When it all started
It was a standard Sunday morning, half asleep, 2 coffees deep, and barely conscious enough to hold my own phone. I was scrolling on my Instagram feed on Instagram reels (yes I think I'm cool because I don't use Tik Tok). While endlessly scrolling through my social feed I noticed that everything started feeling the same. All the content involved recycled dance moves and skits that follow similar plotlines and tropes. And it just hit me, why are we consuming this content without objection? Ultimately it took me back to my final year of undergrad of University, where I read a lifechanging article regarding the culture industry.
Adorno and Herkimer
The article was by Adorno and Herkimer, two German theorists who were known for teaching Critical Theory at the Frankfurt school, famously known for spreading Neo-Marxist beliefs in hopes of building a social revolution in Germany. Now this post isn't about the Frankfurt school or fascism, but how the ideas proposed by Adorno and Horkheimer on the culture industry changed my outlook on life, specifically with how people consume media and engage in capitalist pursuits unknowingly. In this article. First, I will give an overview of the Culture industry and its significance on modern society.
TWhat is the Culture Industry?heCulture Industry
The culture industry, derived from "mass culture" essentially is a culture that arises from the form of contemporary popularized art. It combines the old and familiar into a new form. The new form of art is then presented to masses below where it is unconsciously consumed. As a result, it is difficult to differentiate unique and serious forms of art from the various imitations.
The culture industry extends the idea that art isn't original any more. This idea is commonly used in Hollywood films, where instead of taking risks and creating something new, creators would depend upon models that are already successful. If the other model was successful then why not create something that the masses will like. The process of replication led to creating pieces of art across every industry where popular representations served as the blueprint for successful pieces of art. In art original pieces were repurposed by other artists, sometimes forgetting to credit the original artist in the process. Movies that were box office hits would compile lackluster sequels, knowing it would sell entirely off the name of the pervious installment. Music artists soundbite other music artists or resample popular songs. Essentially, the culture industry has become intwined into the public sphere, affecting how we unconsciously consume and interact within society. Some people know about the concepts of the culture industry, but how can you ignore something that surrounds you?
After a long and life altering week of class, I came home and attempted to put the pieces together in the world where everyone followed the path of sameness over unfitness. After those grueling hours I put my thoughts to rest and decided to watch a movie with my roommates. We decided to watch They Live, an action sci-fi movie starring Roddy Piper and Keith David. The movie follows a man that can see the real world unknown to humanity with special sunglasses. The concept was Enthralling until the character puts the pair of sunglasses on.
George finds the pair of sunglasses inside of an abandoned house, now why would something so powerful be hidden away from everyone else? George immediately put the glasses on and noticed signs and advertisements all phrased "Consume" or "Buy". Aliens were everywhere too, disguised as Humans to ensure that humanity was buying into the lifestyle their were promoting. The message hit me very clear, Once you see it you cannot unsee it. Before seeing it it is something that you cannot fathom, something truly surreal. Unsettled by his surroundings, George decides to take action and expose the real world to the public. I wont spoil the rest of the film, but I definitely suggest you watch it. John Carpenter really made a film ahead of its time.
What's the connection?
The connection with They Live's dark depiction of consumerism and the culture industry is the fact that products and lifestyles are consumed by the mass public, unknowingly and without objection. Within modern society, popularity sells, impacting our daily interactions whether we like it or not. For example, I don't watch the Kardashians on television nor am I interested in their lifestyles, but Kardashian related content can be found easily across social media and the internet. Kanye West's sneaker empire crashed just as fast as it rose to prominence. Essentially content is pushed to the public and discussion is sparked, leading those even uninterested in the topic to form an opinion. That opinion can spread to other individuals, giving them the option to accept or reject your opinion. Moving back to the culture industry, we become comfortable with similar plotlines, narratives, and character representations to the point where something different isn't attractive. Think of A list actors for example, a significant number of actors are typecast to a specific role over their career. I despise being repurposed the same content and I'm here to change the narrative. Once you see it it's impossible to unsee it, but its ultimately how you respond to it. Will you turn a blind eye to it or press for change? I am embracing my sunglasses and do not intend to look away.