Consumer society - Are we completely at its mercy?

The so called “Theory of Culture Industry” assumes that our desire for consumption doesn’t arise in us, but is created by the culture industry.

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“I want, I want, I want” - at least once a day we “want” something. We are convinced that this desire for anything is our own need. No matter whether it is the latest smartphone, the latest shoes or the latest car - we absolutely must have everything, preferably immediately.

But the so called “Theory of Culture Industry” assumes that our desire for consumption doesn’t arise in us, but is created by the culture industry. So we are completely at its mercy. With their theory, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno severely criticize society and thus us too. According to them, we do not have the need to have the latest things by nature. That need is created by the culture industry.

No longer Lord of the Things

The two sociologists are convinced that the culture industry controls us. More specifically, it controls our needs and expectations, ensures that we see culture as a commodity, and sees to it that we let our imagination and spontaneity wither. These needs and expectations are satisfied by means provided by the cultural industry, especially film and television but also any other media. 

So we don’t naturally have the need to own the latest mobile phone. We also don’t have the expectation that the new Bond movie will be good. Given that we only consume and absorb, even our imagination and spontaneity withers. We don’t think things over, we don’t question anything anymore. Everything is tolerated and accepted. Every good only has a value if it can be exchanged. The relevance of the object doesn’t matter at all. We don’t focus on the intrinsic value but on the exchange value of goods. 

Apologia for Society 

That we, according to Horkheimer and Adorno, no longer think and question anything is quite easy to explain: We are constantly exposed to the culture industry, to media content, to offers. Thereby, we’re sedated. This is what they mean by apologia for the society. We consume, absorb and accept everything given to us on a plate. Thus, we forget the option to question what is shown to us. So we are completely at the mercy of the culture industry.

It’s exactly that what makes the success of reality tv possible. An average joe is heroized, chosen to be a hero. We identify with the Kardashian clan, the Osbournes, Wife Swap. 

For real?

Like every other theory, this one got severely criticized as well. Is it really so easy to condition us? Maybe not everything the theory of culture industry implies is true, but it certainly gives us food for thought. And maybe it can even help us to be happy and content with what we have, and don’t miss what we don’t have, because we don’t really need it :-) 




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