Een raadselachtige bereidheid

Lees en begrijp.
(U gaat het niet lezen, ik weet het. De gemarkeerde delen zijn voor de mensen die het –om wat voor reden ook– niet lezen, maar toch een beetje nieuwsgierig zijn.)

Wat vooraf ging: mensen migreren van de buiten naar de stad, en komen terecht in city housing projects (vergelijkbaar met pakweg het AGSOB).

Yet the city housing projects designed to perpetuate the individual as a supposedly independent unit in a small hygienic dwelling make him all the more subservient to his adversary – the absolute power of capitalism. Because the inhabitants, as producers and as consumers, are drawn into the center in search of work and pleasure, all the living units crystallise into well-organised complexes. The striking unity of microcosm and macrocosm presents men with a model of their culture: the false identity of the general and the particular. Under monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through. The people at the top are no longer so interested in concealing monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows. 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. They call themselves industries; and when their directors’ incomes are published, any doubt about the social utility of the finished products is removed.

Interested parties explain the culture industry in technological terms. It is alleged that because millions participate in it, certain reproduction processes are necessary that inevitably require identical needs in innumerable places to be satisfied with identical goods. The technical contrast between the few production centers and the large number of widely dispersed consumption points is said to demand organisation and planning by management. Furthermore, it is claimed that standards were based in the first place on consumers’ needs, and for that reason were accepted with so little resistance. The result is the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows ever stronger. No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest. A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself. Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong which it furthered. It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardisation and mass production, sacrificing whatever involved a distinction between the logic of the work and that of the social system.

This is the result not of a law of movement in technology as such but of its function in today’s economy. The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness. The step from the telephone to the radio has clearly distinguished the roles. The former still allowed the subscriber to play the role of subject, and was liberal. The latter is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same. No machinery of rejoinder has been devised, and private broadcasters are denied any freedom. They are confined to the apocryphal field of the “amateur,” and also have to accept organisation from above.

But any trace of spontaneity from the public in official broadcasting is controlled and absorbed by talent scouts, studio competitions and official programs of every kind selected by professionals. Talented performers belong to the industry long before it displays them; otherwise they would not be so eager to fit in. The attitude of the public, which ostensibly and actually favours the system of the culture industry, is a part of the system and not an excuse for it. If one branch of art follows the same formula as one with a very different medium and content; if the dramatic intrigue of broadcast soap operas becomes no more than useful material for showing how to master technical problems at both ends of the scale of musical experience – real jazz or a cheap imitation; or if a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely “adapted” for a film sound-track in the same way as a Tolstoy novel is garbled in a film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air.

Brrr. Adorno en Horkheimer waarschuwden ons reeds in 1944 in hun boek Dialektik der Aufklärung (De dialectiek van de Verlichting) voor de “raadselachtige bereidheid van de technologisch opgevoede massa”. Het citaat komt uit het begin het hoofdstuk The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, en is, zoals u ongetwijfeld zelf hebt bedacht, verrassend toepasbaar op de huidige maatschappij.

Met gerede waarschijnlijkheid heb ik dat allemaal –beknopt– ingelepeld gekregen tijdens mijn universiteitsjaren, maar ik ben die kennis helemaal kwijt gespeeld. Misschien moet ik maar opnieuw gaan studeren.

Nog gauw wat achtergrondinfo: Division of labour & Marx’s theory of alienation; The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction van Walter Benjamin; het concept van conspicuous consumption door Thorstein Veblen.