Getting to Know the Culture Industry

benton_hollywood.jpg
Thomas Hart Benton, “Hollywood” (1937-1938). Image Credit: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

A couple years ago in graduate school at the University of Maryland, I took a course on history and contemporary theory. It was pretty much a combination of philosophy, historical theory, and historiography. A difficult class, but I certainly learned a lot.

One of the projects in the class, as I can remember it, was to design a lecture for undergraduate students about one aspect of historical theory and create an accompanying book list for reading. Given my interest in popular culture and business history, I decided to write about the “Culture Industry” a theory that came from Frankfurt School historians/theorists in the mid 20th century (see also my blog post on War of the Worlds for more on this theory). I wasn’t able to give this lecture to an actual group of students, but I did film it and posted it on Youtube. If you’d like to see the lecture, click here.

A few people commented on the video saying that they’d like to see the slides, so here is a link to my power point: The Culture Industry_presentation.

If you’re interested in learning more, this is my recommended Culture Industry reading list, complete with a variety of primary and secondary sources that explore the commodification of leisure and entertainment from a variety of angles:

Essential Reading:

The Mass Ornament (1927)- Siegfried Kracauer (Published in The Wiemar Essays, 1995)

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)- Walter Benjamin

The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947)- Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno

Mass Communication, Popular Taste and Organized Social Action (1948)- Robert Merton and Paul Lazersfeldt

Free Time (1969)- Theodor Adorno

Suggested Reading:

Estranged Labor (1844)- Karl Marx

Radio: An Art of Sound (1936)- Rudolph Arnheim

Babel and Babylon (1994)- Miriam Hansen

Prosthetic Memory (2004)- Alison Landsberg

Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 (2007)- Wolfgang Schivelbusch

Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism) (2011)- Miriam Hansen

Sources for Further Exploration:

Film:

Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902)

All’s Fair at the Fair (1936)

Modern Times (1936)

Blade Runner (1982)

Radio:

War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast by Orson Welles (1938)

Advertising:

“True Loveliness Demands…”- Palmolive (1942)

“Often a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride!”- Listerine (1956)

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Author: tstump11

Professional historian and archivist who likes writings about history kinds of things.

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