Monday, November 1, 2010

Adorno, The Culture Industry & Barthes, Myth Today

Posted by Jeff Jackson

Theodor Adorno- “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”

Theodor Adorno addresses the idea of culture as an industry, a well-oiled manipulative machine, in the chapter from his book entitled “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”. He analyzes the way in which culture has become a system that is unified and identical throughout society. According to Adorno, this industry, which is most blatantly expressed through film, radio, art, and music, robs the individual of all self-identity. The general public is unaware of the manipulation of their own thoughts that they experience when taking part in anything considered to be cultural. For example, the mind of the spectator is entirely molded by the culture monopolies in which the viewed object comes from. The industry utilizes a specific formula that shapes the thoughts of the spectator; there is no concept of individual imagination. Every thought was predetermined by the industry. Self-interpretation does not exist.

Adorno also argues that culture is entirely interchangeable. It is filled with “ready-made clichés to be slotted in anywhere”. He argues that ultimately all films of the same genre convey the same ideas; all art is indistinguishable. What makes the culture industry so powerful is that it is omnipresent. “The whole world is made to pass through the culture industry”. Everyone, man or woman, participates in something—fashion, sport, art—that is a product of the monopoly. No one can escape culture. The industry thrives on consumption, and consumption is rooted in economics. Thus, the culture industry rotates via capital. The monopoly has successfully transformed art in to amusement and consumption. Artistic value as it once was no longer exists.

One way in which the culture industry has completed this transformation is through rationalizing entertainment, particular the entertainment that one finds in art. The monopoly “confirms the victory of technological reason over truth”. In other words, advances in technology have enabled the industry to erase certain truths found in art and film and turn them into manifestations of the monopoly. Whereas cartoons were originally holders of fantasy and expressions of imagination, the industry has rationalized them into organized amusement that is basically all the same. The availability of art takes away from its artistic level even more. It is “as accessible for public enjoyment as a park”. Though one might assume that exposing the public to art would be positive, the industry has not gone about it in order to enrich the public. They treat it as a cheap commodity, again part of their commercial nature.

Adorno concludes with commenting on the relationship between advertising and the culture industry, and how conducive they are to each other. The assembly line nature of both industries creates a merge that is both technical and economical. They both are an industry of creating abstract illusions of reality.

Roland Barthes- “Myth Today”

In this chapter of Roland Barthes book, Mythologies, Barthes defines the concept of myths and explains their function. He looks at the idea of myth from two perspectives: that as a kind of language, and that as a reflection of thought. In terms of terminology, the two most essential words are “signifier” and “signified”. Barthes is concerned with how these words, which express the object and what the object represents, are connected in the two perspectives

of myth. Myths are made up of form (signifier) and meaning (signified). These to parts are connected though a kind of deformation, in which the form is shaped into representing the meaning. Part of this deformation is a deformation of language, in which the culture industry morphs language into myth. According to Barthes, myth is actually “speech stolen and restored”. Myth is actually all about this distortion—it naturalizes the artificial.

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