School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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The Frankfurt School

 

"The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises...The culture industry does not sublimate: it represses" (Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1947)

"To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric" (Prisms, 1967)


Let's start on a happy note, shall we? Strange that while Antonio Gramsci was scribbling away in gaol under Mussolini's fascist dictatorship he produced work which was subtly in touch with the possibilities of popular culture. In contrast, Theodor Adorno, the leading light of the Frankfurt School, having escaped Hitler's Germany for what one would think were the more tolerant and forgiving climes of California and Los Angeles went all to pot. He perceived mass culture as an individuality draining, art devaluing, machine, turning us all into sheep like worshippers at the altar of Hollywood and the consumer society. I am parodying of course, but it has always been a mystery why all that laid back Californian vibe seemed to set Adorno off in such a tizz. Then again, looking at the Spice Girls, manufactured pop created solely as a market led money making device, one can see the point. Furthermore, the classic Marxist strandpoint on this, that the capitalist culture industry takes on board rebellious art and defuses it, turns it into a product in the service of capitalism, might be borne out by the appearance of aging anarchist-punks Chumbawamba at the record industry's annual corporate backslapper, the Brit Awards. Or maybe they are subverting the system from within? At least the Spice Girls don't pretend to be anything other than a money generating machince

More seriously, 'high' culture (which usually means whatever the upper classes like) is always presented by the powerful within society as a repository of moral values. The experience of the Nazi dictatorship - run by men who prided themselves on their appreciation of the fine arts - showed how there was nothing inherently 'humane and universal' in the work of Wagner or Goethe. Concentration camp commandants had orchestras play highbrow classical music whilst they supervised the murder of their victims. Anthropologists were directly involved in identifying Jews and Gypsies for transportation to the camps. Doctors carried out murderous medical experiments on them. The Frankfurt School were one of the few sociological schools of thought to seriously take on board what the Holocaust represented. It gave us new knowledge of what human beings are capable of, in the light of which our unspoken assumptions of the value of science or high culture are going to look very hollow indeed.



General Eric Fromm
Critical Theory Today (External Link) Fromm, Feminism And The Frankfurt School (External Link)
   
Jurgen Habermas Herbert Marcuse
Theories Of Legitimation Crisis (External Link) Biography (External Link)


These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010