The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception

In “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno provide a scathing critique of popular culture due to its “sameness” (Horkheimer and Adorno 94). They attack the notion that standardization and mass production exist to best serve people’s needs; in reality, they are a mechanism of control (95). Horkheimer and Adorno even point out that cultural industries depend on the largest institutions, such as a “film [depending] on the banks,” thereby providing evidence that cultural industrials are entrenched in business ideology (96). In addition, many perceived differences in the cultural industry are deceptions; companies may advertise a cheaper or more distinguished product, but the reality is that similarities about and the differences are created for pure business purposes (97).

Horkheimer and Adorno also assert that the cultural industrial maintains power and sameness through style and form. They claim that the “promise of the work of art to create truth” through a particular form is already a bit misguided, as all forms are contingent on societal and cultural norms (103). However, to Horkheimer and Adorno, culture is now only about style, not truth, and in this sense, it means nothing and ceases to be art (103). Similarly, Horheimer and Adorno discuss how genre films are “the victory of technological reason over truth” (110). Audiences are bombarded with stimuli from the beginning, making the film solely about the technology (110). In these films, audiences are also are exposed to a universal theme from the get-go (110); the focus is not on creating truth, but perfection (108). In the past, this desire for unity was not the main concern; however, nowadays, departing from a particular structure is seen as weird and perceived as negative. As Horkheimer state, “the more all-embracing the cultural industry has become, the more piteously it has forced the outsider [into] bankruptcy” (107). Therefore, the “sameness” pervasive and enforced as a mechanism control; it also ostracizes real art and artists.

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