Monday, March 14, 2011

The Culture Industry & The Mediated 'Ummah' in Europe

By Jennifer Liu

“The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” by Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer (1944)

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer were both members of the Frankfurt School of social theory. Adorno was a sociologist, philosopher, and musicologist. Horkheimer was a philosopher-sociologist famous for his work in critical theory.

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer

In Adorno and Horkheimer’s piece, culture is addressed as an industry that is unified and identical throughout society. They write that there is a false identity of the general and the particular and that all mass culture is identical. Society does not resist control and technology's power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest. The production of anything and everything is all a remake of something else and products proves to be all alike in the end. They use the term “conspicuous production” as the universal criterion of merit that is blatant cash investment.The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry and every detail is planned and like all the other details, “ready-made cliches to be slotted in anywhere.” There is the notion of whether or not standards are based in the first place on consumers’ needs, and if that is why society accepts it with so little resistance and with new technologies, the more technique is perfected, the more it diminishes the tension between the finished product and everyday life. People don’t think for themselves or resist, and anyone who resists will still have to fit in to survive. “Not to conform means to be rendered powerless, economically and therefore spiritually.” Conformism among buys and producers will prevail and the result is a constant reproduction of the same thing.

Adorno and Horkheimer also write that the style of the culture industry is also the negation of style. Imitation becomes absolute and it comes down to the obedience to the social hierarchy. It cheats its consumers, the promises are illusory, and it is actually confirmed that the real point will never be reached. “The culture does not sublimate; it represses. By repeatedly exposing the objects of desire, breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero, it only stimulates the unsublimated forepleasure which habitual deprivation has long since reduced to a masochistic semblance.” The authors then conclude with the relationship between advertising and the culture industry. Both can be seen in innumerable places, and the mechanical repetition of the same culture product has come to be the same as that of the propaganda slogan- “the object is to overpower the customer, who is conceived as absent-minded or resistant.” No thinking by the audience is expected because the product prescribes every reaction: not by its natural structure but by signals. ‘Signification’ reaches the perfection in the sign. Both advertising and the culture industry create abstract illusions of reality and compel consumers to buy and use its products even though they see through them.

“The Mediated ‘Ummah’ in Europe: The Islamic Audience in the Digital Age” by Yasmin Ibrahim (2007)

Yasmin Ibrahim is a reader in International Business and Communications at Queen Mary, University of London. She is well published in the field of media and communications. Her ongoing research on new media technologies explores the cultural dimensions and social and ethnical implications in the diffusion of ICTs in different contexts. She also writes on political communication and political mobilization from cultural perspectives. Her other research interests include globalization, media literacy, visual economies and risks that have emerged in digital environments with the convergence of technologies.

The Unity of the Ummah

In Ibrahim’s piece, she analyzes how broadcast technologies are creating and constituting a new form of mediated ‘Ummah’ in the European context. Ummah refers to “a community of believers bound by the tenets of Islam, a community which confers a religious solidarity and fraternity upon Muslims who may be dispersed spatially.” In that sense, Ummah is both a global and local entity and the representation of Muslim issues through the dominating western media creates crisis of identity and representation for the Ummah. Media has the ability to shape the perceptions and experiences of its audiences, act as sites of cultural and knowledge production, as well as represent a space where political and cultural power can coincide. Media depictions usually reinforced the “Otherness” of the Muslim world and the western media “often implicate the whole of the Muslim community when an individual commits an act of violence,” playing into the culture/politics of blame where the west implies that Muslim morals, ethics and notions of humanity are very different from those of the West. These generalizations of “Muslim” polarizes the political landscape as well as causing further polarization between the East and West. Because of this, broadcasting stations such as Al Jazeera and the Islam Channel emerged, signifying “a need to restructure the global mediascape to counter the representations of a western-centric media and to portray the problems of the Middle East and the Muslim community in a different light.”

Al Jazeera Logo

Satellite broadcasting’s ability to transcend the geographical, ideological and broadcasting restrictions of nation states acted as both broadcasting and narrowcasting as it caters to diverse communities and niche interests while being platforms for the global reach of the niche communities and their interests. Satellite broadcasting and internet became tools and mediums for “a discursive re-intellectualization of Islam” and offered an alternative platform through which to discuss Muslim issues and to encourage non-Muslims to engage in constructive dialogue with them. These mediated representations create an imagined community that is reinforced through the Islamic ideal of a united global community of believers and these depictions of the Ummah offer new forms of identity and fraternity especially for younger, second generation Muslims in European societies who may not share the same level of connection to their culture and homeland as first-generation migrants. Ibrahim writes “the creation of communal identity is the fact that a sense of connection and fraternity can be constructed without necessarily embedding this sense of belonging or identity to a territorial context or geography.” The emergence of Muslim media has strengthened and reinforced the idea of the Ummah and provides a dialectical space that captures the pluralism within the community by providing a cultural space for identification and connection, as well as distinctions and differences between local and global Muslim communities.

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