The purpose of this essay is to decipher whether the media, or those who view the media’s material; hold the most power. Over the years this topic has been heavily debated by many media and social theorist; in this essay I will discuss the arguments of the most notable scholars. Theodore Adorno and John Fisk, both have been highly recognized for their stance on this topic; throughout this essay I shall examine the two famous arguments which have their own opinions on the matter. Theodore Adorno born 1903 was a social theorist who was an active member of the Frankfurt school, along with Max Horkheimer until they fled an anti Jewish Germany for America. When the pair arrived in America they both received a severe culture shock after seeing how low the standard of living was in America. In Germany the people would not have stood for what Adorno was witnessing in America but the Americans were not like the Germans; they did not seem to mind having to undertake the menial jobs just to get by nor did they attach any value to intellectual material; they were happy to go home and just consume mass produced entertainment after a hard days work. Adorno argued that the provision of this mass produced entertainment was all that stood between a bloody revolution and peace. Adorno believed that the ‘culture industry’ was a tool used by capitalist to keep society in a passive uncaring state. He believed that the media had a significant amount of power over the people thus allowing them to manipulate the publics ‘false needs’ for commodities, which in turn replaced their ‘true needs’ such as true creativity and pure human expression.
On the opposite end of the argument was John Fisk, a media scholar and author of the book, “Understanding Popular Culture” is which his opinion differs to Adorno’s. Fisk argues that ‘popular culture’ is made by the people for the people. Therefore it could be not imposed on society by any higher power. Fisk believed that the consumers were not ‘just passive victims’ but active consumers who had a wide range of choice to choose from. On this point the two views contrast each other again. You see; Adorno accepted that every now and then something different would come along showing promise and innovation, but as he put it in his book, were yet to be “absorbed into the system”; draining them of any creativity they may have possessed.
Although Fisk would argue that innovation and creativity are key characteristics of the music industry, Adorno believed that the creativity being expressed was just a formulated technique used by the industry designed to churn out hit after hit.
This is a notion that Fisk scoffs at, although he agrees that we live in a capitalist society he thinks it would be delusional to believe that there is a hard and fast method which cause’s us to like music. Surely this could not be true? Well it may just be true! Although the thought that society has been tricked into liking media products is unsettling and hard to swallow; this very idea is clearly illustrated in its entirety by the Axis of Awesome.
Who are the Axis of Awesome? They are an Australian trio of comedians who managed to expose the repetitive nature of the music industry in their song entitled ‘four chords’. In the song, the chorus of over forty smash hit songs spanning over twenty years are placed back to back fit together almost seamlessly, this piece of music supports Adorno’s opinion that the music industry actually does have a tried and tested formula!
So who was right? Who had the flawed argument? Depending on your view you Personally I believe that Adorno’s theory is quite water tight and as you have seen in my essay it can be backed up by more than one example, however I also agree with John Fisk to a degree because as he make an extremely valid point in his book. Fisk states the obvious in his book when he says that the entertainment industry “make more hits than they do flops”, for this reason I would not totally write off Fisk because if that where so; producers artists and investors alike would laugh at the thought of spending money on anything that they knew would not be well received by the people.
Even though I agree with Fisk I can not dispute the fact that those in the music and film industry have an extremely good idea of what is and is not appealing to the public which they seek to cater to. Therefore I don’t think that we are programmed into appreciating a particular format of movie or composition of music, it’s just that producers know what works well.