Cultural Fascism and Adorno

While reading Adorno, I can’t help but think his work is completely applicable to today’s cultural situation. No matter what your media outlet is, you’re going to hear discussions about the same subject. According to Adorno’s theories, this is no surprise:

Under monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through. The people at the top are no longer so interested in concealing monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows. Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. They call themselves industries…

Let’s talk about the weekend box office. The top grossing film of the weekend was Riddick, which pulled in $18.7 million in ticket sales. Why was Riddick, a fun but ultimately necessary science fiction thriller, the top film? Because the studios didn’t give audiences a choice. By limiting the number of wide release films for a given weekend that one would actually want to see, the populace is forced into choosing the best of the worst, in a sense. People like going to the movies — it’s been well cemented as part of our cultural identity. Friday night is movie night, so we’re willing to endure long lines, crowded parking lots, and overpriced tickets for the mere experience of seeing a film, regardless of what’s playing. Hollywood knows that if it groups all of the less-than-great movies together and releases them at the same time, people will actually pay money (lots of it, apparently) to see even a movie that’s not great.

The only movie competing against Riddick this weekend was Lee Daniel’s The Butler, and . . . ugh. (Don’t we have enough movies out there designed to make white people feel good about helping black people?)

Hollywood ticket sales aside, the cultural fascism claimed by Adorno exists in every other media outlet as well. The evidence for this (as I see it) is in Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance.

Miley’s dancing wasn’t really news. I don’t think it mattered at all, especially once you look at the context. While the VMAs pull higher viewership than a lot of other MTV programs, they’re not ubiquitous. We’re not talking about the moon landing or 9/11 coverage, we’re talking about a completely banal, short-lived culture parade. Some people watch it, sure, but most don’t. (The fact that Bruno Mars, who feels sooooooooo 2012, was featured on the VMAs is proof it’s not generally on the cutting edge of relevance.)

Another important fact: music videos show much worse than Miley’s dancing, and those videos receive hundreds of millions of views (if not billions) every single day.

Given the unimportance of the VMAs and the non-uniqueness of Miley’s dancing, why are we talking about this?
As I was listening to a podcast over the weekend, I think I found my answer. One of the journalists at sends out a report every day of what the talking points need to be for every media outlet (this report replaces the role the New York Times used to play in determining which stories were covered nationally). Yes, the efforts of cultural fascists are highly coordinated and no accident. By reporting on the same topics, different media outlets then force t heir viewers not to choose them based on what’s being covered but on ideology. Adorno writes,

Something is provided for all so that none may escape; the distinctions are emphasized and extended. The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality, thus advancing the rule of complete quantification. Everybody must behave (as if spontaneously) in accordance with his previously determined and indexed level, and choose the category of mass product turned out for his type.

We’re not choosing the story, we’re choosing to listen to a media outlet that will report a story from the angle WE want. As an NPR listener, I was kind of appalled to even hear mention of Miley on one of their programs. But, of course, they put the NPR spin on it and looked at the issue in terms of whether it was racially offensive, offensive to women, or just offensive to good taste.

Why was this on NPR when I normally expect their network to report on much more important matters? Because it’s part of the culture machine which segments us into artificially delineated groups. I’d like to write more about how the US actually exports this fascism globally, but I think I’m out of space.

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