Dialectic of Enlightenment, Philosophy of New Music and The Authoritarian Personality
- Pages: 10
- Word count: 2332
- Category: Enlightenment
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Section One: Historical Context and Biographical Sketch
Theodor W. Adorno was an individual with the most significant social critics in Germany after World War II. The possibility of Adorno’s influence stems from the cross-disciplinary character of his research that is the Frankfurt School that he belonged to. However, it also comes from the depth of his examination of Western philosophical societies, and the radicalness to his analysis of contemporary Western Life. (Zuidervaart 2015). Born on September 11, 1930, Adorno lived in Frankfurt for the first three decades of his life. Continuing his journey, Adorno left Germany at the beginning of 1934, and during the Nazi period, he lived in Oxford, New York City, and Southern California. In this era, he wrote many books for which he later became famous, containing his analysis of Dialectic of Enlightenment (with the help of Max Horkhemier), Philosophy of New Music and The Authoritarian Personality. Throughout these years, he added his critiques of mass culture and the culture industry. He quickly established himself as a primary German scholar, and a central character in the Institute of Social Research.
Horkheimer and Adorno developed a prevailing theme of critical theory, Dialectic of Enlightenment, which became the critique of modernity that developed among progressive intellectuals. Horkheimer and Adorno believed that society and culture from a historical standpoint, such that the search for freedom in society is interconnected with the pursuit of enlightenment in culture. However, there has been critiques of Enlightenment and the idea of progress through technological advancement (domination of nature). Furthermore, we saw the emergence of fascism and totalitarian systems, as well as, the emergence of the middle-class and new forms of consumerism. The Frankfurt School incorporated their analysis of the domination of culture to liberate the totality of human experience. Adorno’s cultural studies show related knowledge in television, film, and the recording industries. He emphasized this discovery with essays that he published like “On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening and in “The Cultural Industry” (Zuidervaart 2015). From this context, Adorno argues that the cultural industry has much to do with the evolution and change in the commodity that comes in the form of art. He mentions the marketed influence in his analysis that becomes a total demand and the inner economic structure of cultural commodities. Therefore, Adorno focus on how culture shapes an individual agency from a macro-level analysis.
Section Two: Cross-Disciplinary Influences
Within Adorno’s analysis, we can identify three main theories that illustrate the theorist orientation. The first theory, according to Theodor Adorno, is the culture industry, which operates by pushing ‘mass deception’ through a never-ending amount of mass-produced and standardized commodities. The culture industry according to Deborah Cook “is geared by profit-making, controlled by centralized interlocking corporations, and staffed with marketing and financial experts, as well as, writers, actors, musicians, and other creative talents” (Cook 37). His analysis, which drew inspiration from the work of Karl Marx’s critique of political economy and Sigmund Freud’s instinct theory, Adorno is describing how the culture industry encourages capitalism through its ideology. Adorno’s theory of culture industry can be seen in mass culture, which refers to the structuring of society in terms of efficiency, productivity, and control. As a result, mass culture is filled with objects, incidents, and practices that are purposely designed to seek, accommodate and attract the fantasies of its consumers (Guster 58).
Our next theory Adorno illustrates it how mass culture can also relate to the participation in the production of cultural commodities. The core of Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism, which looks at the way products are organized and its perceived need and the simple exchanges of money for a commodity. Therefore, Marx idea of commodities fetishism parallels with Adorno’s idea of commodity form because according to Shane Gunster, “the filtration of culture’s production and distribution through the commodity form efficiently erases its human origin, reifying it into an external entity that stands over and against those who originally made it (Gunster 50). With this being said people can make choices based on their value in the marketplace. In addition, capitalism can enforce the producers that are owned and controlled by the owners of capital, and the product and workers are divided with no human relation. Therefore, the production of cultural goods has become dominated by the commodity form itself; thus, we learn and cultivate our needs by the purse of exchange and the way consumers of culture commodities are being cheated of an endless promise that is being sold to them through the culture industry.
The last theory we will be looking at is the pseudo-individualism, which was on the main criticisms members of the Frankfurt School made against massed culture and culture industry. Pseudo-individualization emphasizes the semblance of individual freedom and the choice through the consumption of mass-produced commodities. However, it is important to take into consideration that standardization fulfills the first demand; pseudo-individualism is the second. Both are related directly to cultural goods that are meant to ensure their commercial success in the capitalist world (Cook 42). The function of pseudo-individualism is to create the impression that there is a real difference between the standardized creation that is being offered by the culture industry. As a result, its consumers are tricked into believing they are experiencing something unique when in reality they are not (Gunster 45).
Section Three: Consumer Value and Culture
In this section I will be focusing on how culture shapes an individual’s agency; especially, the way the culture industry forms and structures human experience, which ultimately can be dominated by structural forces. The culture industry as dominated by the commodity because the mass culture does our thinking for us because, according to Gunster, “we are fed ‘predigested’ products that have already been conceptually organized and processed for easy consumption ( Gunster 53). This states that the culture industry has already been organized and classified for us because they come to us already wrapped and ready for our instant consumption. For example, films and television programs, radio, and popular music have already been so significantly planned and controlled that individuals themselves have to be ‘created’ in order to fit into the standardized ideal that reflect the standardized products being sold to an individual. As a result, norms and values are shared values that help orient action and those shared values can be seen in culture industry by their values of a system of domination on the exploited and dominated masses, depriving them of the possibility of being set free from social resistance.
The culture industry certainly contains all that is referred to as mass culture which extends its range to the contemporary life like concerts and theater, radio, records, fashion, and car advertisement, which are structures that hold everything in place. These factors help to transform cultural objects and processes, as well as, the world they illustrate into independent things and structures that cannot be controlled by human beings. As a result, Adorno notices because culture shapes our agency, this leaves the individual to sacrifice their autonomy and agency in order to bring themselves closer to the product, participating into the broader social mass (Gunster 65). For example, some objects can serve status distinctions, which is seen by the car people drive thinking it’s a unique object, however, that according to Gyorgy Markus is the “elimination of the possibility of creating something genuinely new and affecting both expressing and effecting the dissolution of subjectivity” (Markus 81). Therefore, our agency under this controlled social structure that is the culture industry becomes limited because as subjects we put more thought into the objects that are being sold to us because that’s how the mass culture is designed and its way of functioning.
The consumer’s values are spent and draw feelings to themselves, without some certain qualities being meet by the consciousness of the consumer, is the advanced expression of the object where all we see are things (Arato & Gebhardt 278). As a result, the product affects an individual’s environment; individuality itself can serve to reinforce ideology where our individualist self can legitimate the objective way of living which can ultimately produces more cultural commodities (Adorno and Rabinabach). However, some may say that we can also celebrate our agency of individuals in making what they wish, but it is impossible not to buy things that the culture industry and mass culture have not produced. This leaves the individual to do what everybody else does because everyone is offered the same standardized production of consumption of commodities.
Section Four: The Commodity World into The Commodity World
For this section, I will be talking about how within the culture industry it can enforce a new form of commodities. For example, the makeup community has been growing very quickly over the past years, however, makeup brands participate in the commodity interchange rather than making someone feel fulfilled. Makeup brands can take away from people and puts forward a beauty standard on how women should look. Then they make commodities out of it and sell it right back to the consumer. Ultimately, it begins to affect the social world because commodities bring in more profit while making people feel adequate. As a result, commodities relate to makeup products because they conceal social relations between the people who are making them and those who are buying the product; all we see are things. Women attach greater importance to the hairdresser and cosmeticians than to the situation for the sake of which the hairdresser and cosmeticians are employed. According to Arato & Gerhardt “the relation to the irrelevant dutifully manifest its social essence” (280). Therefore, they see themselves only as looking good, rather than experiencing something they produced.
Also, the makeup industry and other producers rely on the commercial aspect of the culture industry. They are essentially selling a perfect package, which to the individual are seen as enough but as soon as other product comes out it triggers us to keep on buying the newest things. Commercial and advertisement conceal our identity by which leads to the manipulation of taste and that taste almost never exist because of how rapid the culture industry and commodities have become. Products don’t necessarily make us live in the moment because we end up praising commodities that are purposefully striping us from our individuality. However, production and consumption become closely organized and we almost have become slaves to the product we buy.
Therefore, people often times forget that they can make their own choices but it’s also important to note that some people don’t have the same access to cultural assets for developing their sense of self. For example, in the prison industrial complex, all major corporations invest money to exploit prison labor for capital greed, rather than organic evolution. As the U.S justice continues to perform mass incrassation, there is growth in people being sent to prison that allows the elite to utilize the commodity of physical labor to engage in forced labor driven by profit motivation. Under these circumstances, people are become part of the commodity and have not real agency because institutions like prisons are affecting the way they think, mobilize, and how others may see them.
Section Five: Personal Observations
This research paper helped me understand how it’s imposable to escape the culture industry because of how we are essentially born into a culture that relies on profit. At a young age, we are thought to get a good education, job and have nice things, but they don’t ever mention how striving for material things can actually affect the way we go about meeting our true self. It’s main blowing to think that the culture industry can frame the kind of person we can be. However, I also think that as individuals we also have behaviors and thoughts that we become linked together into a story we tell ourselves and others about who we are. We are basically made up stories. Therefore, to a certain extent, we do have the ability to shine away from mass production and things that make us think we have the choice to decide what products we should buy. But as consumers, we also have the ability to stop products that hurt the environment or people. For example, a lot of radical social movement groups have stopped big businesses from profiting from the environment like Home Depot. Here, where we saw advocates with stronger and radical action, protests by locking themselves to the merchandise. This is one way the public shifted the way we see the environment and how as humans we can take advantage of things that benefit our lives.
Theodore Adorno theories are important and relevant to sociological analysis because we can still apply it to contemporary life. The thing with culture, it shifts but the end result is always the same because it is all based on money and profit. With culture comes both the subjective and objective side to it. Subjective culture refers to the culture that one is associated with. Shared action within culture can come from specific groups such as skaters. To be associated with such clothing product of a culture immediately links the individual to certain social forms and types, and group members could individuality feel those relations. Personal expressions connect the individual with the social forms in ways that allow them to feel that connection. Therefore, people need culture to interact with each other, and in small, traditional communities that the culture can be understood and make it subjective. However, I think what Adorno is saying is how people shift away from that, and all we see it the objective culture that looks at the culture that we are not part of and the objective is the outside of the individual. The object is separate from the individuals who produced in the first place. This concept relates to what Adorno was talking about the pseudo-individualism where the individual has an attachment to the thing, but not a necessarily the culture or values connected to the object. As a result, the culture industry can vary from its complexity.