The Web Of the Culture Industry
The Web Of the Culture Industry
  • Park Sang-jun Professor
  • 승인 2017.12.06 00:56
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What are we doing during our free time? Most of us are watching TV or playing with a mobile phone, which makes it possible to play games, listen to music or communicate with anyone, anywhere and anytime. There are even more options on weekends or holidays. We may go to a movie, go fishing or mountain climbing or travel either at home or abroad. Except for a select minority, the majority of people spend their free time like this in these days. This is the culture of the present day.
Let's think of the common feature of the aforementioned activities - because therein lies the main point. All of the things that we partake in have been preconstructed for us. In the case of watching TV or going to the movie theatre this preselection is apparent, and the popular songs and music that we love are offered to the present fashion. Even tours are assembled from a selection of the multiple options which are scheduled and displayed by travel companies and transportation or airline companies. SNS communication is also guided and induced by secret algorithms, which work on a certain platforms constructed by multinational corporations.
It is not hard to discover the essence and meaning of these phenomena. Our cultural life is nothing but consumption behavior, comprised of choices from the cultural products of the culture industry. Though we still call it cultural life, our cultural behavior is not cultural for there is little room for one's own initiative or creativity. This is the most significant feature of our cultural life in modern times. Figuratively speaking, our cultural behavior is like the movement of chess pieces on the chessboard that has been specifically designed by the culture industry. It is an illusion to think that we are enjoying a cultural life in the literal sense of the word.
Mass culture, or the cultural life that we share commonly, is directed by the profit pursuit strategy of the culture industry. As a result of this strategy, two features are marked. One is a coarseness, which is the necessary result of the culture industry trying to enlarge the population of consumer for the purpose of maximizing it's profit. Taking no account of individual differences or culture quality, the culture industry necessarily focuses on the more vulgar tastes of the masses such as romance, sex, violence, conspiracy and so on.
Of course, the current culture industry doesn't do this plainly. In fact there are a number of insidious wiles. Culture industry gives an illusion of subjectivity by highlighting the mechanism of choice while simultaneously hiding the fact that other choice alternatives are limited. When we become early-adopters or follow the latest fashions, we are in the culture industry's claw. As Jean Baudrillard says, the paradoxical characteristics of our present culture are 'recyclage', which indicate the spontaneous inclination of people to adapt themselves to the new products made by the culture industry. As a result, there occurs the illusion of being a subject in the market of cultural contents. This is the second feature of our present culture.
This overview reminds us of the pessimistic diagnoses of Horkheimer and Adorno, the authors of The Dialectics of Enlightenment. According to them, it seems impossible to escape from the web of the culture industry.
To overcome the gloomy perspective and restore a proper cultural life, two attitudes are needed. First, we ought to pay attention to communication with others whom we meet during cultural activities, instead of remaining as isolated consumers who face the products of the culture industry alone. At the same time, we should exert ourselves to preserve our individuality so that there can be abundant differences in our cultural lives. A desirable culture might be achieved when diverse human natures can be in full bloom.