Theodor Adorno on the culture industry's mimetic regression


As part of our September student reading, we're publishing an excerpt from Theodor Adorno's beloved collection Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life every day until the end of the month.

All books are 40% off as part of our Student Reading Sale. Ends September 30 at 11:59PM EST. See all our student reading lists here.

Service to the customer 

The culture industry piously claims to be guided by its customers and to supply them with what they ask for. But while assiduously dismissing any thought of its own autonomy and proclaiming its victims its judges, it outdoes, in its veiled autocracy, all the excesses of autonomous art. The culture industry not so much adapts to the reactions of its customers as it counter­feits them. It drills them in their attitudes by behaving as if it were itself a customer. One might suspect that the whole ideal of adjust­ment which it also professes to obey, is ideology; that people aspire more to adapt to others and to the whole, the more they are intent, by exaggerated equality, the public oath of social impotence, on having a stake in power and so subverting equality. 'Music does the listening for the listener', and the film perpetrates on trust-scale the odious trick of grown-ups who, palming something off on children, belabour the recipients with the language it would suit them to hear from them, and present the usually dubious gift with the expressions of lip-smacking delight that they wish to elicit.

The culture industry is geared to mimetic regression, to the manipu­lation of repressed impulses to copy. Its method is to anticipate the spectator's imitation of itself, so making it appear as if the agree­ment already exists which it intends to create. It can do so all the better because in a stabilized system it can indeed count on such agreement, having rather to reiterate it ritualistically than actually to produce it. Its product is not a stimulus at all, but a model for reactions to non-existent stimuli. Hence in the picture-house the enthusiastic music-titles, the idiotic nursery-talk, the winking folk­siness; even the close-up of the start seems to shout: how super! With these techniques the cultural apparatus assails the spectator with the frontal force of the express-train coming towards him at the climax of cinematic tension. But the tone adopted by every film is that of the witch handing food to the child she wants to enchant or devour, while mumbling horribly: 'Lovely, lovely soup. How you're going to enjoy it!' In art this kitchen-fire witchcraft was invented by Wagner, whose linguistic intimacies and musical spices are forever tasting themselves, and he also, with a genius's compulsion to confess, laid bare the whole process in the scene of the 'Ring' where Mime offers Siegfried the poisoned potion. But who is to strike off the monster's head, now that it has itself lain long, with its fair locks, under the linden tree?


All books are 40% off as part of our Student Reading Sale. Ends September 30 at 11:59PM EST. See all our student reading lists here

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