Last week, in the Public Texts core course, we discussed deception and manipulation in mass culture. Horkheimer and Adorno, in their essay on “The Culture Industry” critique mass culture because, they claim, it discourages the mass audience to think critically. Instead, audiences are deceived into passively accepting standardized forms of mass culture that reinforce the structure of established society, all the while being deluded that they are thinking as they consume this mass media. As a result, the culture industry controls the thoughts and the feelings of these audiences, through the use of mass culture, against their will.
Deluze and Guattari in their essay “A Materialist Psychiatry,” on the other hand, argue that the masses are not deceived when they submit to the control of the culture industry, but actually desire to give up their freedom. They claim that this is the reason fascism was extraordinarily successful in the 1930’s: the Nazis were able to feed this desire and allowed the masses to hand off “critical thinking” to the authorities. In these authors’ view, the masses truly want to be controlled by the culture industry and submit to standardization.
In class, we discussed if it’s even possible to want to be slaves to the culture industry, and, if we do, why?
Being that it is almost April, I couldn’t help thinking about the Jewish holiday that is coming up in the next few weeks: Passover. This time of year, Jewish people all around the world are cleaning all the bread products out of their houses to commemorate the Jew’s preparation for the trek to freedom from slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago
So, how do Deluze and Guattari’s theories relate to the Passover festival, you might ask? Well, I’ll tell you!
It is said that the Jews became enslaved because the Ancient Egyptians kept them so busy with work, that they didn’t have a moment to think about what was happening to them! And once they were established slaves, it was difficult for them to conceptualize freedom – freedom to serve G-d the way their hearts truly wanted. Many of the Jews during time actually opted to stay enslaved, while the others left to experience freedom.
Therefore, I think both sets of authors make valid arguments about the nature of the human consciousness. On the basic level, enslavement is easy: it’s safe, you know who you are, what you’re doing, and you never have to think for yourself. Naturally, this kind of “standardization” of life is quite attractive, as Deluze and Guattari argue.
At the same time, Horkheimer and Adorno make a good point: in our true essence, we want to be free and think critically about the world. We want to be apart of something bigger than ourselves and find true meaning, instead of passively accepting whatever the culture industry expects us to consume. It’s harder, but it’s much more rewarding in the end.
So what do you think? Does our adherence to mass culture reflect our desire to be enslaved or our failure to notice we are being deceived? Share your thoughts below…and Happy Passover!