||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (November 2008)|
The term culture industry was coined by the critical theorists Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), and was presented as critical vocabulary in the chapter “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, of the book Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), wherein they proposed that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized cultural goods — films, radio programmes, magazines, etc. — that are used to manipulate mass society into passivity. Consumption of the easy pleasures of popular culture, made available by the mass communications media, renders people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances. The inherent danger of the culture industry is the cultivation of false psychological needs that can only be met and satisfied by the products of capitalism; thus Adorno and Horkheimer especially perceived mass-produced culture as dangerous to the more technically and intellectually difficult high arts. In contrast, true psychological needs are freedom, creativity, and genuine happiness, which refer to an earlier demarcation of human needs, established by Herbert Marcuse. (See Eros and Civilization, 1955).
 The Frankfurt School
|Part of a series on the|
|Reason and Revolution
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Eclipse of Reason
The Fear of Freedom
Dialectic of Enlightenment
Eros and Civilization
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
|Max Horkheimer · Theodor Adorno
Herbert Marcuse · Walter Benjamin
Erich Fromm · Friedrich Pollock
Leo Löwenthal · Jürgen Habermas
|Critical Theory · Dialectic · Praxis
Psychoanalysis · Antipositivism
Popular culture · Culture industry
Advanced capitalism · Privatism
Non-Identity · Communicative Rationality
Adorno and Horkheimer were key members of the Frankfurt School. They were much influenced by the dialectical materialism and historical materialism of Karl Marx, as well the revisitation of the dialectical idealism of Hegel, in both of which events are studied not in isolation but as part of the process of change. As a group later joined by Jürgen Habermas, they were responsible for the formulation of Critical Theory. In works such as Dialectic of Enlightenment and Negative Dialectics, Adorno and Horkheimer theorized that the phenomenon of mass culture has a political implication, namely that all the many forms of popular culture are a single culture industry whose purpose is to ensure the continued obedience of the masses to market interests.
 The theory
The essay is concerned with the production of cultural content in capitalist societies. It critiques the supply-driven nature of cultural economies as well as the apparently inferior products of the system. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that mass-produced entertainment aims, by its very nature, to appeal to vast audiences and therefore both the intellectual stimulation of high art and the basic release of low art. The essay does not suggest that all products of this system are inherently inferior, simply that they have replaced other forms of entertainment without properly fulfilling the important roles played by the now defunct sources of culture.
Horkheimer and Adorno make consistent comparisons between Fascist Germany and the American film industry. They highlight the presence of mass-produced culture, created and disseminated by exclusive institutions and consumed by a passive, homogenised audience in both systems. This illustrates the logic of domination in post-enlightenment modern society, by monopoly capitalism or the nation state. Horkheimer and Adorno draw attention to the problems associated with a system that ‘integrates its consumers from above’, arguing that in attempting to realise enlightenment values of reason and order, the wholistic power of the individual is undermined.
Adorno and Horkheimer’s work was influenced by both the broader socio-political environment in which it was written and by other major theorists. Written in California in the early 1940s by two ethnically Jewish, German émigrés, The Culture Industry is influenced by European politics and the war by which the continent was consumed. Simultaneously, the American film industry was characterised by an unprecedented level studio monopolisation, it was "Hollywood at its most classica, American mass culture at its most Fordist".
Horkheimer and Adorno were influenced heavily by major developers of social, political and economic theory, most notably:
• Karl Marx’s theories of Alienation and Commodity Fetishism
• Max Weber’s Instrumental Reason and
• Georg Lukacs’ concept of the reification of consciousness.
Anything made by a person is a materialization of their labour and an expression of their intentions. There will also be a use value: the benefit to the consumer will be derived from its utility. The exchange value will reflect its utility and the conditions of the market: the prices paid by the television broadcaster or at the box office. Yet, the modern soap operas with their interchangeable plots and formulaic narrative conventions reflect standardized production techniques and the falling value of a mass produced cultural product. Only rarely is a film released that makes a more positive impression on the general discourse and achieves a higher exchange value, e.g. Patton (1970) starring George C. Scott as the eponymous American general, was released at a time of considerable anti-war sentiment. The opening shot is of Patton in front of an American flag making an impassioned speech. This was a form of dialectic in which the audience could identify with the patriotism either sincerely (the thesis) or ironically (the antithesis) and so set the tone of the interpretation for the remainder of the film. However, the film is manipulating specific historical events, not only as entertainment, but also as a form of propaganda by demonstrating a link between success in strategic resource management situations and specified leadership qualities. Given that the subtext was instrumental and not "value free", ethical and philosophical considerations arise.
Normally, only high art criticizes the world outside its boundaries, but access to this form of communication is limited to the elite classes where the risks of introducing social instability are slight. A film like Patton is popular art which intends controversy in a world of social order and unity which, according to Adorno, is regressing into a cultural blandness. To Hegel, order is good a priori, i.e. it does not have to answer to those living under it. But, if order is disturbed? In Negative Dialectics, Adorno believed this tended towards progress by stimulating the possibility of class conflict. Marx's theory of Historical Materialism was teleological, i.e. society follows through a dialectic of unfolding stages from ancient modes of production to feudalism to capitalism to a future communism. But Adorno felt that the culture industry would never permit a sufficient core of challenging material to emerge on to the market that might disturb the status quo and stimulate the final communist state to emerge.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (August 2012)|
Critics of the theory say that the products of mass culture would not be popular if people did not enjoy them, and that culture is self-determining in its administration. This would deny Adorno contemporary political significance, arguing that politics in a prosperous society is more concerned with action than with thought. Wiggershaus (1994) notes that the young generation of critical theorists largely ignore Adorno's work which, in part, stems from Adorno’s inability to draw practical conclusions from his theories. Adorno is also accused of a lack of consistency in his claims to be implementing Marxism. Whereas he accepted the classical Marxist analysis of society showing how one class exercises domination over another, he deviated from Marx in his failure to use dialectic as a method to propose ways to change. Marx's theory depended on the willingness of the working class to overthrow the ruling class, but Adorno and Horkheimer postulated that the culture industry has undermined the revolutionary movement. Adorno's idea that the mass of the people are only objects of the culture industry is linked to his feeling that the time when the working class could be the tool of overthrowing capitalism is over. Other critics note that "High culture" too is not exempt from a role in the justification of capitalism. The establishment and reinforcement of elitism is seen by these critics as a key element in the role of such genres as opera and ballet.
- Durham (2003) p.66
- Durham (2003) p.68
- Durham (2003) p.70
- Durham (2003) p.71
- Scannell (2007) p.45
- Scannell (2007) p.47
- Scannell (2007) p.37}}
- Hansen (1992) p.46
- Scannell (2007) pp.37–44}}
- Durham Peters, John (2003). The Subtlety of Horkheimer and Adorno. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 978-0-7456-2934-6.
- Scannell, Paddy (2007). Media and Communication. London: SAGE. ISBN 978-1-4129-0269.
- Hansen, M (1992). "Mass Culture as Heiroglyphic Writng: Adorno, Derrida, Kraceuer". New German Critique 56 (56).
 Further reading
- Adorno, T. W. Negative Dialectics. New York: The Seabury Press. (1973)
- Adorno, T.W. A Sample of Adorno's ideas on the culture industry and popular music
- Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford University Press (2002)
- Cook, D. The Culture Industry Revisited. Rowman & Littlefield. (1996)
- Hesmondhalgh, D. The Cultural Industries. Sage. (2002)
- Marcuse, H. Eros and Civilization. Beacon. (1955)
- Steinert, H. Culture Industry. Cambridge: Polity (2003)
- Wiggershaus, R. The Frankfurt School: its History, Theories, and Political Significance. MIT Press. (1994)
- Witkin, R.W. Adorno on Popular Culture. Routledge. (2003)
- Scott, Allen J. The Cultural Economy of Cities. Sage. (2001)