Under monopoly all mass culture is identical, and the lines of its artificial framework begin to show through. The people at the top are no longer so interested in concealing monopoly: as its violence becomes more open, so its power grows. Movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce. They call themselves industries; and when their directors’ incomes are published, any doubt about the social utility of the finished products is removed.
Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, 1944
It became apparent on New Years Eve, whilst watching the umpteenth ‘top songs of the decade’ show that the general pop music landscape was unchanged from 2000 to 2009. The majority of it was cultural product designed off the back of market research and demographic profiling. What was interesting however was the process by which these acts came into being. Whereas the early part of the decade still ran the process of designing and manufacturing a pop group in the background, only to release them to the world in a flurry of doves and multimillion dollar marketing budgets, the latter part of the decade was more transparent. What we now find is that although the acts are produced in much the same way as they were before, the process of producing the act is itself a lucrative entertainment empire. The target audience is actively encouraged to become complicit in the construction of the next big hit, and that construction is as much pop culture as the final end product.
The observations regarding the increasing transparency of manufacturing pop are nothing really. A blip, a grain in the decades of actions that Adorno and Horkheimer first recognised in the 1940s. The quote from them is one of my favourites. It is a quote that I truly believe should be read by as many people as possible, if only once. It is clear concise and blunt, but most importantly it is sixty-six years old and is truer today than the day it was written. I find it strangely beautiful in the vehemence it conveys, I often wish academia had some more of this passion left.
If you feel inclined you can read the entirety of Adorno and Horkheimer’s essay on the Culture Industry online.