Philosophy & Society: Theodore Adorno’s “Culture Industry Reconsidered”

Theodore Adorno looking smug

In ‘Culture Industry Reconsidered’, Adorno expands upon his original proposal that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized goods for consumers. However, in this further text, Adorno focuses on the relationship between the industry and the consumer. Culture is valued for its
ability to appeal to the widest audience possible, resulting in largest profit. More than a fully capitalist venture, Adorno insists on the fact that the Culture Industry thrives on societal numbing and cultural homogeny.

Cultural production offers a sense of fleeting relief, which is constantly consumed as ‘the world wants to be relieved’. Banal content isn’t harmless due to its numbing effect on the consumer. ‘Conformity replacing consciousness is a key point to understanding the real intent behind the culture we as consumers are being offered. The culture industry sacrifices enlightenment for entertainment; creating a society that remains content in what it is familiar with.

When Adorno mentions “What [the culture industry] stuffs into people” he is denouncing what other intellectuals he doesn’t name see as the culture industry being the reaction to a demand from the general public. The culture industry as an ideology is so ubiquitous we don’t question it anymore, and even if a part of us is aware of its numbing and capitalistic purpose, we remain content with consuming the goods it provides us with. The culture industry propagates consensus and blind obedience to authority, even if that authority is never made explicit. Adorno’s analysis not only defines and denounces the culture industry, but also the ways in which consumers get affected from a
psychological standpoint. This is why Adorno brings up ‘ego weakness’, Kant and Plato: to denounce the mode of operation of the culture industry isn’t enough; it is consciousness on the part of ‘the masses’ that Adorno wants to awaken. This is a very didactic essay as it deconstructs the culture industry itself and the ‘object’ of said industry: the customer.

The development of an autonomous, independent individual is hindered and effectively made null by the incessant ‘cultural productions’, which in truth never teach ‘the masses’ anything. This is linked to Adorno’s definition of leisure time, which he believed the culture industry made toxic. Adorno’s
viewpoint was that it shouldn’t be about relaxing, it should be an opportunity to expand and develop ourselves in order to acquire the tools with which to change society. Read books that give us insights on politics, see films that help us understand our relationships with others better, or listen to music that help us grow and promote communal well-being. In the culture industry, leisure time is not productive, it is the complete opposite.

The entertainment machine that is the culture industry is malevolent in essence. It is designed to keep us distracted, keep us from understanding ourselves and without the will to alter political reality. Yes, aliens are invading our world, yet at the same time what is happening outside goes unattended.
Adorno even described Walt Disney as ‘the most dangerous man in America’. Culture should be a transformative tool, and the repetitive nature of the culture industry keeps status quos in place and doesn’t offer any alternative and ways to betterment, which Adorno felt was the primary function of Culture.

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