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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Horkheimer on the Culture Industry & False Consciousness

i)                    Introduction

ii)                   The Culture Industry & False Consciousness

iii)                 Conclusion

iv)                 Addendum: Yes; Horkheimer was a Jew!

“The paradise offered by the culture industry is the same old drudgery.― Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments

“The culture industry … is illusory.” - Theodor W. Adorno, D
“False consciousness”:

1. A Marxist theory that people are unable to see things, especially exploitation, oppression, and social relations, as they really are; the hypothesized inability of the human mind to develop a sophisticated awareness of how it is developed and shaped by circumstances.

2. Any belief or view that prevents a person from being able to understand the true nature of a situation. - From


Max Horkheimer (1895 – 1973) was a German philosopher and 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), "Between Philosophy and Social Science" (1930-1938) and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947).


The Culture Industry & False Consciousness

Max Horkheimer and - even more so - Theodore Adorno were unadulterated snobs. They were very snobbish about what they called “the culture industry” but also, because middle-class Marxists, about working-class culture generally. In fact, again like Marxists generally (even more so today), they didn’t like the working class in any way. That didn’t mean that they explicitly slagged them off, of course. (Many do that now, though.) Instead, as Marxists, they wanted to “educate” them, to change them, to “radicalise” them and possibly lead them in a revolution. After all, the “culture industry” is and was aimed mainly at the working class – at least that’s what Horkheimer and Adorno believed. (Adorno specifically loved his Holy Schoenberg and Mahler. He hated jazz and all “light entertainment”.)
Horkheimer and Adorno might have rationalised this snobbery in terms of the fact that the Culture Industry indulged in “mass manipulation”.  That is, it manipulated the minds of the working class, or, alternatively, the minds of non-Marxists. This is a variation on the Marxist theory of “false consciousness”. The working class, and others, suffer from false consciousness when they believe things that middle class people, or "capitalists", believe. Thus it is “false” because it works against their best interests. That is, the best interests as specified by Marxists like Horkheimer.
In fact it seems to have been the case the Horkheimer believed that there was a close relation between (Marxist) ideology and False Consciousness. Critical Theorists believed that one had True Consciousness, or the correct (Marxist) ideology, when you have made your False Consciousness “transparent”. Basically, when you came to realise that you do indeed suffer from False Consciousness. When that discovery is made, through Marxist “analysis”, you automatically achieve True Consciousness and thus a true (Marxist) ideology. True Marxist Consciousness takes down the “veils of perception”, as it were, and shows you reality in its brute nakedness – a place of class conflict, “mass deception”, the Culture Industry, “exploitation disguised as reality” and whatnot.
Now this false consciousness is largely implanted into the consciousnesses of the working class from that very same Culture Industry. In other words, the Culture Industry “brainwashes” the working class. Today, the Left often talks about the platonic Media (capital ‘M’) doing that very job on the working class – or only only on the non-Marxist ones. Thus if they have a view on the war in Iraq or unemployment that’s radically at odds with Marxists, these Marxist will conclude that they’ve been brainwashed by the Media. (This also happens in debates with Islamists and National Socialists – they too talk about “media brainwashing” and often in respect to the very same political/news subjects which Leftists talk about!)
The same with the Culture Industry in Horkheimer’s day. That industry brainwashed the poor and the working class into believing such outrageous things as capitalism not being the most uniquely and uncontestably evil that has ever happened to man. Perhaps they also believed that the Culture Industry convinced the German working class, and the working class outside Germany, that the Nazis weren’t a threat to civilisation. However, you must also consider the fact that Hollywood, amongst other mediums of “mass entertainment” or “light entertainment” so hated by Marxist snobs, caught on to the depravity and hatefulness of German Nazis often long before many Marxists. (Marxists, in the 1930s, were often too busy fighting between themselves or arguing that Nazis were just another variant of what was going on in England or even America.) Above all that, the Culture Industry in music, film, TV, etc. frequently told their listeners, viewers, etc. about the terrible nature of poverty and oppression. The problem was, for Horkheimer, that their insights and criticisms weren’t Marxist insights or criticisms. They didn’t have “an adequate grasp of theory”, in other words. Such Culture-Industry criticisms were not Marxist enough or indeed Marxist at all.
More specifically, the Culture Industry was seen to reinforce the power of the status quo – even the films, tunes and TV programmes which tackled poverty and other social issues… unless, of course, Horkheimer was taking specifically about Germany! The problem is that on these issues he never said he was specifically talking about the German Culture Industry. In fact, he wasn’t; as Horkheimer and others, such as Benjamin, had offered criticisms of American jazz, Hollywood and other such examples of non-German “light entertainment”.
In other words, in certain cases the Culture Industry probably did “enforce the status quo”… hang on a minute! What exactly does that mean anyway? How would “light entertainment” - or anything else - enforce the status quo? How does contemporary media and film do so? Did Horkheimer mean that the producers and writers of this stuff had an ideological mission - to enforce the status quo? I doubt that they did in most cases. And even if they did, they could have argued their case as to their support for the status quo. In addition, wasn’t it more the case that they simply reflected the status quo rather than endorsed it? Does reflecting or documenting the status quo mean that you are enforcing it? Not really. It could have meant that for certain producers or writers; but not for many. For example, if the writers of Coronation Street attempt to replicate contemporary reality (if that’s what they do), does that also mean that they are “reinforcing the status quo”? Even if we admit that the replication of contemporary reality in general terms does indeed include dramatic exaggeration and license - that still doesn’t mean that the writers and producers are setting out to enforce the status quo. In fact, Coronation Street is a bad example anyway because it often does attempt to influence and change the status quo; but not in such as blatant and agit-prop way as EastEnders. So whereas EastEnders attempts, in certain ways, to subvert or at least change the status quo, Coronation Street mainly replicates it (with drama and humour). But it certainly doesn’t reinforce the status quo or agitate on its behalf.
Horkheimer and other Critical Theorists said that the Culture Industry didn’t offer “the people” a means of transcending the status quo. That’s certainly not the case for EastEnders and even Coronations Street, as well as for much pop and rock music and loads of other examples of the Culture Industry. Was this true in Horkheimer’s day? Most certainly it wasn’t - even in 1930s Germany. However, I’m prepared to accept that there were fewer equivalents of EastEnders, etc. in those days than there are now.
Again, you can’t help but come to the conclusion that the main problem with the Culture Industry is not that it was/is accepts the status quo, or that it enforces it, but that even when it doesn’t do so, it doesn’t do so in the required Marxist and totalist/absolutist way that Horkheimer demanded. Likewise for contemporary Marxists. There is every ideology under the sun in the platonic Media, as well as the Internet, as well as programmes that advance the course of gays, Muslims and whatnot. But that’s not enough because all this has to be done in an explicitly Marxist and revolutionary way. Not only that. Like Horkheimer, contemporary Marxists will never be happy until the entire Culture Industry, or the Media, speaks from the same hymn sheet – the Marxist hymn sheet. 
Horkheimer, just like contemporary Marxists such as COUNTERFIRE, SWP-UAF, Searchlight, etc., had an intractable totalitarian mind-set that would not be assuaged until the whole of the Media, or the Culture Industry, or even society as a whole and the political system itself, was Marxist. (Indeed Horkheimer’s totalitarian mind-set, at least at first, was developed as means to fight and defeat the Nazi totalitarian mind-set!)



Both Adorno and Horkheimer were committed to what they called “the Enlightenment”. However, it was a specifically Marxist Enlightenment they were committed to (or simply their Marxist take on it). The general point was that the Enlightenment was under threat from the Culture Industry. More specifically, it was under threat from Hollywood and television. Or, to put it another (Marxist) way: 
The Enlightenment was under threat from “false consciousness”. 
The culture Industry achieved no less than “mass deception” or as mass case of false consciousness. The Culture Industry both betrayed and worked against the Enlightenment – albeit the Marxist Enlightenment. (This is strange because Marxist have traditionally been against the Enlightenment because it was seen as being no more than a “bourgeois phenomenon”; just as morality, justice, liberty, knowledge, etc. are “bourgeois phenomena”.)
The Culture Industry betrayed and worked against the Marxist Enlightenment because it didn’t further the ideal of Marxist freedom, Marxist radicalisation, and Marxist liberation. It worked, instead, for non-Marxist “enslavement” and “mass deception” – it both brought about and furthered False Consciousness.

Addendum: Yes; Horkheimer was a Jew!



For those National Socialists amongst who will be keen to point out the fact that both Horkheimer and Adorno were Jews. 
I would say their race is irrelevant. For a start, many Critical Theorists weren’t Jews. 
The fact is that Jews are often highly educated are so they’ve often risen to the top parts of society: be that music (Mendelsohn, Mahler, Schoenberg, Amy Winehouse), physics (Einstein, Mach, Neils Bohr), literature (Kafka) politics (Disraeli), comedy (Woody Allen, Sasha Baron Cohen, Bernard Manning) and, yes, philosophy/sociology (as with Horkheimer, Wittgenstein, A.J. Ayer, Putnam). This is a result of Jewish culture; not race. And the Jews can hardly be accused of being too successful and too assimilated – as they were by Hitler. Many Nazis also tell us that they aren’t assimilated enough. Nazis certainly have a problem with Muslims and others who don’t assimilate. 
So to Nazis, Jews are wrong to assimilate and wrong not to assimilate. This is no surprise because it’s blood that matters to Nazis.
Specifically with regards to politics. 
There are right-wing Jews (“neo-cons”, Republicans, right-wing “Zionists”, etc.); as well as left-wing Jews (Horkheimer, as well as left-wing Zionists). There are also many moderate Jews. But none of this matters because they are still Jeeeeeews.
Jews, because of their blood, can do no right; even if they are moderate. They certainly can’t do right if they are left-wing or when they are right-wing. 
A harmless Jew, or a moderate Jews, etc. is still a Jew. Because you cannot escape your blood, Nazis will not even need to debate their inconsistent views about “all Jews being Marxists” or “all Jews being right-wing Zionists” because whatever the situation is, they are still Jews. That’s racism for you – debate the issue it if you can, but it’s often pointless. 
For example, Nazis will say that there is a “science of race” and even one of racism. There isn’t. Or rather, the consensus is that Nazi racism is just scientifically wrong. But there are some (very few) Nazi “racial scientists”, as it were. (There are some bone fide scientists who have made various controversial claims about race; but not many – if any - of them are Nazis.) Nonetheless, the Nazis will say that I, or you, have been “brainwashed” by the Zionist Media; or that we have “false consciousness” when it comes to the reality of the Jews and race. Ha! Does all this sound familiar to you?

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