Adorno and Horkheimer (1944) “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”

Link to Text | Link to Summary | The Frankfurt School

Main Idea – Capitalism relies on a “culture industry” to satiate the masses, train them to buy into capitalist ideology, suppress critical thinking, and thereby ensure that capitalism reproduces itself.jews-adorno-and-horkheimer

  • In a capitalist society, the “culture industry” is strategically designed to provide fun and leisure for consumers. These products are not art, they are designed for profit and represent the interests of money and power.  Therefore, even art has now become a commodified product.
  • Popular culture is not “authentic culture.” It is now produced by those in power, not formed gradually over time through grassroots, everyday, cultural practices
  • The culture industry suppresses free, critical thought and distracts the masses from the greater inequalities within society
  • Popular culture appears to be offering a refuge and distraction for work, but in fact it causes the worker to further sink into a world of products and consumerism. The only freedom the culture industry actually offers in the freedom from thinking. Illusion of choice.
  • Popular culture is produced using the same production line approach as consumer goods. This is a main feature of the culture industry, for the fact that all products are produced under the same scheme allows them to be “readable” and effortlessly digested. This is how culture industry imposes conformity – with things that only seem to be different but are in fact all (slight) variations of the same thing.
  • It feels like “there is something for everyone” here but in fact it’s all variations of the same thing.

Critique – Assumes people are “dupes.” A & H suggest the culture industry turns people into passive and subordinated subjects, unable to fully take responsibility for their own actions (something which is crucial for a functioning democracy). People therefore gladly help maintain the system by taking part in it.


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