2. Critical Theory and the Critique of the 'Culture Industry' This lecture considers how the Critical Theorists of the Frankfurt School sought to understand the relationship of culture and society in an age of advanced capitalism and mass media. It explores their analyses of popular culture, and poses the question of whether the term 'culture industry' has now lost its original, critical meaning. Key thinkers: Marx, Gramsci, Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin
1.Has the mechanical reproduction of art opened up possibilities of a more democratic appreciation, or merely reduced it to the status of a commodity? 2.Has ‘the Culture Industry’ killed ‘High Culture’?
Walter Benjamin (1936)
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944)
The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception
article 1: Walter Benjamin (1936)
Reference: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” Keywords: Film, Aura, Capitalism, Fascism, Media Criticism, Fan Culture, Mass Communication One sentence summary:
This essay is important for understanding the intersections of art, technology, and politics under capitalism. One paragraph abstract:
Technology has allowed the mechanical reproduction of works of art that has changed art from ritual objects to objects for exhibition. This reproduction devalues the art because it has no aura. This change means that technology can put the reproduction in a situation where the original would never go—-so the Mona Lisa is now a postcard. People who would never have access to actually seeing the original can see it across the world (221). Film and photography have revolutionary potential that is squashed by capitalism and very dangerous in the hands of fascists. Unique Contributions to the Field:
Benjamin, a German Jew who fled his home wrote this in 1936. He was a friend of Adorno and Horkheimer’s and eventually immigrated to the USA before killing himself. It did not become wildly used until it was translated in 1968. His work is important because it analyses how art has changed under capitalism, how it is potentially revolutionary, and how it is potentially dangerous. AURA and Authenticity
Reproductions are lacking a “unique existence” (aura) in time and space (220). Reproductions don’t hold history in a material way like originals. When an original work of art changes hands—that history is recorded on/in the art and becomes part of it. So, if the Mona Lisa was owned by someone who damaged it—that damage becomes part of the original. Originals therefore have authenticity. The reproduction is always devalued—it is lacking in “aura”—“the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition” (221). So, a painting has aura, yet a photograph of it does not. Seeing the original art work often moves a person emotionally the way seeing a reproduction does not. Photography as a “revolutionary” means of reproduction happened simultaneously with the rise of socialism. Cult Value vs. Exhibition Value:
“Instead of being based on ritual,” Benjamin asserts the function of art “begins to be based on another practice—politics” (p. 224). Art changed with capitalism, it is no longer in the domain of the religious, the sacred—instead it is involved in political struggles of the time. So, photography documents the “scene of a crime” and “needs captions” – precisely because it is to be consumed by the masses motivated by politics. Think of the caption of a photograph and how that changes what you actually see/read in a photo—this is politically motivated. So, the same photo of military vets can read—“Local heroes support Obama” or “Vets turn out to...
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