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SOCY 122 (65)

The Fear of Mass Culture

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Queen's University
SOCY 122
Rob Beamish

The Fear of Mass Culture As the age of modernity began to demonstrate its full impact upon social life, Arnold expressed the same concerns. He said „to solve the problems people faced, they had to turn to culture. In the pursuit of sweetness and light, people could draw upon „the best which has been thought and said in the world.‟ – this is the unmodified use of the word. Nietzsche: When the great think despises mankind, he despises its laziness: for it is on account of their laziness that men seem like factory products, things of no consequences and unworthy to be associated with or instructed. The man who does no wish to belong to mass needs only to cease taking himself easily; let him follow his conscience, which calls to him „Be your self! All you are now doing, thinking, desiring, is not you yourself.‟ - „In opposition to the mendaciousness of millennia‟, he views culture as the solution to industrial society‟s problems. - He argues that humanity must rediscover its active and creative Dionysian capacity. God Dionysius had the power to free people from normal life. - Culture is overwhelmed by market forces and reduced to a popular, simplified commodity that is passively consumed by a mass public. Williams defines culture: - “A general state or habit of the mind”, having close relations with the idea of human perfection. - “the general state of intellectual development, in a society as a whole.” - “the general body of the arts.” - “a whole way of life, material, intellectual, and spiritual” The growth of culture as an abstraction and a position from which one could make cerebral judgments served as a rallying alternative for those who power was slipping away to the new capitalist class. There had to be a moral reference point for human action and industrial, industrial production, the capitalist market or the values associated with the capitalist market could not fulfill that task. Williams: the emerging conception of culture was a response to significant changes in the social and political world. 1. “culture” has taken on different meanings at different points in time. Because it had changed under different circumstances, culture can be studied sociologically. 2. Each of the four meanings Williams identifies as dominant in the late twentieth century continues to prevail. “culture” is used to represent a state of mind, and it implies or inspires the idea of human perfection. 3. To grasp culture, one must link the term‟s meaning to the social activities from which it has arisen. Historically, the notion of culture was linked to the “tending of something, basically crops or animals”. It had a very direct, material, physical, and active basis and point of origin – it involved physical work; “culture” comes from production. Leavis and Thompson: they lament the passing of culture, although their perspective is quite different from Arnold‟s. Leavis and Thompson are concerned with the demise of English literary culture, arguing that it was being overwhelmed by a growing number of simple and simplifying forms of entertainment and information such as films, newspapers, “the world of entertainment outside the classroom”. They felt the organic community that sustains a living, thriving culture was being lost. - The world had become a machine; the advantage it brings us in mass-production has turned out to involve standardization and levelling-down outside the realm of mere material goods. Hoggart sketches a profile of “the working class” to examine the impact of print and mass circulation publications on the lives of real working-class people and on their understanding of the world in which they lived. - He recognizes that many are familiar with the rise of mass culture and its potential consequences, but he feels that although they “know all the arguments”, they do not really understand how profoundly mass culture penetrates into people‟s everyday lives, limits their horizons, and seduces them into accepting banal entertainment. - He fears that without a conscious intervention into the commercial dynamic that is increasingly dominating and shaping culture, the substantial freedom provided by a complex, varied culture will be lost in the levelling down of the market as it appeals to the greatest mass of consumers. - “I value literature because of the way – the peculiar way – in which it explores, re-creates and seeks for the meanings in human experiences; because it explores the diversity, complexity and strangeness of that experience; because it re-creates the texture of that experience; and because it pursues its explorations with a disinterested passion. I value literature because in it men look at life with all the vulnerability, honesty and penetration they can command … and dramatize their insights by means of a unique relationship with language and form.” - He maintains that live literature seeks “to articulate something of the „mass and majesty‟ of experience.” But most people “ignore embarrassing qualifications and complexities” so that the world remains comfortable. But live literature prevents up from slipping into complacency and “brings us up short”, and stops “the moulds from setting firm.” It “seeks to break the two-dimensional world of „fixed being‟ which we try to put around others; keeps us responsive and alert, extending our humanity and understanding of the world.” - Hoggart juxtaposes 2 cultural categories: one that is creative, exploratory and complex; and another that reinforces convention, ignores complexity and seeks to comfort, entertain and give instant and easy pleasure – what is true of individuals applies to society as a whole. A society in which literature is becoming increasingly conventional loses its capacity to inspire people to consider and explore the full potential of human life. - Hoggart is concerned with the growing impact of the market economy and the declining standards in literature, which result in increasingly simplified entertainment being sold to more and more consumers in the emerging mass society. Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse: they are concerned with the growth of what they call “the totally administered society”, which they associate with the increasing power of capitalism over social life. Led to the predominance of the “one-dimensional man”, and to a model world in which all cultural forms are being continually levelled down by what they identify as “the culture industries”. - Horkheimer and Adorno argue that culture industries – films, radios – impress the same stamp on everything. Every aspect of modern society is dominated by technical efficiency, mass production techniques, and standardization – automobiles, bomb, and movies are subjugated to the same system of instrumental rationality (the most effective means of producing a mass product for mass publics) and totally integrated with culture subordinate to capital. - Industries that might appear as first to be independent are all tightly interwoven economically. The integration is so complete that one can actually ignore any features that might demarcate different firms or branches of industry. - The gap between high and mass culture is replaced by careful differentiation of consumers and their tastes, and “the culture industry” then churns out mass produced goods to suits consumer groups, but these are “mechanically differentiated product” that “prove to be all alike in the end.” - The “dialectic of enlightenment” turns out the be the negation of learning and expanding one‟s horizons, as the producers of mass culture lower the intellectual depth of art, music, film, producers of mass culture lower the intellectual depth of art, and literature to meet the manufactured wants of mass market consumers. - Horkheimer and Adorno see the entertainment industry as the vehicle for what ultimately amount to mass deception. - The formula for success revolves around the production and reproduction of easily and passively consumer entertainment. - The freedom to choose turns out to be the freedom to choose what is always the same. Marcuse: the public is immobilized by fear, Marcuse argues, and fails to search for ways that such a catastrophe could be prevented or the threat of it e
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