Cosmetics' Advertising: Take a Contemporary Cultural Phenomenon and Discuss in Relation to Adorno and Horkheimer's Theories on Mass Culture and Entertainment.

Topics: Frankfurt School, Advertising, Dialectic of Enlightenment Pages: 8 (2086 words) Published: April 29, 2013
Q: Take a contemporary cultural phenomenon and discuss in relation to Adorno and Horkheimer's theories on mass culture and entertainment.


In today's fast-paced world, the society is in a constant state of flux, with personal and interpersonal contact being extruded in favour of mediated forms of communication. The mass media are fundamental for dissemination of both mass and popular culture, which, in the simplest terms, refers to the artifacts, entertainment, beliefs and values shared by the large social groups.

There are many theories and opinions on mass culture and its effect on the society, however, one of the most powerful theories has been developed by members of the ‘Frankfurt School’. The key members, German philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, established a critical social theory of the importance of mass culture in terms of social reproduction and its effect on society.

Adorno and Horkheimer argued that capitalism constantly lavishes society with products of a mass culture and as a result eliminates the independent and critical thought. They believed that the culture industry holds a control over society and manipulates the artistic expression. Furthermore, their critique of culture industry emphasized the role it plays in portrayal of contemporary society. In their view, mass culture acts as a significant agent of socialization and therefore affects the society on a massive scale.

This essay focuses specifically on the gender role in cosmetics advertising in relation to Adorno and Horkheimer's theories on mass culture and entertainment. It will study the way the gender stereotypes are used to manipulate the potential consumers and how they form and alter society’s opinions and general view of the world. Moreover, it will look on the role of commercialism and society’s consumption based on what is presented to them through advertising, examining cosmetics advertising sector in particular.


Mass culture often depicts the roles of men and women by following the same pattern. The representation of men and women in advertising sector is not an exception and is usually based on ideological views of the society at that time. Ideology in terms of mass culture refers to assumptions people make based on how media portray the objects, society's values, beliefs and customs and through these portrayals alter and shape society’s perception of the world. Ideology in advertising can be explained as “ideas contained in advertising that support and buttress the social order of a society based on mass production and consumption” (O’Barr 1994). This is often achieved through the use of stereotypes which is a term referring to the “generalizations, or assumptions, that people make about the characteristics of all members of a group, based on an image (often wrong) about what people in that group are like” ( 1998).

Adorno and Horkheimer (1979) argued that the cultural production of mass media was controlled by advertising and commercialism and served to manipulate the society into ‘submissive’ and passive consumers instead of producing informed public striving for creativity. As Adorno (1991, p.90) puts it “The power of culture industry’s ideology is such that conformity has replaced consciousness”. This is clearly transparent in the use of gender stereotypes in advertising.

Popular culture has been using the motto “sex sells” for decades, with advertising sector using the sex factor as one of its key strategies and gender stereotypes as a vital tool to achieve this goal. Advertising serves as an instrument of mass culture through which gender stereotypes are presented to public. Gender, being a culturally determined aspect, is closely linked with opinions and ideologies that the society associates with both sexes, it refers to the psychological traits and behaviours that are believed to be...
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