What is Cultural Industry?

The cultural industry (Kulturindustrie), a term coined by Theodor Adorno (1903 – 1969) and Max Horkheimer (1895 – 1973), members of the Frankfurt school, refers to cultural production in industrial capitalism, and especially to artistic production which, in this context, becomes another instrument for capitalism to become increasingly stronger in society.

The term is used for the first time in the work Dialectics of Enlightenment, published in 1947, where a philosophical critique is made of fundamental concepts of Western thought, such as the concept of “reason”.

What is Cultural Industry?

As a consequence of the rationalizing and technicist system, a new social and cultural phenomenon emerges, described in the work Dialectics of Enlightenment, which Adorno and Horkheimer call “cultural industry“.

The cultural industry, constituted by the mainstream media (television, advertising, cinema, ‘internet’, etc.), imposes values and behavior patterns, creating needs and establishing language to society. These values and behavior are uniform, do not emancipate, nor seek to develop creativity, on the contrary, it hinders its development.

The cultural industry prevents the formation of autonomous, free, and conscious individuals; it prevents men from deciding for themselves.

Leisure itself, seen as the moment when man frees himself from the system, is molded by the cultural norms of capitalism; entertainment becomes an extension of work.

The Hobbyisten is the one who consumes the products of mass culture imagining that he acts by his own choice, as if his pleasure in consuming were the fruit of his freedom. Illusion, only.

Since its origin, the capitalist system has always transmitted the idea that everyone is free. In an administered world, as Adorno says, it is necessary to make people believe that chance can still interfere in monopolies, cartels and trusts, and that individual freedom can be exercised within all of this.

The cultural industry takes the trouble to provide this illusion. To see this, it is enough to notice its various products that include the idea that any individual can be part of the world of wealth shown by them.

Furthermore, the cultural industry itself creates the favorable conditions to maintain the implementation of its mode of commerce, making it impossible to emancipate men and placing the power of mechanization over them.

By creating false material needs, it organizes itself so that the individual understands his condition of consumer, making this individual just an object of the big industry, at the same time that this individual is satisfied with its products.

Every year, the big technological industry launches new models of cell phones. Through beautiful advertisements, it makes the consumer want to buy the “new cell phone” with 3 cameras. Maybe the individual doesn’t even use the camera of his cell phone that much, but, deluded by the advertising, he is tempted to believe that more is better, and that what matters is to have the latest generation cell phone.

Therefore, the main characteristics of the cultural industry are:

  • The unbridled pursuit of profit;
  • mass production of cultural content;
  • standardisation of cultural products;
  • Standardisation of individuals

The Enlightenment

One of the themes addressed in the work of Adorno and Horkheimer is that of the Enlightenment, which refers not only to the movement of the 18th century, but to an entire worldview that, since Xenophanes, intended to rationalize the world and make it manipulable for man.

Moreover, the term Enlightenment also designates the way in which man is freed from the fear of the unknown nature, for there were times when men attributed hidden powers to the phenomena of nature.

Frankfurt thinkers direct their criticism to the Enlightenment of the modern technicist society, whose main characteristics are:

  • The process of rationalization, which makes everyday habits guided by predictability;
  • The demythologization of the world, which makes modern man let go of his old beliefs, leading him to place his beliefs only in reason;
  • Scientism, which considers valid only that which is proven and tested according to the logic of modern science, making the subject hostage to rational technicization;

With all this, the idea has developed that knowledge is a technique, instead of being critical and emancipating for man. It no longer cares about the veracity of the theories, but about their functionality.

The Instrumental Reason

Instrumental Reason derives from the vision of rationality preached by the Enlightenment, and this is the reason, mainly characterized by technique, which Adorno and Horkheimer criticize.

For them, the logic established by the technical reason is quantifying and mechanical and that, with the development of industrialism and capitalism, has become even stronger, covering all spheres of modernity. With this comes the devaluation of critical thinking, the development of utilitarianism and immediatist logic.

Cite This Work

Vieira, S. (2021, July 13). What is Cultural Industry?. Filosofia do Início. Retrieved from https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/cultural-industry/.

Vieira, Sadoque. “What is Cultural Industry?.” Filosofia do Início, July 13, 2021. https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/cultural-industry/.

Vieira, Sadoque. “What is Cultural Industry?.” Filosofia do Início, 13 Jul. 2021, https://filosofiadoinicio.com/en/cultural-industry/.

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