See any good movies lately?

April 9, 2007

Wow, Horkheimer and Adorno do not like movies. 

They argue that all mass culture is the same, “Under monopoly all mass culture is identical” (1224)  I can agree with that.  In our culture once something becomes popular it is done again and again and again, until the next popular thing is found.  Survivor was popular, which is why every channel has 10 different reality shows.  American Idol was popular, explaining all the shows that are searching for the next big… whatever, and why your vote makes all the difference.  It also explains why every week there is a new computer animated movie about a group of cuddly little animals. 

I couldn’t help but notice an interesting choice of words on pages 1226 and again on 1232.  They do not refer to movie goers as the “audience”, instead these people are called victims. Page 1226: “hence the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality.”  Page 1232: “the permanent denial imposed by civilization is once again unmistakably demonstrated and inflicted on its victims.”  Sure, $10 for a ticket along with about $8 for popcorn and soda may be a bit outrageous, but victim?  Strong language, wouldn’t you say?


On page 1231 they write, “There is no erotic situation which, while insinuating and exciting, does not fail to indicate unmistakably that things can never go that far.  The Hays Office merely confirms the ritual of Tantalus that the culture industry has established anyway.”  And thanks to the explanation in the footnote, that makes sense.  Tantalus always had food and drink just out of his grasp.  Movies present things that are out of the grasp of normal people.  We’ll never be as funny as Bill Murray, or as attractive as Jessica Alba, or as much of a bad-ass as Bruce Willis(the film Die Hard will attest to this)  But is that a bad thing?  If I wanted to see people that were just like me, I’d look out the window.  We go to movies, suspend our disbelief for a few hours, and walk out thinking ” wow, that was pretty cool.”  I don’t think movies are a way of taunting people for things they’ll never have.

While I can understand some of the points they make, I don’t agree with these guys.  I like movies.  And I don’t see them as a means of brainwashing, or as a tool of the culture industry. 


5 Responses to “See any good movies lately?”

  1. atticfox said

    Hey Ryan,

    You said of Horkheimer and Adorno:

    While I can understand some of the points they make, I don’t agree with these guys. I like movies. And I don’t see them as a means of brainwashing, or as a tool of the culture industry.

    I hate to burst your bubble, but its interesting that you chose to post a preview for the movie Die Hard immediately after what you said. When I watched the preview, I found that it only proves Horkheimer and Adorno’s point.

    On page 1228 of Norton’s Anthology, our friendly theorists say:

    By subordinating in the same way and to the same end all areas of intellectual creation, by occupying men’s senses from the time they leave the factory in the evening to the time they clock in again the next morning with matter that bears the impress of the labor process they themselves have to sustain throughout the day, this subsumption mockingly satisfies the concept of unified culture with the philosophers of personality contrasted with mass culture.

    This is exemplified in two ways within this film:

    Fist, Die Hard offers no escapism from the every day for the main character, a NY cop named John McLain. He is on his way to see his family, not on duty, and yet he must, even after hours, fight crime. H&A say that “Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work” (1229). The message couldn’t be more evident for this character as the hostages are all watching a video feed of McLain scaling the walls of the elevator shaft to defeat the terrorists. One hostage asks, “What does he think he’s doing?” McLain’s wife Holly, one of the hostages answers, “His job.”

    Second, this bears a heavy message for the audience. McLain becomes a hero for doing this job at all costs, even in the face of his unwillingness to participate. He conforms to the system, expanding his individual desire to save his wife, complying eventually with the idea of preserving society as a whole by destroying the terrorists. We are left to admire his ability to do so and invigorated to continue on in our meager existence as participatory cogs of the same system.

    According to H&A, Die Hard embodies:

    … the necessity inherent in the system not to leave the customer alone, not for a moment to allow him any suspicion that resistance is possible. The principle dictates that he should be shown that all his needs as capable of fulfillment, but that those needs should be so predetermined that he feels himself to be the eternal consumer, the object of the culture industry. Not only does it make him believe that the deception it practices is satisfaction, but it goes further and implies that whatever the state of affairs, he must put up with what is offered. (1232)

    I’m sorry Ryan. Are you feeling accosted yet because you, the consumer, were blindly complicit in chosing this movie as an example of pure fun? While I welcome your rebuttal, I must say that I take no pride in disputing your pure view of mindless entertainment. Instead, I feel as though I too have been taken hostage by the culture industry. Still, I have hope. If you read my post on this matter, Time Magazine heralds the “individual” behind new technologies of You Tube and the like, claiming “YOU” as the person of the year for this overthrow of corporate regulatory power.

    – Kim

  2. […] Ryan and I are having an interesting conversation about this theory. It would be awesome for others to join in. Does anybody know of a film that doesn’t fall […]

  3. bobsaget said

    Well as stimulating as I find your converstaions with each other I throw in the mix of foreign films. Have you seen Pans Labyrith? Would this fit? Now as much as I love the Die hard movies I can see why they would fit into the idea that Adorno and Hork were talking about. And what about biographical movies? Although they can be exagerated would they fall into this same system?

  4. atticfox said

    Hi Brett,

    Unfortunately, I never saw Pans Labyrinth so I couldn’t say. Do you have any insight as to “how” this movie falls outside the scope of H&A?

    Please note that I’m not fully buying this argument either. We have indy film and documentaries. These must challenge the culture industry by revealing reality as it is rather than how it is constructed. I was just wondering if anybody can shed some light of an example while I’m stuck in my blind spot.

  5. annieeinna said

    I feel I should not intude on this wonderful conversation, so I will post outside the diehard box. No, I did not find them such movie fans. I guess I can really understand why after the conversation we had in class. It is so wired that he used the word “victims.” Like yes, we are getting sucked into a “realm” of things that can presuade us to other things…but I dunno. I think movies help us escape reality at some point and make us feel emotions we may not feel in our everyday life.

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