Adorno, Horkheimer, Andy Cohen, and Gordon Ramsay

by - Thursday, February 24, 2011

This last week, for I think the forth time in grad school, we read Adorno and Horkheimer's "The Culture Industry." This time, it is for my class "Aesthetic and the Public Sphere," which has essentially been a reading list of German guys lamenting how all the poor people are getting into the public sphere. Adorno, of course, is the king of this sort of super elitist rhetoric (though Clement Greenberg shares a very similar sentiment in my mind). Essentially, they argue that the culture industry has turned culture into a product that is satisfying for only a short amount of time, therefore continually perpetuating the need for product. Simultaneously, the producers try to make product that will satiate the widest number of consumers, essentially pandering to the stupid people (with realism especially- product that is a fantasy tied closely to consumer's everyday life), creating a serious threat to the more worthy high culture.

I absolutely hate this text, if you hadn't guessed. Not only do I hate hearing about Adorno, but I hate that one guy in every seminar, usually dressed in 70's-esque tight pants carrying their hardcover version, who has to note how wildly prophetic Adorno was (of course ignoring that on some aspects he is just downright wrong- hello jazz example).

Everytime I read this, or Greenberg, or anyone who is worrying that the common people will come and stink up their fanciness, I feel totally compelled to go consume the guiltiest cultural pleasure I can find- usually, this involves a yelling British man, food shows, or anything "Real Housewives." I don't just do this to be needlessly defiant, or to try to connect to my roots in a place where people pride themselves on their pedigree, but because I feel reality television is good for my soul.

This isn't to say that I don't think everyone might benefit from knowing about fine artists or the political implications of their consumption; I could write about a thousand blogs on the studios, musicians, magazines, and types of films I cannot support because of their politics. On the other hand, I think there are a lot of things made for television or popular radio which is just damn good. And which can feel like a welcome respite from the world. I also think there is something absolutely despicable about judging a person based on their "base" or "mass produced" cultural practices.

In a world that is overflowing with people, none of us can be effectively defined or distinguished by a quick gloss. It seems to me that it is the multiplicity (often built of contradictions and divided interests) within each individual that makes them so interesting. I don't apply this solely to cultural consumption, but I am suspicious of people who are trying to use their cultural investment to create a coherent whole. I am suspicious of peers who are so committed to their German curmudgeons that they could never lower themselves to have a television or go see a movie made after 75. If you can so neatly package yourself into a totality, what have you left out? In that way, I think even the "lowest" of mass culture interests can be a beautiful complement to other sets of personality traits. These are some of my favorite things about the people I love.

Even if things seem to adhere to mass produced narratives or style, there can still be really beautiful moments within it. I totally believe this, and though money and pedigree creates a lot of avenues for cultural production, there are other ways to create, and they can be inspired by low and high cultural products. I mean, even poking around on etsy, going to a community theater production, or browsing photographer's flickers, you can see how people are inspired by anything from pac man to pitbull to the beauty of Ice-t on SVU. I recognize my appreciation of this comes from my own historical moment, being raised in a post-modern world, but i think humans are bricoleurs because we too are made of many parts. I would never want to only consume what Adorno prescribes; I am relatively sure that my brain would explode. So, I refuse to be embarrassed by my bizarre pile of loves, and I don't think anyone else should be either (and you know that guy who loves Adorno probably has a porn addiction or secretly loves Britney Spears or something); Screw Adorno, give me Gordon any day.

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