Monday, November 8, 2010

The Culture Industry & French Subcultures

Asha Bell, Jonathan Deniol Rodriguez, Shanelle Sherlin

"The Culture Industry" Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer
The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception is an excerpt from the final chapter of critical theorists Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. The book is the cornerstone of critical theory and essentially claims that science is irrational and that the Enlightenment is a trick and nothing happened during that time period. Horkheimer is the founder of the Frankfurt school and coined the term “critical theory” to denote that he (and others in the school) weren’t strictly Marxists. Critical theory takes ideas about economic theory from Marx and neo-Marxists but critical theorists expand the ideas to include culture and politics; critical theory relates to Marx through the concept of labor.

In Horkheimer and Adorno “The Culture Industry” Horkheimer and Adorno move through all aspects of popular culture (from their time period)-radio, movies and music- applying the Marxist idea of alienation of labor to the condition of consumers in a post-Enlightenment capitalist society. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that since the Enlightenment popular culture has become a sort of factory, producing standardized cultural goods to manipulate the masses into passivity, which they term the “culture industry”("Culture Industry"). Horkheimer and Adorno viewed the mass-produced culture as a threat to true or “high” arts. They argue that the “culture industry” for all intents and purposes dumbs down the masses, homogenizes culture, deskills labor and creates false needs.

The role of capitalism is key, “the dependence of the most powerful broadcasting company on the electrical industry, or of the motion picture industry on the banks, is characteristic of the whole sphere, whose individual branches are themselves economically interwoven.” Horkheimer and Adorno claim that the media--advertisements, movies, radio broadcasts--are essentially propaganda used to maintain society’s state of false consciousness; these propaganda hide the reality of domination and oppression of the masses under capitalism.

"Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction" John Tomlinson
When thinking of cultural imperialism, our first thought is often that of a stronger nation imposing their ideologies on a weaker community, which tends to alter that community’s sense of identity and change what they believe to be ‘reality’. However, Tomlinson challenges theorists and everyday-viewing audiences to critically investigate whether these Westernized interventions truly can be considered cultural imperialism.
Tomlinson opens this chapter by providing examples of research done to see the effects of cultural imperialism on different societies. Ang’s study focused on the relationship between people’s pleasure in watching "Dallas" and their agreement with its underlying meanings. She claimed that the negative responses she recieved were because people “have internalised what they perceive as the ‘correct’ attitude towards mass-cultural imports” based on the ‘ideology of mass culture’ (47). One’s preconceived notions of another culture can have a large effect on how s/he understands a text, causing them to feel the need to justify their enjoyment of the show. Katz and Liebes found that even at a basic level, perspectives can be completely different when texts cross cultural boundaries because people bring in their own values to judge those of others. Although these studies prove that “audiences are more active, complex and critically aware in their readings than the theorists of media imperialism have assumed”, Tomlinson uses these to point out the difficulty of measuring audience responses because experimental situations are different than reality (57).

Media as a culture of representation is always connected to culture as a lived experience in this way through mediations. How we read a television show is based on our discursive interactions with others and whatever else is going on in our lives. But at the same time, what we think is ‘real’ often comes from representations we see in media. People use the media to construct a social knowledge by which they perceive the worlds of others and reconstruct their own lives. Our current idea of ‘reality’ is formed by our past experiences, which most likely include media since we’re currently living in a postmodernist world. Although media is seen as the center of all cultural processes, it merely serves as a function of change instead of overtaking all forms of communication. To conclude, Tomlinson believes that cultural imperialism as an “empirical question at the level of audience response to media texts may well be unanswerable” (55) because there are too many problems dealing with interpretation between different societies.

"Myth Today" by Roland Barthes
In Myth Today, Roland Barthes expands on Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept of semiotics, the study of signs. A sign is composed of two parts, a signifier and a signified. A signifier is a physical representation of something. It is a written word, sound, or image. A signified is the conceptual meaning the signifier evokes. The myth that Barthes talks about refers to the ideological values and beliefs expressed through connotations. Connotations are the second level of signification within the plane of myth. It is at this level where myth is produced. An ideology is a system of beliefs present in all cultures. Connotations thus appear to be natural. This is what Barthes means by myth being depoliticized speech.

A widely used example to showcase myth is that of the Paris match cover of a “young Negro in a French uniform saluting.” In the picture, there are multiple signifiers. The beret is a perfect example as it signifies France. The overall signification of the image is that of the myth of French Imperialism. The boy in the picture is not the symbol of French Imperialism, but due to all of the signifiers, it gathers validity as a representation of it.

"The Mediated 'Ummah' in Europe: The Islamic Influence in the Cultural Age" by Yasmin Ibrahim
Yasmin Ibrahim places claims that Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) play a large role in mediating the current state of the Ummah (the global Muslim community that is mediated and represented through modern technologies). To her, The Islam Channel and Al Jazeera Network (amongst others) are forms of media that have emerged to provide a counter discourse to the West’s interpretation of Muslims.

She sites Said’s concept of orientalism, the tendency of the west to fetishize and exoticize the East. The West’s representation of the Muslim world creates identity issues for the Ummah. According the Ibrahim, the mediated Ummah allows for a place of cultural identification amongst the Muslims of the world. The media becomes a tool for diasporic Muslims to meet and discuss the current state of Islam. The essay suggests that Muslims need to go back to Islamic writings and converse with their texts to better understand today’s world.

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