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Consumer Culture

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Sunil Manghani

on 25 October 2012

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Transcript of Consumer Culture

"It is true of dress in even a higher degree than of most other items of consumption, that people will undergo a very considerable degree of privation in the comforts or the necessaries of life in order to afford what is considered a decent amount of wasteful consumption; so that it is by no means an uncommon occurrence, in an inclement climate, for people to go ill clad in order to appear well dressed." (Thorstein Veblen, 1898)

Source: Veblen (1998) The Theory of the Leisure Class, Prometheus Books, p.11. Division of labour
The assembly line Fordism The most intimate reactions of human beings have been so thoroughly reified that the idea of anything specific to themselves now persists only as an utterly abstract notion: personality scarcely signifies anything more than shining white teeth and freedom from body odour and emotions. The triumph of advertising in the culture industry is that consumers feel compelled to buy and use its products even though they see through them.

Theodore Adorno & Max Horkheimer (1944) The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception, p. 28. Frankfurt School: Culture Industry Consumer Culture... See BBC R4 'In Our Time':
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00pr54s Although Western culture used to be divided into national markets and then into highbrow, middlebrow and lowbrow, the modern view of mass culture is that there is a single marketplace in which the best or most popular works succeed. This recognises that the consolidation of media companies has centralised power in the hands of the few remaining multinational corporations now controlling production and distribution.

The theory proposes that culture not only mirrors society, but also takes an important role in shaping society through the processes of standardisation and commodification, creating objects rather than subjects. The culture industry claims to serve the consumers' needs for entertainment, and is delivering what the consumer wants. "The standardised forms, it is claimed, were originally derived from the needs of the consumers: that is why they are accepted with so little resistance. In reality, a cycle of manipulation and retroactive need is unifying the system ever more tightly". [1] By standardising these needs, the industry is manipulating the consumers to desire what it produces. The outcome is that mass production feeds a mass market that minimises the identity and tastes of the individual consumers who are as interchangeable as the products they consume.

The rationale of the theory is to promote the emancipation of the consumer from the tyranny of the producers by inducing the consumer to question beliefs and ideologies. Adorno claims that enlightenment was supposed to bring pluralism and demystification but instead society is said to have suffered a major fall as it is corrupted by capitalist industry with exploitative motives.

(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_industry
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