On popular music.
May 30, 2006 8:49 AM   Subscribe

"The theories and opinions of the German philosopher Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903-1969) on popular music and the culture industry are still highly influential in the domain of media studies. His thoughts about these subjects were very critical, pessimistic even. Adorno analysed the workings of the culture industry in terms of 'standardization' and used the concept of 'pseudo-individualization' to describe its effects on the listeners.
posted by j-urb (14 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, I was just about to look for some good links about Adorno. Thanks for the post!
posted by thethirdman at 9:32 AM on May 30, 2006

it's really amazing how applicable his ideas from decades ago apply to present day. smart guy.
posted by gnutron at 9:51 AM on May 30, 2006

His stuff on jazz in "The Culture Industry" doesn't really hold up, but pretty much everything else in that essay is spot on. And The Dialectic of Enlightenment has some of the most brilliant, insightful and poetic writing I've ever read.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 10:20 AM on May 30, 2006

Well, the jazz music he was discussing was the commercial form labelled "Jazz" around the time he was writing, i.e. Benny Goodman and "Big Band" music. See here for more detail...in that light it holds up a bit better.
posted by lovejones at 11:29 AM on May 30, 2006

Serious music, for comparative purposes, may be thus characterized: Every detail derives its musical sense from the concrete totality of the piece which, in turn, consists of the life relationship of the details and never of a mere enforcement of a musical scheme.

My Problem with most of Adorno is encapsulated in this quote, and what follows it. This Statement is taken a priori then he outlays an example of it in "Serious Music" -- another a priori term -- but then generalizes that a the whole of "popular music" -- ahem. -- cannot contain it. Effectively, his definition of Serious Music becomes a reaction to what popular music is not.
posted by Jeff_Larson at 1:47 PM on May 30, 2006

Heh. A little Adorno in the hands of a precocious undergrad can go a long way. Probably a little too far actually.

But when I hear people say that a given band or artist is being obtuse for the sake of being obtuse, I mention Adorno, becuase he has a great point--art that's too easy to "get" will quickly be commoditized, no matter what. I think it's similar to TS Eliot saying modern poetry has to be difficult. There really is a greater good, unless you're being put-on (enter pomo). Embrace confusion, friends.

He's also part of the reason I'll never live in California--I just love the mental image of him driving around LA, cursing the sun and the palm trees and the babes. To be a fly on his wall...
posted by bardic at 2:07 PM on May 30, 2006

I haven't been able to read the stuff linked extremely closely. Hoewver, my initial reaction is that although I cannot accept the totality of Adorno's argument(s), the guy's got a few zingers in there.

I particularly like the following two quotes:

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.

The universal criterion of merit is the amount of "conspicuous production", of blatant cash investment. The varying budgets in the culture industry do not bear the slightest relation to factual values, to the meaning of the products themselves.
posted by sparkletone at 2:28 PM on May 30, 2006

posted by Jeff_Larson at 2:31 PM on May 30, 2006

The sociological theory that the loss of the support of objectively established religion, the dissolution of the last remnants of precapitalism, together with technological and social differentiation or specialization, have led to cultural chaos is disproved every day; for culture now impresses the same stamp on everything.

I can't remember what it was called but there was a tv program about how freuds nephew got together with big business to figure out a psychology of how to control people through manipulating their desires etc , perhaps i may have imagined it.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:37 PM on May 30, 2006

oh aye .
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:40 PM on May 30, 2006

Negative Dialectics and Minima Moralia are available in their entirety at Marxists.org.
posted by xod at 4:30 PM on May 30, 2006

Thanks for this post.

the guy's got a few zingers in there.

He's fascinating at those moments when he really nails it, and his insights into mass culture and fascism are still relevant, but like Jeff_Larson noted above, his critiques could also be really overblown, like so much of the cultural criticism of the time. This post is gonna make me read more, though.
posted by mediareport at 7:19 PM on May 30, 2006

Adorno is wonderful
posted by Dogmilk at 8:53 PM on May 31, 2006

Adorable, no? Thanks for the links.
posted by safetyfork at 10:41 AM on June 1, 2006

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