Favorite Reads of 2010: The Culture Industry by Theodor Adorno

All my favorite reads of 2010 collected here.

This is essentially Adorno’s best essays on what he termed “the culture industry”—how capitalistic society creates and sells popular entertainment and lifestyles to pretty much every single person within its purview. These essays originally defined the term “the culture industry,” and they are still very important today. Adorno’s overarching argument here is that the culture industry is out to colonize every last second of your culture and your “free time” in the name of capitalistic profit. He’s right. This is a book about the way you perceive your society and the way it wants you to perceive it, and the possibility of getting outside of the influence of the latter to do the former.

Every single essay in The Culture Industry is still relevant today (though the one on TV has probably worn the least well of all; for an honorable sequel see David Foster Wallace’s E Unibus Pluram, collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing); and even the parts of this book that are no longer quite so relevant are nonetheless prophetic of things that happened roughly 20 – 30 years after they were written.

If you spend any amount of time at all thinking about the following things, The Culture Industry will change the way you think: the shotgun marriage between art and commerce, the place of art in a capitalistic society, the uses and abuses of entertainment; what comes after late late capitalism; the decline of politics in the modern democracy. Or if you simply care about how the humanities might justify themselves and their existence without resorting to trite observations about their material benefits to civilization, then you should most definitely read Adorno.

These essays can be difficult, but their difficulty is a measure of the depth of thought involved. An easier style would have led to more cliched, disposable observations. These essays persist in part because they’re hard, because the things that are said here cannot be parsed into simpler forms. If you give them time and effort, the rewards are immense.

All my favorite reads of 2010 collected here.

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