Challenging the Culture Industry

Although Horkheimer and Adorno paint a very extremist picture in their depiction of the “culture industry”, I think their theory addresses some very poignant issues.  They explore a technological determinist’s world in which we are completely enslaved by the system.  Where media and government are one in the same and control everything that happens in our lives and in our world.  They describe (and this is way I say extremist) a complete destruction of true individuality in exchange for a bourgeoisie-formulated concept labeled as individuality.  Although very abstract and a little over-the-top, this idea of breeding well-constructed ideals into our minds brings me back to our discussion of the Merchants of Cool video and their formulation of the idea of “cool”.

Horkheimer and Adorno claim “individuation has never really been achieved”.  I would argue, however, that individuality is not meant to be thought of as a holistic archetype.  In fact, I would say it is quite the opposite.  It is many different attributes that are specific to different people and because they vary so widely, cannot be defined definitively at all, much less be constructed into a complete persona.  I see this consistent attempt to generalize very abstract concepts as the major flaw throughout Horkheimer and Adorno’s writing.  However, they sometimes employ such severe generalization that I am left wondering if this is not somewhat intentional.  The piece’s exaggerated nature does give it a little more spunk than some of the other theories we’ve read thus far.

With a very specific focus on effect, Horkheimer and Adorno avoid delving very far into the causes of this rigidly controlled society’s existence.  And this is where Herman and Chomsky pick up.  They attempt to take an in-depth look at the inner workings of the media system and the corporate powers who control our thoughts, actions and surroundings, according to the culture industry theory.  They explore corruption within the system and how that keeps us from receiving accurate information.  I am slightly skeptical of this piece as well (even with its ten pages of end notes).  Although I do not doubt the existence of corruption within the government and the media nor the monopolization of ownership within the media and in other industries, I seem to find some of their reasoning to be a bit of a stretch.  I say this specifically about their discussion of media ties to the government and the weapon and nuclear power industries.  But perhaps it’s just my naïvely idealistic unwillingness to believe that the system is so intricately constructed to censor information along every step of the way.

But overall, I found the readings quite interesting and complimentary of each other.  They provide opposing views to McLuhan’s theory, focusing much more on content – the people behind the medium and what they put into it.  But still build on the control issue and the theme of media as power.

They spark many questions about just how far this power can be taken and whether or not we have the ability to ever gain any kind of control.  I also think that the development of the internet as a public medium greatly influences these theories and perhaps even deconstructs them to some degree.  This brings into play McLuhan’s idea of specific ages being defined by their medium.  Have we reached an age in which we can voice our opinions freely and overcome the culture industry?

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2 Responses to “Challenging the Culture Industry”

  1. Ah, but, see the problem how they don’t explain the complete loop? Both authors complain about censorship, but when they talk of “censors” … well, there are no more censors, there are just US. And here’s the thing, i dont think either one is extreme. I think they both describe things EXACTLY as they relaly are. Unfortunately for us. P.I.C.

  2. I know I made typo errors in the above, but my computer does not want to let me fix them right now. Bleh.

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