Cultural Industries: Culture in a Cup

What are cultural industries? According to Hesmondhalgh’s texts cultural industries are defined as those which have “leisure, information, entertainment, media, and creativity” as their primary outputs. Others might refer to the cultural industries as simply “entertainment and the arts”.

What is missing in referring to the cultural industries is the required awareness of the impact such industries have people. Members of The Frankfurt School (Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse) warned about the difference between true needs and false needs. But of what concern are these to us?

Well, what might be overlooked in this definition of “cultural industries”, as alluded to above, are the forces behind such industries, their goals and politics, as well as the messages and impact delivered. The cultural industries help drive the economy, shape the classes and homogenize community. Hence, The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology defines cultural industries as a “term usually used to designate those organizations that produce popular culture, i.e. television, radio, books, popular music and films. It is also used more widely to include all cultural organizations. According to the Frankfurt School, the culture industries serve an ideological function, ensuring capitalist hegemony, providing a bland and undemanding popular culture.” [Emphasis mine]

Interestingly, Jose Ortega y Gassett in his The Revolt Of The Masses notes that “The total effect of the culture industry is one of anti-enlightenment, in which, as Horkheimer and I have noted, enlightenment, that is the progressive technical domination of nature, becomes mass deception and is turned into a means for fettering consciousness. It impedes the development of autonomous, independent individuals who judge and decide consciously for themselves.”

Why would anyone want to create such a bland and uninformed population? Here we return to the concept of mass media, and why anyone would be concerned with creating mass media conglomerations. It’s all about power. Those who control cultural production there wield great power as it is noted that “democratic processes are increasingly run via the broadcast and press media”. Thereby Hesmondhalgh raises the concern that “we need to rethink how the massive presence of entertainment in people’s everyday lives affects not only our notions of how democracy works, but also how we think about other aspects of human life, including ourselves as feeling, emotional, pleasure-seeking beings.”

In conclusion, cultural industries are the production of goods and services which are made both to please consumers and to shape their desires. Cultural industries mass produce pop culture for pop culture creating a mass society of consumers guided by its hand. In looking at the brief definition stated in our thesis question we overlook the power behind these industries and the means which they serve to dominate, control and homogenize the society in which it serves. In a society that is force fed culture it begs the question, if you are what you eat, what are you eating?


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