Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Culture Industry

As Drew said in his presentation this week, "The Culture Industry" is a highly critical article and takes a very pessimistic perspective on American culture. The authors undoubtedly have reason to be concerned about the effects of US capitalist style production on culture and society. Taking such a strict view on American culture is narrow-minded and makes them out to be elitist. Furthermore, when they describe that High Culture is the only worthy form of culture, they seem even more elitist and I think they are wrong. Nevertheless, the article is thought provoking and encourages readers who are immersed in US capitalism to critically examine the media that surrounds them.

There are a couple of concepts that really stand out in the article. The first is the idea that mass culture is identical, and the second is pseudo-individualization. I see how both of these apply to American culture, but it is not as extreme as the article describes. To me, most of the blockbuster movies are all the same: all the love stories, comedies, and horror movies that are released to the big screen to make big bucks tend to follow a certain predictable formula. Also, I think advertising tends to spin every product as if it is new and unique, when 30 other products just like it are already on the market. Ads that are targeted to particular demographics speak to consumers in a way that makes them believe they will be unique if they purchase the product. It is true that products continuously make false promises, but I think it is only true to a certain degree that consumers do not have a choice in what they buy.

Although I might not have a choice about what stores are in a mall, or what clothes are in a store - I do make an active choice when I purchase something. When I want to buy something particularly unique, I will shop at a small boutique, or an online store. Some people even shop at thrift stores to find vintage items. For some people style is art, so careful thought goes into everything they buy. Consumers can choose a style, make their own style, or adapt a style. In this way, I don't believe people are as mindless and lost as they're portrayed to be in the article. To say that people are no longer unique individuals is a little ridiculous - especially when there are many students like us who study the media and who are very aware of the effects of capitalist society on everyday life. Even this awareness alone makes us capable of making careful, active choices in our tastes.

Also, there are constantly artists who push the boundaries of mainstream media. Whether it`s music, fashion, film, or art - all of these domains involve creativity and thinking outside the box. If an artist really wants to stand out, he/she must do something different. Creativity, in my opinion, is something our culture values and recognizes. In this way, we are not all victims of pre-chosen products and ideas because we understand when we are following the mainstream and when we are not; we make active choices depending on our personal style and values.

While "The Culture Industry" proposes that capitalist culture is making it hard to distinguish between real life and the movies, Baudrillard proposes that we are now living in a hyperreality, where the medium is completely blurred... In Baudrillard's article, we are presented with the death of the real, or hyperreality.

Considering how the TV guide is saturated with reality shows, it is interesting to explore the concept of hyperreality. I don't understand it that well, but I don't think we are all living in a hyperreality yet. I think some people are - those people who are in reality shows, and those people who live in the media. TV personalities and celebrities, are constantly being watched. I'm sure surveillance is engrained in them - every move they make, every relationship decision can be documented and may or may not destroy their career. For them, there is no boundary between real life and the media (surveillance). For regular folk, I think there still is a boundary - however, it is blurring increasingly everyday. The more information we share online, the more the boundary blurs between our private and public lives. But, the death of the real is not here yet.

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