The New Culture Industry (III)

To dive deep into the new culture industry that seems to afflict us today we have to pay heed to the analysis of the culture industry done by Theodore Adorno. Adorno follows Karl Marx when he says people are massified by the culture Industry. He like Marx believes that people are reduced to the cog-in-the-wheel of the social machine that he calls the culture industry. He says that all art forms acquire value as much as they are commodified. Once commodified, they then become means of acquiring status and recognition in a particular society for their consumers. This means the culture industry runs on the wheels of identity. The massified people lose their critical thinking as they submit to the reason of the market. Adorno and Max Horkheimer name this reason as deception of dialectics of enlightenment. This is why they think that the culture Industry has its roots in the Enlightenment in Europe.

The culture industry produces weapons of mass distraction. Art is transgressive, interrogative and rebellious. But when art forms are standardized and get commodified, we kill their transgressive dimensions and convert them into tools that satiate our identity and needs for recognition. It being a distraction takes us, away from reality and we are trapped in an ego trip and become condemned to become consumers. This condition incapacitates the people and disables them from looking at suffering straight in the eye. In fact, it orders and assigns us a place to live our life. The difference is ordered to serve the market which creates needs but does not really satisfy them. Hence we become caught in consumerism chasing manufactured desires that are not really fully satisfied.

The new culture industry is intimately political. It runs by the rules of the market. Leaders and their political parties are branded through propaganda. We are always kept in the mood for elections. The difference is given use value as long as it assists the political establishment. This means the use value of the difference is traced in it can be milked for ideological nationalism and thus become raw material to produce political capital. So-called several kinds of populism are several avatars of the new culture Industry. Under a populist regime, the citizens are massified into silence as they surrendered their destiny in the hands of a so-called strong leader. Although Sigmund Freud teaches us that it is love that binds a group together, we may have to go to Gustave Le Bon to understand how unreason binds us together into a mass. This means we descend into a base state and accept fascism or unfreedom as our good. This is why Adorno says that it is something like uncritical love that binds people into a mass. Maybe Freud does offer an insight to us when he teaches us that the masses follow a leader because he/she becomes their ego-ideal. This means the strong leader of populism becomes an ideal ego liked or loved by the ego of the individuals in the group.

The new culture industry massifies us into silence. We can notice how the majority community in our country is massified into submission. The products of the new culture industry are serving to produce identity politics like the old culture industry and serve narcissistic ends of seeking recognition by derecognizing others. Nationalism, therefore, is employed to bring about this politics of identity. Identity then becomes corrosively intoxicating and becomes a cover that hides real issues like price rise, unemployment, violence and injustice. Just like earlier cultural industry produced TV programs that laugh for us to rejuvenate us after a day of hard work, we have TV programs that sought for us to become windows for the frustrations of our day’s hard work. Nationalism then becomes a decent substitute for an empty stomach. This is why we need to cultivate critical thinking. This is urgent because we seem to have not only lost our ability to reason but we have lost our ability to experience life itself. Maybe we have to ask the question raised by poet T. S Elliot, ‘ where is the life that is lost in living? ‘

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao