Monday, June 23, 2008

Theodor Adorno, "The Schema of Mass Culture"

Though it may not seem like much, Adorno allows for some hope at the end of this essay. If one were so inclined, one might even take his conclusion as a profound faith in the agency of the individual and the individual's ability to effect real change in the world. There is, of course, a cynical skepticism there as well: people have the ability to prevent the nightmare, but they are the same people who brought about the possibility of the nightmare. Still, you take what you can get: No political systems or historical processes have made this fate inevitable; people made it and people can undo it.

"Participation in mass culture itself stands under the sign of terror. Enthusiasm not merely betrays an unconscious eagerness to read the commands from above but already reveals the fear of disobedience, of those unconventional desires from the suspicion of which the sex murderer who kills his own beloved passionately strives to cleanse himself. This anxiety, the ultimate lesson of the fascist era, is already harbored within the very medium of technological communication. Anyone who has not been wholly inured by the oppressive self-importance of big business is unnerved to receive a telegram. The mutilated language condensed to carry the maximum information combined with the urgency of delivery imparts the shock of immediate domination in the form of immediate horror. The fear of disaster which the telegram might announce is only a mantle for the fear of the omnipresent disasters that can overtake us at any time. Above all on the radio the authority of society standing behind every speaker immediately addresses its listeners unchallenged. If indeed the advances of technology largely determine the fate of society, the technicized forms of modern consciousness are also heralds of that fate. They transform culture into a total lie, but this untruth confesses the truth abut the socio-economic base with which it has now become identical. The neon signs which hang over our cities and outshine the natural light of the night with their own are comets presaging the natural disaster of society, its frozen death. Yet they do not come from the sky. They are controlled from earth. It depends upon human beings themselves whether they will extinguish these lights and awake from a nightmare which only threatens to become actual as long as men believe in it."

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