The readings this week were a downer.
Lazarsfeld tells us we are "pawns upon a chessboard, losing the spontaneity and dignity which is the basic characteristic of the human personality." Horkheimer and Adorno believe we are manipulated by the culture industry to the extent that our "inner lives" have disappeared and we don't even realize it. We are enslaved and miserable, unable to resist the forces that grind us down and keep us underfoot.
Surely, this can't be true.
To borrow from the movie Airplane!, it is true...and don't call me Shirley.
A few years ago, I saw an exhibit at Sheldon that demonstrated the impact of mass culture in our lives. The artist had traveled to large cities around the world, photographed icons of mass culture and then displayed the series of pictures in sections through the exhibit. For example, one area had pictures of people holding Starbucks coffee cups in Rome, Chicago, New York, Mumbai, London, Singapore and other cities. The next section focused on Victoria's Secret shopping bags or Gap t-shirts. It was a vivid example of how homogeneous our world is becoming.
Another example of mass culture is demonstrated by a scene in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada. Fashion magazine editor, Miranda Priestly delivers a withering attack on assistant Andy Sachs, when Andy scoffs at the choice of which blue belt should be chosen as an accessory. Priestly says Andy is wearing a "lumpy blue sweater" from a Casual Corner store that was chosen for her by the fashion industry.
"...it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that
exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the
sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile
of stuff," says Priestly.
I have to admit, sometimes I wonder if we are hypnotized by a mass culture that is growing so uniform that someday we we won't know if we're in Kuala Lumpur or Fargo.
And that is depressing.