# 308: Putting Culture into Words

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno (1944/2007). “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception: 41–72. In: Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Ed. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, 45.

Story behind the Passage

To clarify this straight away: Today I am actually dealing with “culture” not in the sense of “languge, habits, norms, etc.” but in the sense of cultural production — i.e., the things you look at in the museum or listen to at concerts. The other term, which I normally use for this, is art — I guess. The trouble with defining the concept of “culture” already reveals my topic of today. It is the trouble of giving things names that already have names in the minds of people. That is the case with (almost) anything, of course, but I want to talk about culture because I myself am only slowly grasping the full meaning of the term and its significance. Significance, just like anything else in the world, is always subjective. But I think, the problem is not just mine. The problem would not have to be a problem if we were able to get back to the thing itself, rather than to the things surrounding it and making it possible to a certain extent.

The impulse for writing and thinking about this came yesterday in a conversation about local cultural events. At a certain point, when we were talking about attracting different audiences to mini concerts in the neighborhood, I said something like: “Concerts, exhibition, … — I am struggling with these terms. If I were a kid in this neighborhood here, I would not go to anything that sounds like this. It sounds like wasting your time among boring, rich, and old people.” My conversation partner, a passionate musician, who somewhat falls into the category of the mentioned terms (at least stereotypically), paused for a second and took a deep breath. Then I explained: “I want the kids and everyone else to experience the things behind the names. Instead of “concert and boring people,” I want them to think “guitar and piano” or “painting” instead of “museum.” I want them to love the thing itself. Then they can bear the surroundings, the people, and maybe even get curious about them.”

To make it even clearer: you do not have to love the people if you love “culture.”

Having said that, I started wondering about how it can be that institutions, more or less, have such a power to oblique and somewhat discredit the very things — the artefacts and topics — they were created for. Or, to be more precise, which actually caused their creation? How can it be that people do not go to church anymore because they hate the church, not necessarily God? How can it be that people do not go to university anymore, not because they hate learning but because they hate the structures and processes there? How can it be that someone like me who loves writing and books hardly ever attends some literature event or other “cultural” experience?

The answer is clear: The people.

Yes, it sounds harsh, but it is true, right? And here I need to make a clear expalanation, of course. I am not talking about the people themselves. We are all the same. But certain surroundings make people behave in certain way. They are not “themselves” anymore. They act like zombies or extreme assholes or almost :::deads just because they are wearing a fancy suit, a dress, and sitting in some convert hall. They also smile fake smiles and talk smalltalk bullshit. My solution or rather response has become the following: I do not wear anything special, I come the last minute, I leave early, I do not talk to anyone, I wave and smile true smiles from the distance to people I want to express true appreciation to.

Hm, maybe I am attending the wrong events if I go at all?

But I go for the things themselves.

Is that culture?

My Learnings

“The familiar experience of the moviegoer, who perceives the street outside as a continuation of the film he has just left, because the film seeks strictly to reproduce the world of everyday perception, has become the guideline of production.” Actually, I reread that article just today and the only thing in relation to my thoughts above are completely counter to Horkheimer and Adorno. Yes, you might say that these insitutions and the industry itself stirs and covers “reality” in a way. That might be said about today even more than when they wrote this. But the point is: They are actually talking about the products themselves, not the disturbing institutional circumstances. And that is a positive thing alongside what I wrote aboe. If I am completely absorbed by a movies and that movie continues shaping my view for ht eworld for a while, is that not so powerful? Is that not the maximum that “art” can do?

Yes, you might argue, this can be harmful but you can only say so if you think you know what the world really looks like. As should be clear by now, I do not think that is a good idea. Instead, we have to invent names for things to make it explicable how we see the world, which is always erroneous in some way. This is also why it is quite overwhelming if culture, i.e., the things the cultural industry is selling/showing/playing, has such a powerful effect on you that it changes your vision of the world. Imagine, this is really what education and religion alike want to achieve and often fail to do. If culture achieves it — brilliant!

This also explains why I find it so disturbing if words prevent people from exploring the real things behind the words. The conversation yesterday actually made me feel that I might be able to change or somewhat influence that a little bit. If I can bring things together on paper that do not belong together, if I bring people together in real life who might not meet otherwise, why should I not get people to meet culture? After all, I think, that will not surprise you, it is all a matter of experience and information. The experience flashes you and makes you ask questions. The information will make you attached to it and open up another worldview.

That worldview does not NEED a name.

It will just be there as yours.

Enrich your life.

No need to explain it to people.

No reason to call yourself anything.

Just enjoy.

Reflection Questions

1) How do you think about the influence of the culture industry on your perception of the world?

2) Do you share the argument that the circumstances of cultural production (e.g., music, dance, drama) can prevent people from falling in love with art itself? Why/not?

3) What is your favorite art form?

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