In the "Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", Adorno and Horkheimer state that:

Anyone who resists can only survive by fitting in. Once his particular brand of deviation from the norm has been noted by the industry, he belongs to it as does the land-reformer to capitalism.

And later

Even today the culture industry dresses works of art like political slogans and forces them upon a resistant public at reduced prices; they are as accessible for public enjoyment as a park. But the disappearance of their genuine commodity character does not mean that they have been abolished in the life of a free society, but that the last defence against their reduction to culture goods has fallen.

Reading these passages and looking at authors like Ayn Rand, Sam Harris, Slavoj Zizek, Alain De Botton (and to some extent Dan Dennett), as well as the supposedly philosophical ambitions of some mainstream hollywood productions. And, worse seeing the profusion of books like "The Sipmspons and Philosophy" and "Batman and Philosophy", one can't help but ask, has the culture industry gotten to the point that it has absorbed even philosophy?

My questions:

  1. Am I interpreting the two passages by Adorno and Horkheimer correctly: That any artistic or literary form (including philosophy) can get hijacked by the culture industry? Or do they mean something else by those passages?
  2. Has any one from the Frankfurt School, Critical Theory, or philosophy in general discussed the hijacking of philosophy by pop-culture? That even philosophy can lose its value and be commodified?
  • So this doesn't really answer your two questions, but I noticed the argument is in the form of "if you take the limit as culture approaches being everything, we see that culture can hijack anything, even philosophy. Thus, culture has hijacked everything." It seems very tricky to assume that we can take that limit. It implies that there is absolutely nothing under the sun which is not cultural (including the sun itself!), which is a tricky claim for most definitions of culture.
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 24, 2017 at 21:10
  • 1
    Not a response to your questions, but as I read this I wonder what parallels could be drawn from your second question with the very beginnings of philosophy proper with the constant struggle to defend it from the litany of forms of Sophism. Could not Hippias or Protagoras, making money from and comodifying cheap forms of rhetoric be considered an ancient parallel? Or even the authors of the "Second Sophistic" who said and did nothing of historical significance but whom were rewarded in their time with momentary celebrity and wealth. Mar 25, 2017 at 3:57
  • @ClearMountainWay interesting analogy indeed: So what was the criteria by which philosophy was demarcated from sophistry? Mar 26, 2017 at 17:11
  • @anon I see what you mean, but how would you measure "fully absorbed"? Unlike art - where the boundary between commercial and "authentic" is hard to draw, presumably there will always be pure philosophers who stick to academic philosophical publications and don't seek any commercial or media attention what so ever. Mar 26, 2017 at 17:20
  • Adorno is clear that authentic art can and has been absorbed by the culture industry (mozart ringtones). Why would modern art or theory be exempt from that -- even its absolute expression?
    – anon
    Mar 26, 2017 at 17:24

2 Answers 2


I think this was a motivation for some artists to create works that couldn't be commodified, for example the arte povera movement in Italy.

Horkheimer does write in the Culture Industry:

The reputation of the specialist, in which a last remnant of objective independence sometimes finds refuge, conflicts with the business politics of the Church, or the concern which is manufacturing the cultural commodity.

So he holds out some hope, not only for philosophy but also other modes of intellectual and artistic inquiry. I think traditionally this was the role of the academy in society, at least this is the point the Bloom makes in eulogising this instituition in his book, The Closing of the American Mind, which he later, not retracts but is more nuanced about.


No theory escapes the market anymore: each one is offered as a possibility among competing opinions, all are made available, all snapped up. Thought need no more put blinders on itself, in the self-justifying conviction that one’s own theory is exempt from this fate, which degenerates into narcissistic self-promotion, than dialectics need fall silent before such a reproach

  • is my question ok? i thought it a good one, but no votes
    – user6917
    Jul 11, 2016 at 12:21

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