blue pill, red pill: the culture industry

I wish my students would read Adorno and Horkeimer's "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception" because I get tired of reading essay after essay in which they proclaim their originality and individuality without even considering the cultural influences at work in their creation of "self." My 246 students are already struggling with these questions as we begin to enter into the science fiction and cyberpunk genres which call the very nature of self into question. Adorno and Horkheimer explain, "In the culture industry the individual is an illusion not merely because of the standardization of the means of production. He is tolerated only so long as his complete identification with the generality is unquestioned"(40). And for many people, that identification remains unquestioned.

But then you have films like "The Matrix" and more recently "The Island" which calls individuality into question. The matrix itself a system of repression and social control. Humans agree to the pleasures of a fantasy, a fantastically constructed world so that they can deny the physical reality that their energy is being siphoned away. What is so remarkable about the message in these films is that acceptance is not coerced. When given the choice humans "accept the program, their cultural script.

Adorno and Horkheimer describe the culture industry as an “iron system� that occupies consumers’ leisure time with amusements designed to enable them to bear the exhaustion and boredom of their increasingly “rationalized� and mechanized work. The consumer is never left alone long enough to consider resisting the economic and social system. The standardized, repetitious forms of entertainment prescribed by the culture industry take up any free time she might have to consider the reality of her exploitation. The authors suggest that amusement, in this form at least, serves to protect the existing social order: “To be pleased means to say Yes.�Adorno and Horkheimer would probably argue that we are all the fetal humans of the matrix, that we accept the program offered to us by the culture industry because it's too hard not to.