The “Culture Industry” Repackaged as Today’s Entertainment Industry

Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer were Jewish sociologists forced to flee Germany to the United States of America during World War II. These sociologists focused on the production of “Culture Industry” during the 1940s in their essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. The “Culture Industry” is what modern Americans would call the “Entertainment Industry” – a sector of business that has taken over “Culture” and art. Adorno and Horkheimer felt that art was originally a representation of what is essentially human, that “Culture” encouraged individuality, creativity, and freedom. Culture should be for humanity to find or express the truth of existence that could only be sullied by the capitalist machine in the United States.

Furthermore, transforming culture into a production line to make the few businessmen who own the industry wealthy at the expense of art itself. When the motive to create culture is monetary profit, it becomes a mass-produced commodity and loses its inherent value. This mass production of culture mirrors the same production system of objects being manufactured in factories- it is all the same. “Films, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part. Even the aesthetic activities of political opposites are one in their enthusiastic obedience to the rhythm of the iron system.” (32)

Additionally, people consume the culture industry of films, radio and the like thinking it is “amusing” or entertaining but Adorno and Horkheimer find this to be untrue. Instead, this consumption of formulaic culture (like the plot lines and characters in films) leads to a brainwashing of audiences to support and conform to a particular standard of beauty, romance, and work ethic removing imagination. “The deception is not that the culture industry supplies amusement but that it ruins the fun by allowing business considerations to involve it in the ideological clichés of a culture in the process of self-liquidation.” (40)

Adorno and Horkheimer honed in on one particular aspect of how this culture industry produces certain ideals through typecasting in films:

“The mass production of the sexual automatically achieves its repression. Because of his ubiquity, the film star with whom one is meant to fall in love is from the outset a copy of himself…and the “natural” faces of Texas girls are like the successful models by whom Hollywood has typecast them. The mechanical reproduction of beauty, which reactionary cultural fanaticism wholeheartedly serves in its methodical idolization of individuality, leaves no room for that unconscious idolatry which was once essential to beauty.” (38-39)

This passage was particularly powerful to me because I do not think that the Entertainment Industry has shifted from this formula of who plays the lead in movies and what they look like. There are certain expectations placed upon young girls and women in the United States that companies use to sell their mass-produced cosmetic and hygiene product lines. These expectations are presented in the form of movies, models in magazines, commercials and advertisements with the message –THIS IS BEAUTIFUL! YOU SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS! There is still a “mechanical reproduction of beauty” that is idolized in the United States in 2017 as there was in the 1940s. However, the argument that the Culture Industry, what we call the Entertainment Industry, removes imagination I think is less true. Today, there is so much access in the United States to a wide variety of films and documentaries that people’s imaginations can be encouraged more than in the 1940s.

Patricia Toomey

word count: 655


One Reply to “The “Culture Industry” Repackaged as Today’s Entertainment Industry”

  1. I agree with your correlation between their idea of the culture industry and the unattainable and feature-specific beauty standards that exist in the media today. Women alone are expected to have plump lips, flat stomachs, big butts, perky breasts, skinny thighs, clear skin (seriously, how does contouring even work??), and so many other things that it is just impossible for every girl to embody without going through harsh cosmetic practices. It is every woman’s prerogative how much effort they personally devote working towards these standards and no one can be shamed for trying to feel “beautiful,” but I wonder how different women as a population would be if we weren’t constantly bombarded with images of the Kardashians and the like; and that is without even considering the damage done to the male self-image in today’s society.

    However, despite the obvious issues women and men face when it comes to the “mechanical reproduction of beauty,” I have hope that somehow we are progressing to improve what Horkheimer and Adorno would call the culture industry in this respect. There are so many females rising up in the media who aim to defy traditional beauty standards in order to change the expectations set for women, and I would say a space is being opened for women who do not fit traditional beauty standards. This makes me hopeful that in the near future perhaps there will not be such strict standards of beauty for women and men so there is more focus on free expression and investing in other aspects of oneself.


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