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The International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, 7 Volume Set by Fabienne Darling-Wolf, Radhika Parameswaran, Erica Scharrer, Vicki Mayer, Sharon Mazzarella, Kelly Gates, John Nerone, Angharad N. Valdivia

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19

The Culture Industries

Frederick Wasser

ABSTRACT

The genealogy of the term “culture industry” is traced through Horkheimer and Adorno to Marx. It was coined to describe the relations of production and consumption of media culture in the mid-twentieth century in an age of mass produced texts consumed by middle-class and working-class audiences. Since the 1980s, there have been two revolutions in the culture industries: a technological revolution, featuring the emergence of digital media, and an audience revolution, featuring fragmentation, participatory formats, and mobility. The result is a post-Fordist system of cultural production and consumption, best exemplified by gaming. The key insights of the “culture industry” argument remain relevant.

Introduction

Culture industries analyses expose to critical view the workings of culture in mass complex societies. The “culture industry” was a term coined by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno (1987). Its subsequent pluralization to culture industries is merely the first indication that this topic has deepened and has multiplied its meanings since the two exiled Germans wrote their essay in the United States, during the last phase of World War II. The marriage of culture and industry into a topic of critical analysis is overtly Marxist. The topic retains its Marxist overtones even as it has attracted broad interest in the last seven decades. This is because the topic is deliberately holistic – linking economics with other life spheres. ...

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