Adorno and Horkheimer argued that mass culture and technology, instead of empowering people as it is believed, they’re misleading. The individual doesn’t become more independent, but is absorbed into the system of capitalism. It’s “society alienating from itself”, as the writers put it by looking at Marx’s theories.
The media has a big role in this process: it turns us, the audience, into passive beings. The theorists bring the example of radio, which they believe has turned people into mere listeners compared to the telephone that allowed more interaction.
The content produced by mass media is aimed at manipulating the population and keep it under control. It’s an industry: “arts become business”. Are these theories legitimate? More importantly, are they still valid today?
If we look at the examples history has to offer, we can’t deny that the media has the ability to influence and shape our minds. The totalitarian regimes of Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany and Stalin’s communist Russia relied on cinema, radio and TV to spread government propaganda. This still happens today in countries like North Korea or China. Some argue that even the West is subject to propaganda, but is more subtle and less explicit.
Some say it’s in the news, others, like writer Margaret Gomes, think that reality shows are designed to distract us from the real issues of the world and keep our culture low. In her book “Television, Aesthetics and reality” Gomes says “these programmes insult our intelligence, numb our senses”.
Looking at it from this perspective, Adorno’s and Horkeimer’s arguments were definitely true at their time and are still applicable today.
On the other hand, however, they’re outdated. Mass media has changed dramatically over the years. As Amanda Lotz explains in her book “The Television will be revolutionized”, viewers were limited in their choice to “fewer than a handful of options” but later hundreds of channels with different content on both TV and radio emerged.
With the Internet and social media, users now have an even greater selection. Without social networks the Arab spring wouldn’t have been possible. Media is not all the same today. Is much more broad and complex. FOX News, the BBC ,Wikileaks, the Discovery channel, Geordie shore have all one thing in common: they’re considered media, yet we don’t put them in the same class. It’s not possible to consider media as one entity anymore.
We now have more freedom of choice when it comes to content and we can even produce it ourselves, like Youtubers do for example. Multiple sources are available, different platforms too. There’s a possibility to do research and compare those same sources. If we want to be informed, distracted, passive or active it’s up to us.
So, is the media deceptive or empowering? I say both. The answer is not black and white, it depends really on the kind of media product consumed and the platform that hosts it. What do you think?
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