Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Frankfurts are Inside Out

On Monday, I listened to a child psychologist state that movies and television can actually improve human communication. She explained that it is easier to watch other people go through the traumatic scenes that may resemble our own situations, and to learn from the images about both appropriate and destructive ways of coping.  As explained in the Frankfurt School chapter, Brecht suggests, "Even if Courage learns nothing else at least the audience, in my view, learn something by observing her" (pg. 63).Watching from the outside provides more opportunity to analyze and synthesize, which may lead to a greater willingness to engage.

Verbal expressions of emotion are difficult at any age, so may forms of media try to teach children to recognize emotion and handle it appropriately.  In fact, "if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!"  Whether it is Leave it to Beaver, the Brady Bunch, Little House on the Prairie, The Cosby Show,  Family Ties, Seventh Heaven, or The Middle, all of the shows demonstrate how families have struggles but after talking about the issue, the family grows in unity and love.
In Enlightenment as Mass Deception, Adorno and Horkneimer write, "witness to man's attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry" (pg. 24).
The tone of their writing indicates that mirroring the expression of emotions shown on our screens shows blind and ignorant behavior.  I propose that by selecting quality popular culture messages, our lives can be improved.

Pixar's Inside Out is an extraordinary example of how art can be seen in mechanical reproductions.
The child psychologist mentioned previously endorses the movie because it demonstrates that multiple emotions are healthy and can be celebrated.  The film is sophisticated in its presentation of the human mind, but simplistic in demonstrating the need for a balance of emotions.  I was surprised when a family friend explained that she hated the character, Sadness, because she was always ruining everything.  Really?  Since Sadness is my favorite character, I had to walk away in Disgust before the conversation spiraled into Anger.  Shockingly not everyone could see the bigger picture -- that Sadness is necessary to feel Joy, so Joy cannot be sought at every moment.
Although the Frankfurt School use the following words condescendingly, I think the denotation holds true: "It [culture] offers 'fulfillment' instead of the promotion of 'desire'" (pg. 64).  Learning to find fulfillment in a variety of situations is admirable because we will never be happy if we are constantly desiring more.

I thought about these Frankfurt fellows who fled Hitler's Germany and came to America.  What was going on in their minds as they built a new life?  I have some ideas:
Disgust.  Adorno epitomized judgment by taking a "perspective on popular culture that is essentially a discourse from above on the culture of other people {a discourse of 'us vs. 'them'}" (pg. 70).

Joy.  Benjamin "celebrated the positive potential of 'mechanical reproduction'" (pg. 69).

Anger.  Horkheimer drew comparisons between Hitler's concentration camps in Germany and "the portals of culture industry" (pg. 16)

Sadness. In the introductory paragraph to The Culture Industry it states, "the unleashed entrepreneurial system {whose monuments are a mass of gloomy houses and business premises in grimy, spiritless cities}" (pg. 1).

Fear.  The Frankfurt thinkers were born in a time of oppression so they had a tendency to be fearful of the status quo.  "Whenever revolutionary tendencies show a timid head, they are mitigated and cut short by a false fulfillment of wish-dreams..." (pg. 63).


When you consider the role and power of popular culture on society, what emotion do you feel?


  1. Thanks for this post, I really enjoyed reading through it.

    After thinking about it for a little bit, I think my emotions when it comes to pop cultures role in society I fall somewhere between joy and fear. I couldn't quite cut it down to one. I feel joy because there are so many beautiful works of art in the pop culture landscape that are being shared with the world on a daily basis. Inside Out itself, I believe, is an example of this. But I do feel some fear as well, because the current pop culture landscape mainstreams violence (something I have a lot of feelings about). My friends and I grew up playing video games where we played as characters that were mass murderers, and while I don't really believe that it leads to the gamers themselves doing the same, it can make you more numb then you normally would when you've seen horrible acts simulated for hours upon hours.

    I also believe that at some point or another we will all go through every emotion with our current pop culture climate. We're so constantly being bombarded with new things that it would be hard for us to not feel the entire range of emotion.

  2. Exactly, Bryson! You get it! You get that the emotions are all necessary and will surface at different times. The child psychologist will celebrate you! :)

    Thanks for your thoughts,