In the "Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer write that pop culture and mass media are tools of deception, used to manipulate the masses into passivity. Pop culture deceives people, or as Adorno said is a "defrauding of the masses", by giving them the illusion of meaning and participation, and by pretending to be authentic art when all it really is, is a factory produced commodity.
Adorno and Horkheimer also write:
The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises. The promissory note which, with its plots and staging, it draws on pleasure is endlessly prolonged; the promise, which is actually all the spectacle consists of, is illusory: all it actually confirms is that the real point will never be reached, that the diner must be satisfied with the menu. [...] By repeatedly exposing the objects of desire, breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero, it only stimulates the unsublimated forepleasure which habitual deprivation has long since reduced to a masochistic semblance. There is no erotic situation which, while insinuating and exciting, does not fail to indicate unmistakably that things can never go that far.
On one hand, modern pornography doesn't seem to fit these descriptions:
- It does not pretend to be anything other than what it really is. In fact most modern porn films don't even bother with plot or anything and just go straight to the sex scenes.
- Viewers are not perpetually cheated of the promise made by the film, and the wait is not "endlessly prolonged". Porn does "go that far" and sometimes further, and fulfills whatever promises were implied at the beginning of the film.
- One can even argue that hard core and extreme varieties of porn challenge and transgresse in ways that mainstream media never does.
On the other hand:
- Pornography seems like a perfect tool for manipulating the (mostly male) masses, by satisfying base and false psychological needs, while distracting them from the real need for freedom, happiness, connection, etc...
- It is definitely factory produced and commodified, even more so than pop culture.
So, based on these considerations, my question is:
- Would Adorno and Horkheimer indeed consider modern porn to be authentic in a way that pop culture isn't?
- Or would they have labeled as just being an extreme case of pop culture, what happens when the culture industry is pushed to its logical conclusion?