Getting to Know the Culture Industry

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 talk 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 post it on Youtube.

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:


Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show (1902)

All’s Fair at the Fair (1936)

Modern Times (1936)

Blade Runner (1982)


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


“True Loveliness Demands…”- Palmolive (1942)

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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: