In Theodor Adorno’s Words “Caught In An Illusory Moment (at Cinema)”

Spiritual nobility of soul and the sense of fraternity have melted together into slogans for the workforce. But every individual product is levelled down in itself as well. There are no longer any real conflicts to be seen.[1] They are replaced by the surrogate of shocks and sensations which seem to erupt from without and generally have no real consequences, smoothly insinuating themselves into the episodic action. The products are articulated in terms of episodes and adventures rather than in acts: the structure of ‘funnies’ is overtly reproduced in the women serials and in more refined form in the class A picture.

The defective power of recall on the part of consumer furnishes the point of departure: no one is trusted to remember anything that has already happened or to concentrate upon anything other than what is present to him in the given moment. The consumer is thus reduced to the abstract present.[2] Yet the more narrowly the moment has to vouch for itself, all the more must it also avoid of being burdened with calamity. The viewer is supposed to be as incapable of looking suffering in the eye as he is of exercising thought. However, even more essential than transparent affirmation is the predetermined resolution in the ‘happy ending’[3] of every tension whose purely apparent character is revealed by the ritual conclusion.

Theodor W. Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays On Mass Culture (ed. J.M. Bernstein), New York, Routledge, 1991

[1] Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959), for example, contradicts this notion. It shows racial conflicts and conflicts between different stratas of the bourgeoisie; it must be noted that the film is a melodrama, it belongs to the very genre Adorno criticizes in this text (among others)

[2]While we are reading a book, we can pause, return to the earlier pages, but at cinema, we cannot. This is why, according to Adorno, cinema is along with radio, a perfect instrument for the manipulation of the audience (e.g. Triumph of the Will, the most famous Nazi propaganda film)

[3] Sirk’s aforementioned film is in line with Adorno’s thoughts in this respect




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