Adorno and Horkheimer: “The culture industry:
enlightenment as mass deception” (1947)
The need which might
resist central control has
already been suppressed
by the control of the
The Culture Industry as Mass Deception, 1944
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno
Culture Industries was proposed by Theodor Adorno
and Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt school in 1944.
It was presented as critical vocabulary in the chapter
“The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass
Deception”, of the book Dialectic of Enlightenment.
• Highly interested in social and
cultural theory from a philosophical
• Many theories were based from
Marxist viewpoints and had to do with
authority in society
• Felt that a “culture industry” had
commoditized mass media and
limited self identity
Max Horkheimer ,was a German philosopher-
sociologist, famous for his work in critical theory as a
member of the 'Frankfurt School' of social research.
His most important works include The Eclipse of
Reason (1947) and, in collaboration with Theodor
Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947).
Through the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer planned,
supported and made other significant works possible.
In Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), which Horkheimer
co-authored with Adorno, he extended his social cultural
criticism to western civilization. He wrote this work in
California while he was in exile. His question was why and
how the terror of Nazi and Stalinist mass murder arose
from modernity. Against the popular view that
barbarianism was opposite to the idea of Enlightenment,
he argued that barbarianism, terror, and irrational
elements were inherent to Enlightenment. In the work,
Horkheimer explained the process and the reason of how
and why the Enlightenment rationality, supposed to be the
key factor of liberation and freedom, became instrumental
rationality and brought about suppression of individuals,
cultural poverty, and barbarism.
Others works of Horkheimer :
•Dialectical of the illustration
•Traditional theory and critical theory
•Authority and family and other writings
•Critic of the instrumental reason
•Society, reason and freedom
Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art, The
truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in
order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce.
Interested parties explain the culture industry in technological terms…No
mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires
power over society is greatest. A technological rationale is a rational
of domination itself (emphasis added).
Commodity fetishism is the basis of theory of culture industry, that
stresses cultural forms like popular music, film and television function
to secure the continuing economic, political and ideological
domination of capitalist societies.
Culture industry reflects the consolidation of commodity fetishism, the
domination of exchange value and the ascendancy of state monopoly
The commodities produced by the culture industry are governed by the
need to realise their value on the market.
Profit motive determines the nature of cultural forms.
It shapes the tastes and preferences of the masses.
Thereby, moulding their consciousness by inculcating the desire for
false needs. It works to exclude real needs, alternative and radical
concepts, and politically oppositional ways of thinking and acting.
Adorno saw culture as something which has imposed upon the masses,
and makes them prepared to welcome it given they do not realise it is
Adorno (1991) wrote, products which are tailored for consumption by masses,
and which to a great extent determine the nature of that consumption, are
manufactured more or less according to plan.
This is made possible by contemporary technical capabilities as well as by
economic and administrative concentration.
The culture industry intentionally integrates its consumers.
The masses are not primary but secondary, they are an object of calculation, an
appendage of the machinery.
The customer is not king, though the culture industry would have us believe,
not its subject but its object.
Process of standardisation and pseudo-individualisation.
products acquire the form common to all commodities, like the Western, familiar to
Substantial core similarities between popular songs, movie, TV.
It constructs framework.
The core is hidden by stylistic variations as uniqueness.
Incidental differences confers a sense of individuality that each products (i.e. popular
songs) affects an individual air.
It constructs details.
Pseudo-individualisation serves to obscure the standardisation and
manipulation of consciousness practised by culture industry.
The framework entails standardisation which draws out a system of
response-mechanisms wholly antagonistic to the ideal of individuality
in a free, liberal society.
The details must provide the listener a sense of this suppressed
Basic casual factor in its own right;
Its innovative and original character of the Frankfurt School’s contribution.
The fundamental productive power of capitalism;
The continuing adherence to Marxism.
It assumes that people have true or real needs to be creative,
independent and autonomous, in control of their own destinies, fully
participating members of meaningful and democratic collectivities and
able to live free and relatively unconstrained lives and to think for
True needs cannot be realized in modern capitalism because the false
needs, which capitalist system has to foster in order to survive, come to
be superimposed over them.
False needs work to deny and suppress true or real needs.
False needs created can be fulfilled at the expense of the true needs
which remain unsatisfied in light of consumerism and commodity
People do not realise their real needs remain unsatisfied.
The School views the culture industry ensuring the creation and
satisfaction of false needs, and the suppression of true needs.
It is so effective in doing this that the working-class is no longer likely
to pose a threat to the stability and continuity of capitalism.
Adorno (1991) stresses to ignore the nature of the culture industry, is to stop
resistance to its ideology.
Popular music offers relaxation and respite from the rigours of mechanised
labour because it is not demanding or difficult.
People desire popular music, partly because capitalists hammer it into their
minds and make it appear desirable.
Their consumption of standardised products mirrors the standardised,
repetitive and boring nature of the work in production.
Standardised production goes hand-in-hand with standardised consumption.
Cultural forms such as popular music act as “social cement”.
Adorno gave awareness to most people in capitalist societies live limited,
impoverished and unhappy lives.
Popular music and films do not deny this awareness, but act to reconcile
people to their fate.
Adorno (1991) observed “the actual function of sentimental music
and film lies in the temporary release given to the awareness that
one has missed fulfillment …… it is catharsis for the masses, ……
Music and film permits its listeners and audiences the confession of
the unhappiness reconciles them, by means of this ‘release’, to their
The ideology of culture industry is manipulative, underpinning the dominance
of the market and commodity fetishism.
It is conformist and enforcing the general acceptance of the capitalist order.
The concepts of order which the culture industry hammers into human beings
are always those of status quo.
The power of ideology of culture industry is that conformity has replaced
Studies of CCCS concerns working-class youths.
They viewed the working-class youths are class is being constructed
and therefore is an imagined communities.
They concerned the relationship between hegemonic ideas in shaping
working-class youths and youth subcultures.
They identified mainstream culture, parent culture, youth culture,
leisure culture, consumer culture, yet they are all in conflict with
Youth subcultures are sub-ordinate to mainstream adult and parent
Viewed as folk devils or deviant.
Working-class youths are subjected to uncertainty position.
Youths are anchored into different social class.
The appearance of youth subculture acts as symbolic resistance to
dominant social order.
Youths are viewed as active agents in theories of subculture.
Cohen (1997) defines three level of subculture analysis:
Power structure: gender, class that is uncontrollable.
Human beings are anchored into different positions according to the
social structure they situated.
Choices and chances are limited to the determined position.
Agencies are limited to those structural positions.
Constructed related to the determined social class.
Everyday life practice, such as meaning, tradition, cultural practice and
rituals, behaviours, language used.
Different kinds of youth subculture represent its symbolic meaning and
relation to dominant class and ideas.
Personal experiences of culture and structure.
The specific meaning of subcultural life to the person or class.
We think that were living in a good and rational
Living in a democracy, we compare ourselves with
other countries which have dictatorship and consider
ourselves to be in a better position.
The creation of this perception is one of the major
roles of Culture Industry.
Culture Industry refers to the standardization and
false-singularity of cultural items, and how these
cultural items are regulated.
It says that we, as people, have become standardised
because corporations produce standard products
which fit our needs and demands.
So corporations produce our needs and desires.
If the cultural products lose their sense of meaning and authenticity due to their mass
production, so do the individuals who buy them.
Subconsciously, we may not realize that each time we buy a new and trendy product, we
are merely buying the new trendy “thing” to add to our very own material product of a
The truth is that we are buying this product because it is frequently publicized through
media only to illustrate this materialized commodity of “cool” that everyone must have.
We are truthfully as much of a commodity as the product itself. Regardless, we have a
situation where the consumers are being victimized by the producers in that they know
what we like and give us what we want; therefore, we no longer have genuine experiences.
We may “think” we are expressing our sense of self and individuality by buying the latest
Samsung phone of a different colour, because in our mind, we find that typically
everyone buys blue or silver and we want to be different; thus we conclude we are being
Whether you like it or not, advertising plays a crucial
role in our everyday lives.
Advertising effectively grabs the public’s attention
through the use of television commercials, billboards,
magazines, etc. It is the advertisement that attracts the
consumer to buy a product and ascribe the
connotation of “coolness” to it.
Inevitably, the product and the advertisement become
two of a kind.
Adorno and Horkheimer proposed
that films, radio programmes, magazines, etc. — that
are used to manipulate mass society into passivity.
Adorno and Horkheimer criticise the ‘Culture
Industry’ for promoting a society that is drowning in a
society of mass culture and industrialisation, instead
of encouraging freedom and individuality.
The Culture Industry in short can be represented as
the “Enlightenment” or knowledge as mass trickery or
In other words, we may be compelled to wonder if we
live in a world of mass deception in which we are
simply kept in the dark.
‘Mass deception' and ‘Social control' describe the ideas
and theories that Adorno and Horkheimer
Adorno saw what he referred to as ‘the culture
industry’ as constituting a principal source of
domination within complex, capitalist societies.
The Culture Industry is characterized by three specific
ideas: Monopoly, Mass Production, and Technology.
The crudest way to oppress is to physically force people
to do things or prevent them from doing things.
The next level up is to use the threat of physical force to
persuade them. This uses no physical force. Also, this is
often accompanied by restricting freedoms of expression.
The oppressed in this situation still know that they are
being oppressed, but they know they must comply.
The best method that has been found so far is one where
you directly control the boundaries in which people think.
In this way they don't even know that they are being
oppressed, believing they act they way they do of their own
It creates a calm and conformist society, which we can’t
really break out from.
Culture industry prefers effects and style over
substance and content. That’s one of the reasons why
a films like ‘The Iron Man’ is such a huge hit.
Also, most of Salman Khan films are doing great
business despite being low in content.
Critics of the theory say that the products of mass
culture would not be popular if people did not enjoy
them, and that culture is self-determining in its
Adorno’s has been criticized for not drawing practical
conclusions from his theories.
Adorno is also accused of a lack of consistency in his
claims to be implementing Marxism. Whereas he
accepted the classical Marxist analysis of society
showing how one class exercises domination over
another, he deviated from Marx in his failure to use
dialectic as a method to propose ways to change.