10/18: Adorno's "Culture Industry Reconsidered"

The first time I ever heard someone describe Theodor Adorno's work for me was an annotation in a rented book that read, "Can't write well, rambles to hide it." My first action (after wondering who that strange person was and how they knew me knew me) was to dive into the deep complexities of the elegant, obfuscating German theorist. This particular essay, Culture Industry Considered, is no different, though its style can be traced back to the simple fact that it is a translated speech. Adorno starts his monologue by tracing the term "culture industry" back to a book copublished with Max Horkheimer in 1947, which is admittedly where literally everybody (yes, literally) knows their names from. I kinda liked what I have read of that book, especially considering that they moved from using "mass culture" to "culture industry" so they could "exclude from the outset the interpretation [that culture] arises spontaneously from the masses themselves" (31). That makes sense to me, but that's about where Adorno goes off the rails. From his past work, he dives into the present doom-telling, claiming that both high and low art are ruined because the culture industry combines them (31), that the entirety of "the culture industry turns into public relations, the manufacturing of 'goodwill'" (32-33), and finally lamenting that the critic is ignored because they are a cultured snob (34). Continuing on, Adorno finally claims that "the total effect of the culture industry is one of anti-enlightenment," essentially returning to the point of his previous book (37).

And yet, for being nonsensical on the paragraph level, the work is a series of masterfully constructed sentences. I am particularly touched by his claims about coloured film, in which he states that "No homeland can survive being processed by the films which celebrate it" (35). That simple, incredible statement sums of the issues of tokenism and making identity into a monolith so crisply, I had to read it four times over. Furthermore, Adorno had a pretty gnarly burn on astrologers, when "advise which is valid every day and which is therefore idiotic" still "needs the approval of the stars" (37). 

I have a feeling I will have to take a look back at Adorno's earlier work to explain his crazed polemical ramblings against the culture industry, but I'll leave you with one final sentence that simultaneously frustrates and intrigues me: "What parades as progress in the culture industry... remains the disguise for an eternal sameness" (33). As a progressive media scholar, my passion is finding those traces of progress in the culture industry, the small moments that allows the media our parents see to jump forward in time, and illuminate them so we can recognize and decorate those changing the world's minds today. And yet, if everything is governed by eternal "sameness" and all the changes new identities on screen make are slow and unintentional, then what's the point? No matter how many different kinds of identities we see on our TV screens, if they all still participate in boring sitcoms instead of radical programs that challenge our mindsets, are they changing anything at all or just entering that same world of bland? I'm not 100% sure, and I don't think there's a simple answer. That's the point of Adorno, I think; interpreting media isn't easy, and it sure ain't simple.