Jan 03

A User’s Guide To The Culture Industry

FT/9 comments • 6,295 views

Part One: The Death Of Pop, by Alex Thomson

Like the death of art, to which it may just turn out to be related, the idea of the death of pop seems to have been around forever. Its names are legion. The threat of technology to real music; the rise of faceless dance robots; the lament over commercialisation; the failure of British acts to sell records in the USA; the impact of piracy: all these and more, coming to newspapers and magazines that really should know better, over and over again. Whether you want to blame boybands, bootlegs or beep beep music, perceived crisis is a pop-culture staple.

By no means do we live in exceptional times: Radio 1 is in crisis! Top of the Pops is in crisis! The whole music industry is in crisis (or so says Radio 2)! It must be true, I heard it on the BBC. Or read it in the Guardian, where Paul Morley discusses the death of the single. Nor can this simply be explained by the fact that cataclysmic decline always makes for a better story than some losses balanced by modest gains, or even just plain old change.

The concept of culture itself is intrinsically linked to that of crisis. After all, the idea of culture, intended to describe what distinguishes us from that state of savagery we have supposedly escaped, always inextricably draws us back towards barbarism. If culture appears a flimsy safeguard against anarchy, might that not be because the concept draws its own urgency from the menace from which it promises to deliver us.

A crisis always claims to be systemic, all-embracing, unarguable fact. But it is a commonplace that such a crisis will, with equal regularity, turn out to be only partial. A crisis is always relative to the standpoint of the observer: it might even be true that the experience of ‘crisis’ can only result from forgetting that fact. What’s true of our personal lives is true of cultural crises: while it feels like the world must come to a stop because my heart has been broken, it never does.

Today’s supposed crises illustrate this perfectly. The idea of the BBC is intrinsically tied to a particular notion of a unified national culture. Falling audience share for the venerable Beeb in an increasingly diversified market tells us nothing more than that one paradigm’s time may be up. Trying to turn back the institutional clock while the world around accelerates into the unknown would be the last and most foolish of Auntie’s bloomers. Because things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. When the rise of cable music TV meant seeing new videos lost its magic, CD:UK replaced The Chart Show and started beating Top of the Pops at its own game. Nostalgia only holds us back.


  1. 1
    Admin on 30 Aug 2006 #

    what is the etiquette of copying and pasting the entire article elsewhere?

  2. 2
    CarsmileSteve on 30 Aug 2006 #

    may i suggest sending in the marines?

  3. 3
    alext on 30 Aug 2006 #

    Given I’ve been pondering the question of having what were sort of working notes for my now-published book still available online, I have to say I’m a bit unimpressed by this. If they’d linked I wouldn’t be so bothered. Although I can’t quite work out what the site is, or who it’s for.

  4. 4
    alext on 30 Aug 2006 #

    Can we just replace the essay with a giant ad for Adorno: A Guide For The Perplexed?

  5. 5
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 30 Aug 2006 #

    can we not just retitle alex’s book “ADORNO & HOFMANN: STEAL THIS GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED”?

  6. 6
    Admin on 31 Aug 2006 #

    if you feel strongly go to the site and “Postar um comentário” – it’s a blogger site.

  7. 7
    polycarpo on 8 Dec 2006 #

    1. As You all have seen, I do not (or did not) know about “the etiquette of copying and pasting [an] entire article” in the web. But I should care about it. And I will. The the question about the webetiquette is a good and necessary one.
    2. As You all could not know, I really do not care about the marines. I really even do not care if they die on a war or – better said – on a invasion.
    3. it’s just a blog for myself, a kind of notebook on which I put some interesting links. This time: an interesting text, all the text and not just a part of it.
    4. I’m perplexed that it can cause perplexity. But I’m not so sure about the title. The book probably deserves a better one.
    5. I would recommend as subtitle: don’t steal this guide, read it! NO need for perplexity. By the way, the guide hasn’t been really stolen. It has been to be read by me, only by me. It’s here to be read by all. I think it’s good and generous to publish the text on the web, so that people can read it.
    6. A second good sugestion. But ‘if if the mountain doesn’t come to Mehemet, Mehemet will go to the mountain’. I’m neither a mountain nor a celestial fiction. But shall a female allah bless we all.
    7. I maybe should be sorry about a possible neglection of the webetiquette. The text is not in the blog anymore. There’s still just a link to it. If you want, Thomas, I’ll surely remove it from there. But I’d like to let it there just for the case that I make the blog public, so that other people can have access to your valuable text. In times when culture is converted into commodities, we should remember Adorno. Neither the nuisance nor the severeness. But the warning dystopian message he has sent to our times.

    Kind, freaky and Best regards.


  8. 9

    […] THOMSON, A – A User’s Guide To The Culture Industry [03] […]

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