Two former students, both of whom studed Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment with me, have emailed me about this story in The New York Times. It's about a new Canadian documentary called The Corporation. I should say that I haven't seen the film.
The article makes interesting use of Horkheimer & Adorno's book. Here's the first paragraph:
In their 1944 work, ''Dialectic of Enlightenment,'' Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno advanced a theory on the far-reaching power of what they called ''the culture industry.'' This entity, encompassing all forms of mass culture, media and the businesses behind them, made up such a totalizing system that it was literally impossible to rebel against it. This complex not only anticipated the urge to revolt but would sell you something to satisfy it. (Che Guevara T-shirt, anyone?) It's a resoundingly depressing theory but an interesting one to recall, because anticorporate sentiment is lately prominent in pop culture.
The film is said to be the latest example of this anticorporate sentiment. It might be worthwhile, but I haven't yet heard from anyone who has seen it. If it comes to Dallas, then I could see it. My hometown is too small for the local theaters to feature a documentary.
Towards the end of the article there is some fulminating about the possibility of dissent within the confines of the culture industry. As far as I'm concerned, this wasn't one of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's major concerns. They were more worried about the transformation of autonomous art (as they labeled it) into a form of mere entertainment that is simply an extension of the working day. (That is, to fudge the theory a great deal, we amuse ourselves in the evening to rest up for the next day's labor.) Naturally, that change would have an effect on what people want to read and watch, and, presumably, the political content would usually be low or non-existent.
But since Horkheimer and Adorno never saw the primary purpose of autonomous art in a straightforwardly political light, the absence of dissent in the products of the culture industry isn't their main concern. Many of the greatest works of art have no obvious political content or ambition. Horkheimer and Adorno were well aware of that.
Anyway, I was glad to see discussion of their book turn up in a piece in the The New York Times. I'm currently talking with an editor about writing a monograph on Dialectic of Enlightenment. It's one of my favorite works in 20th century continental philosophy, and no one has ever tried to comment on the book from start to finish. I taught it numerous times over the years, and now I'd like to write something about it.
If you haven't seen Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels, then go out and find it. Once you see it, you'll understand why I brought it up in this paragraph, given the overall context of this post.
Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Jonathan Church and Ross Lerner for alerting me to the article in The New York Times.