This is an explanation of (and a rant about) the culture industry. Originally the notion of culture industry is due to Adorno and Horckheimer, two Jews who fled Nazi Germany. Then in America they wrote the book “Dialectic of Enlightenment” which was publicized in 1947, where they criticize the uniformity of American culture. Unfortunately that book is hard to read, so i decided to explain their concept of culture industry in layman’s terms.

Culture Industry

Films and radio no longer need to present themselves as art. The truth that they are nothing but business is used as an ideology to legitimize the trash they intentionally produce. They call themselves industries, and the published figures for their directors incomes quell any doubts about the social necessity of their finished products.

“Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer - Dialectic of Enlightenment”

Culture industry is about pop culture. This type of culture is not created by ordinary people, but concerns cultural products that are marketed via mass media and then advertised towards mass consumption. Ordinary people only consume pop culture and are not a part their creation.

Every product of that culture is a similar bleak commodity that is cut into standardized chunks for marketing, advertising, and distribution. It has no artisanal value or individuality. The only goal of the culture industry that produces culture products is profit. Thus, no risks are taken and the same repetitive content is spewed out that lulls people into complacency.

Contemporary Culture Industry

Even though the term was coined in the 1940s, it is easy to find contemporary examples, as the same capitalist mechanisms that produced this phenomenon persist.

Take movies as an example. Current movies in cinemas are series, spin-offs of a series, or reboots. Take a look at “Game of Thrones” or “Lord of the Rings”, or “Star Wars” with its myriads of movies. Take a look at the whole American superhero genre. All movies have the same structure and no creator takes risks anymore.

The same happened with music. All pop songs converge on the same structure and the same few chords. This product is then marketed towards the masses. And each new pop song copies an old pop song thus creating a huge amount of songs that have no artistic goal or expression. This is the case even in niches. Listen to some Iron Maiden. They have found what their fans like and now they produce song after song after song that is a copy of a copy of a copy. Note that this is a case where capitalism actively prevents progress.

The culture industry in music consists of a few large records labels. And the same is true for movies, where only few large players control the market completely.

Culture Industry on the Internet

The huge chance of the internet was a democratization of the production of cultural products, as the obstacles to creating an own website were small in the beginning. This is not the case anymore. Small websites are simply not discoverable and thus stay hidden. There are only a few large web sites that everyone visits and they are full of the same bleak, lifeless content.

Even on Youtube where supposedly any individual can become a content creator the content has become vain. No risks are taken by the creators in order to not lose followers. Thus, the content becomes repetitive. There are no real controversies, only fake drama, click-bait titles, and provocative thumbnails in order to foster engagement.

This is not a problem with the individual content creators. Rather, the incentives for producing content are skewed such that this development will take place. Youtube has established a technocratic system through their recommendation algorithm where content is maximized towards engagement in order for the content creators to receive some likes and increase their viewer numbers.

Click “Like” and subscribe. Feed the Moloch!

“Shozan of the Youtube Channel Zen Confidential in some video i cannot remember”

Psychological Control by Capitalism

The control of the culture industry extends beyond only the culture products into the psychological realm. We are free to consume as we wish, but not to create as we wish. Only standardized forms of entertainment exist that will not subvert the Status Quo.

The culture industry takes our dissatisfaction with the Status Quo and sells that back to us in their products. These cultural products include symbols of rebellion and insurrection. Examples for where that is the case include Batman’s Joker or the movie Fight Club.

This gives us the feeling that we participate in those emotions. Thus, we do not have to act on our feelings of dissatisfaction. The consumer is rendered docile and domination of the culture industry is maintained.

Case Study: Triangle of Sadness

This is a movie that was recommended to me by a colleague of mine. It is about high society people on a yacht and their idiosyncratic behaviors. In one scene an old rich lady asks the captain to clean the sails. The captain answers that this is a motorboat and that there are no sails. Then the lady asks her husband if that is correct and (if i remember correctly) he also says that there are sails. Thus, the movie slightly mocks rich people and their detachedness from the world.

But actually the movie received a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. And you know who gave this movie the Palme d’Or? The same champagne-drinking yacht people that the movie wants us to believe it is mocking. The movie is watched by exactly those people it is supposed to criticize.

Case Study: Deadpool

Deadpool is the 8th movie of the X-Men series which at the time of writing consists of 13 movies. This already shows that no risk was taken in the production of that movie. The start of the movie is a parody of an opening credits scene with supposedly funny credits such as “some douchebag’s film”, “starring god’s perfect idiot”, or “a CGI character”.

Probably this is supposed to appear edgy. We should think that some teens had the opportunity to put that in the movie to make a statement about the people who made it. But actually these credits were written by the same rich dudes driving too large cars that write every Hollywood movie. Nothing about that is subversive.


The culture industry produces culture products with the only goal of mass production. They produce only for profit without taking any risks. There is no artistic goal. The only goal is to make money.

The consumers are lulled into complacency and as a result art does not matter anymore.


05 August 2023