Monday, September 03, 2007
In “Culture Industry Reconsidered,” Theodor Adorno asserts that the term “mass culture” is somewhat wanting because it does not characterize the type of culture instantaneously picked by the masses to cater to their needs. He proposes the term “culture industry” instead. The latter, Adorno assumes, suits the current system which regulates the society via a hierarchical creation of standardized culture that highlights the commodification of entertainment. The transformation into commodities of artistic objects within the industry follow a value realization principle instead of “their own specific content and harmonious formation.” This commodification of cultural objects may come in the form of museum articles being accessible to public only when ticket prices are paid for, or in exhibiting art films not for free, among other examples.
The culture industry practices profiteering out of cultural expressions. The cultural forms create a means of income for their creators and this quality has turned artistic statements into “commodities in the marketplace.” The contemporary context has privileged the intensification of this economic exploitation such that commodities seem to have not passed the original phase of cultural entities within the culture industry, but are “commodities through and through.” As a consequence, culture has transformed into an industry that passes through the quality control of commodity producers. This has put culture under a capitalist economy. This explains the phenomenon of Hollywoodization, wherein the American art form film gets merchandized throughout the globe with more emphasis for income generation than artistic merits.
The phenomenon of mass culture is theroized to have a political underpinning, meaning all the varities of popular culture become gathered into a unified culture industry tasked at ascertaining the uninterrupted obedience of the masses to market interests. While Western culture used to have a national division before becoming hierarchical, the current idea of culture industry has a single marketplace wherein the best or most popular masterpieces overwhelm others. Globalization has realized this one-market policy wherein the exchange of products is facilitated governmentally.
This attests that the unification of media networks has consolidated power in the possession of only a few multinational corporations that control the production and distribution. This theory puts forth that culture not only reflects society but also assumes a significant role in molding the society via the proceses of standardization and commodification, generating objects instead of subjects. The current culture industry acts as if it satisfies the consumers’ need for entertainment, but masks the manner by which these needs are standardized, manipulating the consumers to obsess about its products. The result has mass production supplying a mass market where the identity and tastes of each consumer depreciates and the consumers themselves become interchangeable, very much like the goods they patronize.
Adorno’s problematique on the description of culture within the culture industry is agreeable. Culture is supposed to be characterized by durability; if the culture industry commodifies cultural expressions in such a way that the cultural objects gets consumed as products, then the endurance of these cultural objects is questionable. It has become common now to merchandize painting, books, films and other art forms with the original purpose of non-commercial artistic appreciation. If these cultural objects get consumed, their quality as culture is not reduced but rather eliminated.