparencies on Film,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on
Mass Culture, (London: Routledge, 1991), 180.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 50

approach to shooting, deviate from the focused and limiting shot of capitalist

influenced films, countering the standardized notion of film making and allowing

the audiences to freely examine the frame of the shot.

I.A Social Character of Films

As the capitalist corruption of film culture is considered as an on-going

threat to its epistemological characteristics; films adapted to the dilemma by

solidifying their aesthetic wall through embodying social philosophies and critical

reflection of social realities. These two go hand in hand to engender a critical

portrayal of pervading social conditions. Unlike the higher forms of art, film tends

to be closer the empirical world and its ideologies in order to reflect on it at a better

standpoint. Films being a form of socially grounded art bear social philosophies or

ideologies within their cinematic plot. As Adorno opines, “There can be no

aesthetics of a cinema, not even a purely technological one, which would not

include the sociology of the cinema.”67 These philosophies are which supports the

consciousness of a film and its line of storytelling. Films’ aesthetic is deeply

imbedded in these social philosophies through utilizing them as the main

foundations of its emancipatory function.

67
Theodor Adorno, “Transparencies on Film,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on
Mass Culture, (London: Routledge, 1991), 182.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 51

These social philosophies support films in its critique of the empirical and

lay out new information and ideas to further improve the level of discourse in a

society. The sociology of film refers to the relations of film to different societies

and institution. The relation of film to society and social institutions bear that social

philosophies these social realms possess and puts forth. In a sense, film or the

cinema acts as a representation of these social philosophies by integrating them in

its consciousness. Moreover, films assimilation of these social philosophies in its

consciousness enables itself to disseminate the ideologies possessed by these social

philosophies to a greater number of audiences. Following this line of argument,

justifies films’ social characteristic and function as an epistemological tool for the

emancipation of the masses.

To further explain the social characteristic of film as a tool for social

philosophy and reflection of social realities, I analyzed films, particularly the

aforementioned Modern Times and a Lav Diaz masterpieces Ang Babaeng Humayo

and Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan68, through a socio-philosophical approach,

that had incorporated social philosophy in their aesthetic consciousness and

portrayal, and how these films engendered mass emancipation through cinematic

immersion.

Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times as a representative of the integration

of Marxist philosophy in films, his film, in context, was set during the age of

68
Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, Directed by Lav Diaz, (Philippines: Wacky ‘O
Productions, 2013).
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 52

industrial revolution which showcases the dilemmas faced by man in the said era.

During the age of industrial revolution, men were constantly being replaced by

machineries for capitalist production’s sake. Individuals were therefore displaced

and disoriented with the growing change in the field of production. This analysis

focuses on the film’s representation of the Marxist ideology of alienation that is

faced by individuals during the advanced stage of capitalism. In the said film,

Marxist ideologies were showcased through Chaplin’s character as a factory worker

who was displaced in his job due to the changes in the factories line of production,

later on to a full-blown alienation of Chaplin’s character with his labor through its

repetitive and uncritical movement. Chaplin’s character was treated as an

appendage to the machine of the capitalist system. Disoriented and alienated, his

character was consumed by the machine, a metaphor to the domination of the

capitalists’ influence on the consciousness of the proletariats during that era. The

Marxist consciousness of Chaplin’s film enabled him to showcase the social ills

brought upon by the oppressive capitalist system on the individuals.

Lav Diaz’s films are truly a gem in this age of cinema, his outright and

critical portrayal of social realities existing in the country is truly captivating and

illuminating through his powerful and socially conscious films. His films mostly

revolve around the dilemma of seeking justice and fairness in a country plagued by

crime and incompetency. Referring back to one his critically acclaimed and award-

winning film Ang Babaeng Humayo and the addition of Norte: Hangganan ng
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 53

Kasaysayan, these films’ portrayal of our failed justice system and the detachment

of the ruling class from the masses critically showcases our country’s grave

condition, particularly its citizens struggle to seek justice and fairness in the cruel

state of our nation. Much of the scenes capture the different facets of poverty and

class distinction prevalent in the country. In a particular scene in Norte: Hangganan

ng Kasaysayan, captures the polymorphous facet of class division. In the scene,

Eliza, portrayed by Angeli Bayani, faces the authority in an attempt to vindicate his

husband; falsely accused with murder. In the scene, the authority converses the rule

of law with Eliza through the English language in which the latter couldn’t

understand, thereby resulted to the imprisonment of his husband. The scene

discloses the concealed elitism of language in the country that jeopardizes those

who are illiterate in the English language. Both of these films’ cinematic aesthetic

deeply concern the demographic condition of the Philippines.

In this sense, and following Adorno’s argument on the sociological

aesthetic of films, film must bear within its social character; social realities,

regardless of social ideologies, that will direct its consciousness on its function for

emancipation. Furthermore, he states that, “among its functions, film provides

models for collective behavior is not just an additional imposition of ideology. Such

collectivity, rather, inheres in the innermost elements of film. The movements

which the film presents are mimetic impulses which, prior to all content and
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 54

meaning, incite the viewers and listeners to fall into step as if in a parade.”69 The

films social character is also its basis for the critique of the empirical world which

will be discussed in the next subchapter. The social philosophy possessed by the

film will serve as its criteria for its examination of the empirical world and its

condition.

II. The Immanent Character of Film

Following Adorno’s aesthetic theory, which is on the autonomy of arts, the

metaphysical distance possessed by the arts; enables arts in general, and films in

particular to position itself as a critique. He stated that the arts function as both

transcendental and immanent critique of society. This subchapter focused on the

function of arts in general, films in particular, to a tool of immanent critique. In

doing so, I can focus on the social function of art as an antithesis of society.

Going back to Adorno and Hegel’s relationship concerning the aura of the

arts as something both autonomous and social applies to films as well. This dual

characteristic of film enables to align itself with the high arts. Films’ function as a

social antithesis of the empirical world lies on its ability to assert its function as a

critique by withholding its position as autonomous on the influence of the empirical

world. As argued in the previous chapters, films’ aesthetic distance enables it to

view the empirical world transcendentally. The dualistic point of view on film as

69
Adorno, “Transparencies on Film,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass
Culture, 183.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 55

something both transcendental and social enables it to enter the social sphere

without completely abolishing its aesthetical distance.

In the era of advanced capitalism, film can be deemed as one the arts that

evolved to continue its function as a tool to unsettle the human mind and trigger a

critical thought. Film enables itself to fulfill its social duty through a cinematic and

technological manner. With the technological advancements, technological arts like

film became accessible to a greater number of audiences through its fast and easy

reproduction. The greater reach of influence enabled film to position itself as a mass

art. The mass consumption of films gave it a great leverage to unsettle greater

amount of minds, heightening the level of social discourse. All of these can only be

possible if film fully asserts its social function as an immanent critique of the ills

of society. As discussed in the second chapter of this thesis, arts in general, film in

particular are not immune to the said ills. Corruption in the arts in the arts aura

distorts its ability to provoke critical thought. Under the advanced capitalist era,

film and other arts were greatly influenced by the repetitive schema of the

capitalists’ goal of psycho-social control.

Moreover, arts in general, films in particular ceaselessly strive to continue

to fulfill its social duty emancipate the minds of the masses against the stupefying

influence of the capitalist system. It positioned itself as a critique of the pervading

capitalist schema. The profit-driven schema of the capitalist system duped down

the masses’ minds to a passive consumer of its cultural products. The capitalists
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 56

continue to exploit the uncritical masses by feeding them more repetitive and

illusory products that further alienates them to the goal of liberation of the human

consciousness from the chains of capitalist influence.

Arts in general, film in particular; offer us alternative approaches to the

traditional immanent critique of the society. Films’ aesthetical cinematic approach

to society and its structure as a critique; allows itself to be accessible and

apprehendable to the masses. Through the characteristic of film as mass art, its wide

grasp and influence on the masses, can easily transcend and disseminate its critique

of the society to the consciousness of the people. Film is able to communicate and

disseminate its critique of the society through its cinematic language 70 that the

masses, as consumers of film, will be able to ponder and reflect on and adapt the

critical consciousness of the film for their own conscious liberation.

In Bernstein’s introduction of Adorno in The Culture Industry, he states

that: “the goal of immanent criticism, achieved through careful analysis of the

meaning and structure of the object, is to reveal the contradiction between the

objective idea offered by the work and its pretension… immanent critique involved

the comparison of society’s ideological claims.”71 The immanent characteristic of

arts in general, film in particular, rises through its contradiction with the empirical

reality it reflects upon. Within this clash of ideologies; arises the synthesis of the

70
Refers to the manner of story-telling that films utilize to promulgate the essence of
their plots and technique
71
J.M. Bernstein, ed., The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, (London:
Routledge, 1991), 19.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 57

contradiction that bears the emancipatory product of the critique. As argued in the

previous subchapter, films’ bearing of social philosophy engender its capability to

examine the other existing social ideologies present. Through this, films’ social

consciousness can be said to have the capacity to serve as a tool for immanent

criticism through a dialectical analysis of the society. In utilizing films’

consciousness as the antithesis against the pervading social ideologies, we will be

able to extract the synthesis or a better understanding of the society that shall further

improve the level of thinking and freedom of the masses.

III. The Emancipated Cinema

The main discussion of this subchapter is on the emancipation of films’

from its commercial nature to assert its autonomy to counter the empirical influence

of the capitalist system and the integration of social philosophy in film’s function

as an immanent critique of the empirical world. Films’ consciousness is the very

object of its aesthetical value. It is what enables it to assert its autonomy amidst it

commercial character. The inability of film to transcend its commercial function is

the greatest dilemma for its consciousness. The capitalistic influence on film

hinders it to fully utilize its emancipatory character. This discussion furthermore

concerns how film can assert primarily its nature as a critical medium and putting

its commercial nature secondary. It cannot be denied that it is in the nature of film

to be a commercial tool. Being brought about by the era of technological

advancements, films were heavily commodified by the capitalist system which film
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 58

later adapted as a part of its nature. As Adorno states, “Every commercial film is

actually only the preview of that which it promises and will never deliver.”72 By

putting the commercial nature of film as its primary character, film will not be able

to fully assert its emancipatory function. Commercial films main goal is the

accumulation of wealth to serve its economic end. This goes against the very

character of art being for art’s sake; it neglects the aesthetic and social function of

art. The capitalist influenced function of art further adds to the increasing corruption

on films aesthetic and social function. The greater the attraction of film towards the

commercial side, the greater the effect of regress it applies on the consciousness of

film.

Commercial leaning films are considered to be the lowest form of film

consciousness. In Adorno’s words, “In commercial film production, however, the

aesthetic logic inherent in the material is caught in a stage of crisis even before it is

given a chance to really unfold. The demand for a meaningful relationship between

technique, material and content does not mix well with the fetishism of means.”73

A commercial film cannot fully assert its aesthetical character and emancipatory

function due to the deep rooted fetishization in its production. The fetishization of

the production as a means to achieve the economic end not only damages the

consciousness of films but also regress its social function. Following this line of

72
Theodor Adorno, “Transparencies on Film,” The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on
Mass Culture, (London: Routledge, 1991), 186.
73
Ibid., 184.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 59

thinking, an Adornoian film must reject extreme forms of commercialization that

aims to corrupt its consciousness. The commercialization of films’ techniques and

production greatly affects the meaning and standard of produced films.

An Adornoian film must strive to put forth its aesthetics and emancipatory

function primarily, and its commercial nature secondary. Through diverting the

focus of film production to pure aesthetics and social function, films can fully assert

its emancipatory power. The liberating and cultivating aspect of film as a source of

truth and critical knowledge must be preserved in order to alleviate the masses’

consciousness from the suppressed and limited schema of capitalism.

An Adornoian film liberated from the constraints of the commercial

influence of the capitalist system --- positions itself as an immanent critique of the

society. As Adorno states, “The liberated film would have to wrest its a priori

collectivity from the mechanisms of unconscious and irrational influence and enlist

this collectivity in the service of emancipatory intentions.”74 The collectivity being

discussed here by Adorno refers to the social philosophies integrated into films that

result into collective behaviors acquired by the masses’ subjection to the film. As

discussed in the previous subchapters, social philosophy and film aesthetics are

inseparable. Social philosophies serve as the main foundation of film

consciousness. Films adaptation of social philosophies’ consciousness directs their

critique of the empirical world. Social philosophies serve as guiding ideologies for

74
Ibid., 183-84.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 60

films’ consciousness in its act of critiquing. With these characteristics, an

Adornoian film will be able to fulfill its duty and end as an emancipatory tool for

the liberation of mass consciousness to the fulfillment of mass enlightenment

enabling the masses to assert their critical thinking skills.


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 61

CHAPTER V

SUMMARY, CONCLUSION, AND RECCOMENDATION

I. Summary and Conclusion

From the very conception of ideas, through the actual writing of this thesis,

its main goal is to formulate a philosophical framework of film that will counter its

degradation and engender its emancipatory character. In order to accomplish the

desired outcome, I incorporated Theodor W. Adorno’s aesthetic theory and social

philosophy into the art of film. His high regards for the arts and its function in the

society firmly supports the conception of my thesis. In his quest on fortifying and

elevating the arts against the cunning efforts of the capitalist system for domination,

enabled me to reflect on the present condition of film in the age of advanced

capitalism. Being endowed with his social philosophy and aesthetic theory

regarding the arts, I aim as well to fortify and elevate the position of film as a

philosophical tool for the emancipation and cultivation of the masses.

In the first chapter of my thesis, I presented the background of my research.

I stated how the ideas and arguments of this thesis are conceived through the past

and present social condition of films. After giving a brief background of the origins

of film art; as a product of the metamorphosis of different forms of art during the

post-structuralist era, I also introduced Theodor Adorno’s social critique of the

condition of the arts in the age of advanced capitalism. In the “Culture Industry:

Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” a chapter of Adorno and Horkheimer’s book


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 62

Dialectic of Enlightenment, presented the deep disapproval of the corruption

incurred by the high arts that resulted to the commodification and degradation of

its aesthetical value. These are the same dilemma shared by film under the influence

of the capitalist scheme.

Furthermore, I also presented the research questions to be discussed and

resolved in the succeeding chapters of this thesis Moreover, the research questions

serves as the supporting inquiries of the main research question: “Can an

Adornoian philosophy of film counter the corruption of film culture and

aesthetics?” Following this, I presented several scholarly literature related to the

gist of my thesis. The first part of my literature review focused on Adorno’s view

and stand on the growing “Pop Culture.” I incorporated the works of Robert Witkin

and his study on Adorno’s aesthetic theory and social critique of “Pop Culture.”

This part further elaborated the disapproval of Adorno on the growing

commodification and destruction of aura of the arts. At the second part of my

literature review, I presented the arguments shared by Adorno and other avant-

gardes regarding the aura of the arts and its social function particularly Herbert

Marcuse on the condition of arts’ aura and autonomy under the age mechanical art

production. On the third, and last literature review, I presented the contradicting

arguments raised by Adorno and Walter Benjamin. In the latter’s essay “The Work

of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” favored the commodification of the

aura of the arts in order to support its social function and mass dissemination. In
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 63

the last part of the first chapter, I presented the research design of my thesis which

serves as the guideline for the flow of my research.

The second chapter of my thesis “Chapter II: Theodor Adorno on the

Corruption of Film Culture,” discusses the dilemma suffered by the arts in general,

and film in particular, under the capitalist system. The first subchapter focuses on

the extreme commercialization of the arts under the capitalist system. The constant

threat of commercialization hindered the arts to fully assert its epistemological

capacity. Being subjected under the dominating commodification, the aura and

autonomy of the arts were further deteriorated and destroyed, followed by the

corruption of its emancipatory powers. With the aura of the arts destroyed, the

capitalist influence took over the consciousness of the commodified art works. This

fetishization exploited the masses’ consciousness into tricking them into buying

illusory cultural goods as a means to achieve the desired economic end. The

schematic approach of the capitalist consciousness on the aura of the arts greatly

affected its aesthetical quality and social function. In the second subchapter I

discussed how the repetitive schema of the products of the culture industry regress

the critical consciousness of the masses into passive consumers of its cultural

goods. In the essay of Adorno, “On the Fetish Character in Music and the

Regression of Listening,” he discussed the growing passivity and stupidity within

the consciousness of the mass on their consumption of cultural goods. The

repetitive schema of the advanced capitalist arts offered no emancipatory function


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 64

for the liberation of the masses from their social condition; in fact it further

alienated the masses to the goal of enlightenment. On the last subchapter I

discussed the relation of dilemma incurred by the high arts onto film. The

dominance of the capitalist influence on the consciousness of films hindered its

capability of serving as a tool for mass emancipation. The capitalist corruption of

film degraded the aesthetical standard of film; resulting to repetitive and

bastardized forms of films. Films’ regress into pure a pure form of commodity and

an escapist tool is where the corruption of film lies. Being transformed into a tool

for amusement and temporary liberation robbed film of its social function as a

social antithesis of society.

In “Chapter III: Theodor Adorno on Arts and Film” I presented his aesthetic

theory and its origins. His aesthetic theory is deeply influenced by those of Kant,

Marx, and Hegel’s. In the discussion I presented the philosophies of those of Kant,

Marx, and Hegel in which Adorno’s aesthetic theory is espoused to. In his relation

with Kant, Adorno focused on the autonomous character of art. Following the

latter’s notion of art as an autonomous object of reality, he asserts arts’

transcendental distance with the empirical world. This distance enables art to affirm

its function as a transcendental critique of the empirical world. Furthermore, this

autonomy of the arts, as they both argue, engenders the utopian nature of art.

Furthermore, in his relationship with Marx’s philosophy, he contended the

revolutionary characteristics of the arts as a catalyst for social change. He argued


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 65

that arts’ bearing of the imprints of social relations enables itself to pose as an

emancipatory tool. The truth content possessed by the arts justifies its position as a

critique of the empirical world as a social fact. Moreover, Hegel’s influence on

Adorno’s aesthetic theory is rooted from his dialectics. As they contend art stands

in an antithetical position with that of the empirical world. Similar with the Marxist

point-of-view, art is both autonomous and social in nature. Following this lie of

thinking, arts is able to serve its social function only by asserting its aesthetic

autonomous distance Only by its aesthetic separation can it engender its negative

character in relation to the empirical world. The negative character of the art is

where the antithetical function of art lies, where it serves as a negative reflection of

the empirical world. In the last part, I presented Adorno’s primary view of film as

an art. In his early critiques of the culture industry, Adorno greatly rejected the

cultural products of this capitalist scheme. He regarded films as commodified and

uncritical medium of expression. His view on arts is deeply focused on its technical

production which he argues is bastardization to the aesthetics high arts due to its

reproducibility. The deep commercialization of the film separates it from those of

the high arts. Nevertheless, Adorno did not fully reject the idea of film aligning

itself with those of the high arts. In his several commentaries on the products of the

culture industry, he regarded art as a complex medium of expression composed of

complex aesthetics. In the latter part, I discussed the similarities of high art and film

in relation to its transcendental and social functions and the dilemma it is facing
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 66

under the dominating influence of the capitalist system. This serves as an

introductory part to the succeeding chapters.

In the last main chapter of my thesis, I discussed the characteristics of an

Adornoian philosophy of film. The very aim of this chapter is to arrive at the

resolution of the corruption of film culture. These characteristics are derived from

the extensive research on Theodor Adorno’s aesthetic theory and social philosophy

shall fortify and justify films’ position as a tool for mass emancipation and

enlightenment. In the first subchapter I presented the present characteristics of

films. In this subchapter I reviewed the several genres and classification of films

that appeal most to the masses. Furthermore, I also reviewed several films and their

characteristics as commercial, bastardized, and social.

The “Social Character of Films,” discusses the characteristic of film to be

bearers of social philosophies and societal reflection. For as Adorno argues, there

can be no aesthetic of film that does not bear its cinematic sociology. Social

philosophies fortify the aesthetic wall of film serving as the guiding pillars of its

consciousness. Dissimilar with the high arts, films tend to be more socially inclined

due to its technological origins. Furthermore, in the discussion, I presented films

that possess social philosophies, specifically Marxist and revolutionary themes.

The discussion of films’ social character strengthened the arguments of

film’s position as an immanent critique of the empirical world. In the third

subchapter “Film as an Immanent Critique” discussed the antithetical position of


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 67

film from the society. It is in this position can film serve its function as a critique

of society. Following the characteristic of film as bearer of social philosophy, it

enabled itself to position itself as an immanent critique of the pervading capitalist

schema. Only through the grounding of film as an immanent critique can it assert

its dialectical analysis of the pervading social philosophies. Through films’ critical

consciousness are we able to engage the masses in a critical cinematic experience

that will extract the synthesis of the dialectical critique for a better understanding

of the societal conditions.

In the last and concluding subchapter of my thesis “The Formulation of an

Adornoian Philosophy of Film” discusses the very goal of this research work. This

part integrated Adorno’s social philosophy and aesthetic theory to the

consciousness of films to serve as a philosophical framework for future films. From

the very first chapters, the discussion on film has been focused on its social function

and epistemological character as a tool for mass emancipation. This last part

endowed future films with the appropriate characteristics to fortify its emancipatory

capability and position itself as a critique of the pervading social conditions that

entraps the masses. Films rejection of its commercial nature is the very first step of

the assertion of its aesthetics and social consciousness. As argued throughout the

research task, the extreme commercialization and commodification of arts,

particularly film, corrupted its aesthetics and hindered the attainment of function as

a tool for mass enlightenment. The corruption brought upon by the


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 68

commercialization of the film destroyed films consciousness by turning it into

repetitive cultural products that offer no authentic liberation. In correspondence

with Adorno, films should be made for films sake. Future films should put forth its

aesthetic and social characteristics as its primary concern and its commercial nature

secondary. This liberation from the bonds of commercialization enables film and

future films to assert their social function as an immanent critique of the empirical

world by withholding its autonomous character and distancing itself from the

corruptive influence of the capitalist schema. A non-commercial and critical film,

in correspondence to Adorno’s aesthetic critical theory and social philosophy, can

serve as a medium for the liberation of the masses from the pervading social

conditions and enlightenment of the masses’ consciousness from the dominating

influence of the oppressive systems. An Adornoian philosophy of film shall put

forth a new breed of cinema that engenders critical knowledge through its cinematic

critique of the society without foregoing aesthetical technique that produce visually

pleasing imagery and shots that capture the very essence and condition of the

empirical world.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 69

II. Recommendation

Inasmuch as this thesis would want to discuss and resolve the long-standing

dilemma of the arts under the influence of the capitalist era, it can only do so much

to cover the corruption of the arts, particularly film. Its limitations challenge future

researchers into endeavoring into the field of aesthetics and critical theory to

examine the present condition of the arts within the society. The dilemma of the

arts does not end in this thesis alone or through Adorno; it begs to be salvaged from

the oppressive schema of commodification. Certain philosophers, such as Deleuze

and Marcuse endeavored in the field of social philosophy through their

commentaries on the polymorphous capitalist corruption of the arts.75 The

corruption of film culture does not fully embody the dilemma of the arts. Different

forms of arts encounter different forms of corruption.

In the goal of this thesis to resolve the particular dilemma of film culture, it

also takes into consideration the queries that shall emerge in relation to the other

arts and its own dilemmas.

 Engender further extensive researches on other forms of mass such as

television, music, and literatures that are also capable of functioning as a

tool for mass enlightenment.

75
In their literary works, they critically examined the varying facets of capitalist
influence on the cultural products. Deleuze on his writings focused on film studies, particularly in
his works: Cinema: The Movement Image, (University of Minnesota Press, 1985) and The Time
Image (University of Minnesota Press, 1985). Marcuse on the other hand, focused on the
technological aspect of capitalist standardization particularly in his work One-Dimensional Man,
(Beacon press, 1964).
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 70

 A more exhaustive and critical analysis of critical theories concerning the

universal qualities shared among the varying forms of arts.

 A more in-depth analysis and exploration on the presence and existence of

Adorno’s negative dialectics in the field of the arts.

 A more in-depth exploration and discussion of the effect of socio-critical

arts on human consciousness, rationality, and liberation.

This thesis shall serve as a guide post for the future researches on film and other

arts in their search for the redemption of their position within the society as an

antithesis and a critique of the pervading social conditions.


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 71

BIBLIOGRAPHY

PRIMARY SOURCES

Adorno, Theodor W. Aesthetic Theory. Edited by Gretel Adorno and Rolf

Tiedeman. Translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis, MN.:

University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

________________, and Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. New York:

Continuum, 1947.

________________. Negative Dialectics. Translated by E.B. Ashton, London:

Routledge, 1973.

________________. Notes to Literature, New York: Columbia University Press,

1958.

________________. The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture.

Edited by J.M. Bernstein. London: Routledge, 1991.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Books:

Jarvis, Simon. Adorno: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Schafhausen, Nicolaus, Vanessa Joan Muller, and Michael Hirsch, eds. Adorno The

Possibility of the Impossible. Translated by James Gussen and Steven

Limberg. Frankfurt Kunstverein: Lukas & Sternberg, 2003.

Witkin, Robert W. Adorno on Popular Culture. London: Routledge, 2003.


UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 72

Scholarly Articles:

Brantlinger, Patrick. "The Dialectic of Enlightenment."Bread and Circuses, 1983,

222-48. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt1g69xnz.10.

Bolanos, Paolo A. “The Critical Role of Art: Adorno between Utopia and

Dystopia.” Kritike, vol. 1, no. 1, June 2007, pp. 25–31.,

www.kritike.org/journal/issue_1/bolanos_june2007.pdf.

Fuchs, Christian. "Theodor W. Adorno and the Critical Theory of

Knowledge."Critical Theory of Communication: New Readings of Lukács,

Adorno, Marcuse, Honneth and Habermas in the Age of the Internet, 2016,

75-109. doi:10.16997/book1.c.

Gemunden, Gerarc. "An Accented Cinema."A Foreign Affair, 2008, 6-29.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcq5c.6.

“History of Film | Study Film in the US.” International Student,

www.internationalstudent.com/study-film/history-of-film/.

Hohendahl, Peter Uwe. “Autonomy of Art: Looking Back at Adornos Aesthetische

Theorie.” Reappraisals, 1991, doi:10.7591/9781501705458-005.

Hohendahl, Peter Uwe. “Reappraisals of Critical Theory: The Legacy of the

Frankfurt School in America.” Reappraisals: Shifting Alignments in

Postwar Critical Theory. London: Cornell University Press, 1991.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt1g69xjd.11.
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS FACULTY OF ARTS AND LETTERS PAGE 73

Koch, Gertrud. "Uneasy Pleasing: Film as Mass Art." New German Critique36, no.

3 (2009): 73-83. doi:10.1215/0094033x-2009-011.

Maase, Kaspar. "Popular Culture, ‘Resistance,’ ‘Cultural Radicalism,’ and ‘Self-

Formation’ Comments on the Development of a Theory."Resistance, 2017,

45-70. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1xxrtf.6.

Mason, Moya K. "Adorno: World of Art and What Is at Stake." Manganese -

Metabolism, Mineral, Bones, Osteoporosis, Diabetes, Cellular Energy.

http://www.moyak.com/papers/adorno-modernist-art.html. 2018.

Petsche, Jackson. "The Importance of Being Autonomous: ||Toward a Marxist

Defense of Art for Art's Sake: Mediations: Journal of the Marxist Literary

Group." Mediations: Journal of the Marxist Literary Group. Accessed

February 21, 2019. http://www.mediationsjournal.org/articles/the-

importance-of-being-autonomous.

Ray, Gene. "On the Conditions of Anti-Capitalist Art Radical Cultural Practices

and the Capitalist Art System." Judith Butler: What Is Critique? An Essay

on Foucault's Virtue. Accessed February 21, 2019.

http://eipcp.net/transversal/0303/ray/en/print.

Reyes, Raniel SM, “The “False” of Contemporary Philippine Society: Adorno,

Immanent Critique and Popular Music,” Baybayin vol.1, no.1, August 2015.

Waldman, Diane. "Critical Theory and Film: Adorno and "The Culture Industry"

Revisited." New German Critique, no. 12 (1977): 39. doi:10.2307/487755.