This is a reprint of the feature essay from Issue #67 of Exploits, our collaborative cultural diary in magazine form. If you like what you see, buy it now for $2, or subscribe to never miss an issue (note: Exploits is always free for subscribers of Unwinnable Monthly).
“The more strongly the culture industry entrenches itself, the more it can do as it chooses with the needs of consumers – producing, controlling, disciplining them; even withdrawing amusement altogether: here, no limits are set to cultural progress.”
Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947)
We here at Content Inc. are always looking forward (unless we’re mining the past for nostalgia). The next great thing is just over the horizon. We know you have already forgotten the last show you just watched, but don’t worry, because what we have planned for you next will be even better than that. Just subscribe to Content Inc.’s new streaming service CRAM: Where we cram pop culture slurry down your throat until you die! Don’t worry, it tastes great with its new bubblegum flavor! The powerful mix of endorphins in every piece of content slurry lull you into a complete state of inactivity. You’ll be powerless to resist! Did you like the old cherry flavor better? Take a hike! It’s gone forever! We destroyed the recipe. I’m sure you heard about our upcoming blue raspberry flavor . . . sounded pretty good, right? WRONG! It’s gone too. Tax write off. The new bubblegum flavor costs $19.95 a month…
Back in 1947, Adorno could see the writing on the wall. In his eyes, popular culture was no longer art. It had become industry. A factory, mass producing goods for consumption, The Culture Industry churns out products filled with signifiers. Written in filmic & videogamic shorthand, we have been trained to recognize and consume these products with minimal effort. We can identify the plot beats, we can see a character trope, and yet, this doesn’t invalidate a piece of media for being rote, it somehow strengthens it.
The Culture Industry produces content like this to flatter us with a faux enlightened sense of mastery over it. We see this in the death of criticism. We have been buttered up to think that we “get” these films we watch and games we play. Further, our identities become linked to these cultural signifiers and brands. We become part of the machine. So, when someone writes a piece of criticism it is an affront not only to the piece of media, but by extension, it is also an affront to the person whose identity is intertwined with the MCU or Bethesda games. Look how weird people are acting about criticism of Starfield. We’ve been trained to not be reflexive or introspective. We’ve been trained to consume. We are not in control. The Culture Industry is “a cycle of manipulation and retroactive need” feeding us slop and telling us we love it.
As technology has advanced, and media has become inescapable, The Culture Industry has been made even more powerful. While we think about how much STUFF there is for us to enjoy, this is not consumer empowerment, in fact the power we think we have is actually, “the power of those whose economic position is the strongest.” Think Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslev raking in nearly $500 million over the last five years, or Activision chief Bobby Kotick taking home a cool $155 mil in 2021. The Culture Industry serves them. It lines their pockets with gold.
The Culture Industry has done away with the facade that any of this slurry has one iota of culture in it. They know it, and I think we know it, but it’s hard to find ways to resist it. So . . . read an indie mag like this one. Or go play an indie game. Signalis rules. Go play that. Bobby Kotick ain’t getting a cent from that.