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The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture (1991)

de Theodor W. Adorno

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The creation of the Frankfurt School of critical theory in the 1920s saw the birth of some of the most exciting and challenging writings of the twentieth century. It is out of this background that the great critic Theodor Adorno emerged. His finest essays are collected here, offering the reader unparalleled insights into Adorno's thoughts on culture. He argued that the culture industry commodified and standardized all art. In turn this suffocated individuality and destroyed critical thinking. At the time, Adorno was accused of everything from overreaction to deranged hysteria by his many detractors. In today's world, where even the least cynical of consumers is aware of the influence of the media, Adorno's work takes on a more immediate significance. The Culture Industry is an unrivalled indictment of the banality of mass culture.… (més)
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A lot of Adorno's musings on the culture industry and the mass production of culture gained through industrialization, on the contradictory and blurred opposition between 'serious' and 'popular' art, are so embedded into culture itself that much of this book feels obvious. One thing I'm really glad to now appreciate is that Adorno wasn't simply critiquing a status quo but also went into how that status quo, or an aspect of it, is actually necessary for the 'progressive' oppositions to exist and be structured. He was pushing for awareness, but not necessarily elimination.

What I really appreciated was how one could appreciate the times in which Adorno lived and contrast his view of popular music (jazz) against our modern conception. While a lot of what Adorno writes still applies, things have shifted enough that you can't just run with Adorno's criticism and expect it to apply directly. As such, being able to now discern the difference in culture allows me to take Adorno's core sentiment and apply it more intelligently.

The real goldmine in this book, I find, is that of the last few chapters. While the first ones are extremely theoretical and heady and presumably why you are reading this book, it really surprised me to see Adorno taking what I thought to be a primarily arts-based complaint and then applying it to political activism and leisure time. In fact, his demonstration of how the culture industry weaves its tendrils into things that are not mere show or entertainment drives his point home with far more impact and room for introspection. In fact, those are the points that I think people would be far better off retaining as Adorno's culture-centric insights are part of the industry itself, going through the same machinations he set his polemic against. ( )
  NaleagDeco | Dec 13, 2020 |


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

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

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

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

"Free time depends on the totality of social conditions which continues to hold people under its spell. Neither in their work nor in their consciousness do people dispose of genuine freedom over themselves. . . . even where the hold of the spell (of social conditions, especially work) is relaxed, and people are at least subjectively convinced that they are acting of their own free will, this will itself is shaped by the very same forces which they are seeking to escape in their hours without work." ----------- After years of training in Jersy Grotowski-style physical theater, an extreme and demanding method to free one's body, I took an improvisational acting class where a number of students were office workers. I could instantly see how, although these students were engaged in theater exercises, their movements were so restricted and mechanical, it was as if they were still at work in their office.

Adorno speaks of his own life: "I have no hobby. As far as my activities beyond the bounds of my recognized profession are concerned, I take them all, without exception, very seriously. So much so, that I should be horrified by the very idea that they had anything to do with hobbies - preoccupations with which I had become mindlessly infatuated merely in order to kill the time . . . Making music, listening to music, reading with all my attention, these activities are part and parcel of my life; to call them hobbies would make a mockery of them. ---------- Adorno's words here can be taken as a direct challenge: Do you `kill time' when you are away from work? Do you need a hobby to occupy your attention?

"For the most part the very development of the imagination is crippled by the experience of early childhood. The lack of imagination which is cultivated and inculcated by society renders people helpless in their free time." --------- Again, are you easily bored and seek out mindless distractions? How frequently do you turn on the TV?

"People have been refused freedom, and its value belittled for such a long time that now people no longer like it. . . . This is one good reason why people have remained chained to their work, and to the system which trains them for work, long after that system has ceased to require their labor. ---------- For the life of me I will never understand how many people spend most of their "free time" thinking and talking about their work. Even if their work is interesting, I fail to see how work can be so interesting and mesmerizing that they can't let it go. Tis true: all work and no play makes Johnny and Suzy very, very dull people.

"The accepted reason for playing team sports is that it makes believe that fitness itself is the sole, independent end of sport: whereas fitness for work is certainly one of the covert ends of sport. Frequently it is in team sport that people first inflict upon themselves (and celebrate as a triumph of their own freedom) precisely what society inflicts upon them and what they must learn to enjoy." ---------- Ha! In a word, team sports acculturate individuals to forfeit their health, creativity and freedom as a first step in forfeiting their health, creativity and freedom when they step into the workplace.

Interestingly, Adordo concludes his essay by relating a study done by his Frankfurt Institute in Germany where members of the public where interviewed after watching the wedding of a Princess and a German diplomat broadcast by all the mass media. The findings were a surprise. Turns out, people were glued to their television sets but there was an element of skepticism about the importance of the event and a reluctance to take the whole thing too seriously. In Adorno's words: " . . . it is indeed consumed and accepted but with a kind of reservation." In other words, Adorno and the Frankfurt School recognized people are not as dumb and gullible as intellectuals and philosophers might think. And thus, they concluded, it is this very capacity to stand back and critically evaluate the commercialized garbage offered up by the culture industry wherein people can realize their freedom. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
UPDATE - JULY 2016



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

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

There are 9 essays in this collection, covering such topics as music, film and television. Adorno's writing style can be a bit dense; if you decide to tackle these essays be prepared to spend some time reading and rereading many sentence carefully. Additionally, a Goodreads friend said reading Adorno is like drinking vinegar. I completely agree: the majority of the ideas presented have a taste most bitter. This being said, in order to share some Adorno vinegar, below are my modest comments coupled with several quotes from an essay on a subject I'm sure is near and dear to all of us: Free Time.

"Free time depends on the totality of social conditions which continues to hold people under its spell. Neither in their work nor in their consciousness do people dispose of genuine freedom over themselves. . . . even where the hold of the spell (of social conditions, especially work) is relaxed, and people are at least subjectively convinced that they are acting of their own free will, this will itself is shaped by the very same forces which they are seeking to escape in their hours without work." ----------- After years of training in Jersy Grotowski-style physical theater, an extreme and demanding method to free one's body, I took an improvisational acting class where a number of students were office workers. I could instantly see how, although these students were engaged in theater exercises, their movements were so restricted and mechanical, it was as if they were still at work in their office.

Adorno speaks of his own life: "I have no hobby. As far as my activities beyond the bounds of my recognized profession are concerned, I take them all, without exception, very seriously. So much so, that I should be horrified by the very idea that they had anything to do with hobbies - preoccupations with which I had become mindlessly infatuated merely in order to kill the time . . . Making music, listening to music, reading with all my attention, these activities are part and parcel of my life; to call them hobbies would make a mockery of them. ---------- Adorno's words here can be taken as a direct challenge: Do you `kill time' when you are away from work? Do you need a hobby to occupy your attention?

"For the most part the very development of the imagination is crippled by the experience of early childhood. The lack of imagination which is cultivated and inculcated by society renders people helpless in their free time." --------- Again, are you easily bored and seek out mindless distractions? How frequently do you turn on the TV?

"People have been refused freedom, and its value belittled for such a long time that now people no longer like it. . . . This is one good reason why people have remained chained to their work, and to the system which trains them for work, long after that system has ceased to require their labor. ---------- For the life of me I will never understand how many people spend most of their `free time' thinking and talking about their work. Even if their work is interesting, I fail to see how work can be so interesting and mesmerizing that they can't let it go. Tis true: all work and no play makes Johnny and Suzy very, very dull people.

"The accepted reason for playing team sports is that it makes believe that fitness itself is the sole, independent end of sport: whereas fitness for work is certainly one of the covert ends of sport. Frequently it is in team sport that people first inflict upon themselves (and celebrate as a triumph of their own freedom) precisely what society inflicts upon them and what they must learn to enjoy." ---------- Ha! In a word, team sports acculturate individuals to forfeit their health, creativity and freedom as a first step in forfeiting their health, creativity and freedom when they step into the workplace.

Interestingly, Adordo concludes his essay by relating a study done by his Frankfurt Institute in Germany where members of the public where interviewed after watching the wedding of a Princess and a German diplomat broadcast by all the mass media. The findings were a surprise. Turns out, people were glued to their television sets but there was an element of skepticism about the importance of the event and a reluctance to take the whole thing too seriously. In Adorno's words: " . . . it is indeed consumed and accepted but with a kind of reservation." In other words, Adorno and the Frankfurt School recognized people are not as dumb and gullible as intellectuals and philosophers might think. And thus, they concluded, it is this very capacity to stand back and critically evaluate the commercialized garbage offered up by the culture industry wherein people can realize their freedom. ( )
1 vota GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
This book makes my head hurt. The introduction and first four essays are really hard to get through and to understand. Essays five through nine are better, though. Essay five on Freudian interpretation of Fascist propoganda in the U.S. was probably the best. Overall, he has some nteresting theories, but I'm not sure I buy everything Adorno says. This is probably not one I'll read again. ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
This dude does not like jazz. ( )
  dan.ostermeier | Oct 2, 2013 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Adorno, Theodor W.Autorautor primaritotes les edicionsconfirmat
Almeida, Jorge Mattos Brito deautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Bernstein, J. M.Editorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat

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The contentious arguments surrounding the idea of an affirmative postmodernist culture have brought with them a persistent theoretical depreciation of the claims of high modernist art as well as a positive re-evaluation of the character and potentialities of popular (mass) culture. (from Introduction)

Complaints about the decline of musical taste begin only a little later than mankind's twofold discovery, on the threshhold of historical time, that music represents at once the immediate manifestation of impulse and the locus of its taming. It stirs up the dance of the Maenads and sounds from Pan's bewitching flute, but it also rings out from the Orphic lyre, around which the visions of violence range themselves, pacified. (from first essay, called "On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening")
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The creation of the Frankfurt School of critical theory in the 1920s saw the birth of some of the most exciting and challenging writings of the twentieth century. It is out of this background that the great critic Theodor Adorno emerged. His finest essays are collected here, offering the reader unparalleled insights into Adorno's thoughts on culture. He argued that the culture industry commodified and standardized all art. In turn this suffocated individuality and destroyed critical thinking. At the time, Adorno was accused of everything from overreaction to deranged hysteria by his many detractors. In today's world, where even the least cynical of consumers is aware of the influence of the media, Adorno's work takes on a more immediate significance. The Culture Industry is an unrivalled indictment of the banality of mass culture.

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