Sunday, February 17, 2013

Macdonald Vs. Bell: contrasting views about mass culture and mass society

             The two readings that were more interesting for me this week were #53 “The Theory of Mass Society: A Critique from Daniel Bell” (p.364) and “A Theory of Mass Culture” from Dwight Macdonald. They caught my attention because their contrasting views about mass society and mass culture. In one hand, we see Dwight McDonald totally criticizing and even condemning the creation or the origins of mass culture. It is clear the differentiation he makes between the high culture of the elites and the mass culture or kitsch. He sees this mass culture as being originated from the degradation of high culture expressions and even considers it as “cheap and vulgar”. In addition, he considers the mass culture as being numb and totally dominated by the “lords” who seek to maintain control over the mas in order to gain more profit.

             On the other hand we see a totally different perspective from Daniel Bell who criticizes the theories of mass culture and even thinks that the theory only contributes to accentuate the role of elites and their supposed hegemony over culture and the “mass”. After considering what it was presented in those readings, I tend to be more in favor of Daniel Bell thoughts. Firstly, I do not believe in this notion of “atomized, anonymous” individuals with no opinion or voice. As Bell mentioned, nowadays we see so many different organizations where communities of people are formed to fight against social injustices, raise funds to help the poor or fight against cancer. Are those examples of mass society loosing human quality? I personally don’t think so. Moreover, all these communities have such more tools and ways to promote themselves, make people join their causes that I don’t think they are “anonymous or detached”. Secondly, while MacDonald consider the idea of the “democracy of the cheap and vulgar” in which less cultivated or meaningful art it is distributed, Bell sees democracy as an expression of people having more access to cultural expression such as books, movies and concerts which give them more opportunity to have criteria, judge and share their views with other people.

            Since, those two readings are contrasting I tried to found common themes on them and made a table to illustrate how they talk about similar aspects but with a very different perspective. I am looking forward to read any comments you might have about your impressions after the reading and I hope we can expand more on this during class. 

“A Theory of Mass Culture” Dwight Macdonald
“The Theory of Mass Society: A Critique”
Daniel Bell
The advancements of technology made possible more production of books, periodicals to satisfy the market and those adapted and designed for mass distribution
The notion of the mass culture as being originated by mass production and industrialization and the shift from individualistic to atomistic have long years of development. Moreover, the human creativeness and adaptive spirit has allowed the creation of different unions
Mass culture is the culture of common people and it is vulgarized version of the high culture. “There is nothing more vulgar that sophisticated kitsch
The theory of mass society is just a “conservative defense of privilege”
The Lords of the kitsch (mass culture) are the ones who exploit the needs of the mass to make profit or to maintain hegemony over it. My understanding is that Macdonald wants to imply that masses have no voluntary control over the actions and are totally subordinated to the authority of the “Lords”.
The notion of atomized societies as a distant or isolated group of individuals with no connection between at all more than just being part of a mass, there is abundant evidence of the opposite in the U.S. There are numerous voluntary organizations, associations, clubs, societies, lodges and fraternities.
Mass culture is an instrument of culture dominance. In the U.S the mass culture is characterized by entertainment
Mass media as it shapes culture can’t be seen as just a tool for imposing ideas. It has to be valued and recognized as a way in which people can learn from events. Otherwise, how people would know about events happening? I think the author implies here that it is not only about entertainment but also about people getting better informed about events and news.
Mc Donald defines mass culture as the force that “dissolves cultural distinctions” (Peter & Simons 2004). The result of this phenomenon is “homogenized culture”. It is seen negatively as destroys values because those imply discrimination. Is “too much” democratic
How we can conceive mass culture or mass media as uniformity given that when individuals are exposed to cultural materials they react in a personal way, which is “meaningful” to this set of experiences?
Masses lose their identity and human quality
If is true that the audience of movies can be “separate, detached and anonymous” we can’t use the term mass opinion because according to Bell, individuals are not “tabula rasae”. Individuals share and discuss and have criteria of what they’ve seen with friends or colleagues. In addition, they are member of distinct social groups.
They can’t express themselves because they have lost face and they are only united by a “distant, abstract, nonhuman” reality. It is a “solitary atom, uniform and undifferentiated”. Mass culture is in the “mood of consent” Ortega y Gasset and Eliot consider mass culture as “the revolt of the masses”. Popular is equal to cheap and vulgar.
Ortega sustained also that the cultural standards have declined. However, more than ever people participate in cultural activities according to the authors. In addition, the rising levels of education, the considerable amount of money spent in concerts and books are also clues of people becoming more actives consumers of culture.
There is a clear separation between high culture and elites and mass culture and its kitsch for the author. However, the author mentions that those lines are blurred in the U.S.

Academicism and Avantgardism were the two tools high culture and elites used to defend “against” mass culture. The mass culture creates idols of consumption. Kitsch is being exemplified in movies from Hollywood hat are “bad qualitatively but impressive quantitavely”

The effects of kitsch are harmful and are exemplified in the negative effects of comics reading between adults and children. For the adults, produce a regression that enhances infantilism. For the children, it overstimulates to grow up very fast.

1 comment:

  1. I also agree more with Daniel Bell. Certainly, there's a lot of kitsch out there. But who defines culture and what is or is not worthy? Changes in technology have allowed access to what used to be available only to the elite. In my opinion, confining art in that way limits what we can create and accomplish.