Theodore W. Adorno takes a critical look at the culture industry, or mass culture, that is apparent today in his article “Culture Industry Reconsidered.” Adorno, however, clarified that instead of ‘mass culture,’ he preferred the use of the term ‘culture industry’ as it better defines the rigorously calculated plan by which products are produced, distributed and consumed to the masses in line with a specific cultural idea in mind, as opposed to a cultural idea arising from the spontaneous consumerism of a product (Bassett, Marris & Thornham, 2010).
Industry is used in a figurative sense in that it creates a standardization to which we can compare products, rationalizes distribution practices of such products but does not necessarily address specific production processes. The culture industry sees the artistic or practical characteristics of its products as generally arbitrary, being more concerned with the distribution and mechanical reproduction of the products.
Adorno has a generally critical view of the culture industry, seeing it as being a mechanism to achieve the conformity within the consumer of its products (Bassett, Marris & Thornham, 2010). He proposes that the ideas and morals put forth by the culture industry are absurd, yet effective in getting people to fall into believing. The culture industry is able to achieve a sense of conformity and acceptance of the masses through what Jürgen Habermas would consider the “public sphere” (Bassett, Marris & Thornham, 2010). Since access to this public sphere is available to all citizens, the public opinion of people can be easily shaped if a strong enough force is injected into it, such as the ideas and morals propagated by the culture industry.
Adorno concludes by saying that the overall effect of the culture industry is anti-enlightenment, getting in the way of independent and individual thought and development in society, leaving us with a mass of people who are all forced to think, act and behave the same way without realizing it (Bassett, Marris & Thornham, 2010).
I think a parallel can be drawn between relationship between the culture industry and society with a manipulative person and their partner or inferior. Similar to the way that the culture industry can use tactics and clever ideas to manipulate the masses into believing and falling into a kind of group-think mentality, an overbearing superior or partner can manipulate their inferior or partner, respectively, to think in a specific way and therefore become dependent upon them. The culture industry acts in the same way as an overbearing boyfriend/girlfriend or boss would, simply on a much larger scale.
Adorno, T. (1991). Culture Industry Reconsidered. In Thornham, S., Bassett, C. & Marris, P. (Eds.), Media studies; a reader. (pp. 15-21) New York, NY: New York University Press.
Habermas, J. (1973). The Public Sphere. In Thornham, S., Bassett, C. & Marris, P. (Eds.), Media studies; a reader. (pp. 46-51) New York, NY: New York University Press.