Who was the first philosopher to write seriously on the topic of movies, cinema, video games and other modern artifacts of popular culture?

Is there a good reference covering the birth of this branch of philosophy (critical theory?)

  • 2
    We still need a clearer idea of what you mean by pop philosophy. Also, this is really pretty broad.
    – Canyon
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 17:14
  • 1
    @SalvatoreDiFazio The difficulty in answering this is that people have always related philosophy to the popular culture of their times --Plato and Aristotle certainly did. However, you might enjoy my own blog, popculturephilosopher.com Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 17:42
  • 1
    In regards to the first question you were asking, there's an entire stack exchanged devoted to literature and you will probably be better off getting an answer there. What you are asking about in regards to pop philosophy, to me, sounds like you're just asking about literary, art, film, etc. criticism which is in the domain of critical studies. There is a good starting point for understanding literary theory here. Even though criticism isn't called philosophy (usually), this is the topic you're looking for.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 18:32
  • 3
    There's a whole series of books "Batman and Philosophy", "Southpark and Philosophy", "Harry Potter and Philosophy",...that might help. Critical Theory (Adorno, Horkheimer, more recently Zizek,...) examines pop culture from a philosophical point of view,...this question is way too broad to provide objective answers. Can you rephrase it? Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 18:41
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_theory#History is going to answer the question that you have written down right now. This question is not about popular philosophy though, that term doesn't mean what you think it means if this is a related question to your other question. Russell's book history of western philosophy is a work of popular philosophy, it has nothing to do with a philosophical study of popular culture. What you are looking for is critical theory.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 19:25

2 Answers 2


Critical theory, focused among other things on popular culture, dates I should say from the Frankfurt School founded in 1923 at the Institut fur Sozialforschung. There are no abrupt beginnings in the history of social theory; prefigurations of the work of the Frankfurt School are evident in Georg Simmel or even earlier in (how can we avoid the name ?) Marx.

Early members of the Frankfurt School included Carl Grunberg, Max Horkheimer. Friedrich Pollock, Leo Lowenthal, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and Erich Fromm formed an inner circle around Horkheimer, who became Director in 1930. It was in the 1930s and 40s that the School started to pay serious, systematic attention to the Nazi penetration of German society, to aesthetics, and to popular culture.

The School's influence greatly expanded when under Nazi hostility it relocated to Holland in 1931 and, of crucial importance, when in 1934 it re-established itself as the 'Institute of Social Research' at Columbia University in New York. The transatlantic transfer transformed the School into a formidably influential intellectual force.

A useful source is Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1973.

Since there was so much collaborative work in the School, it is perhaps invidious to name the first philosopher who undertook the type of social analysis you are interested in. But Horkheimer's inaugural lecture as Director, 'The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks of an Institute for Social Research', puts popular culture clearly in its sights. See Max Horkheimer, 'Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Early Writings', tr. Frederick Hunter, Matthew S. Kramer, John Torpey, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993.


This answer mainly collects suggestions given in the comments section:




  • 3
    I read the Philosophy Now manifesto. In the 3rd section, not only does he fail to mention critical theory, but he dismisses the idea of a "philosophy of pop culture" all together, which is strange. Like someone talking about economics but not mentioning Marx and saying that a philosophy of economics is useless. Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 15:45
  • In the Frankfurt School, you will see a mix of Marx and Freud. Russell Jacoby's book "Social Amnesia" is good. Erich Fromm's book "Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud" is interesting. It is often forgotten that Fromm was an early member of the Frankfurt School. Also, we should remember those outside the School: Paul Nazin, French, "The Watchdogs". I also mentioned Andre Bazin on film, very important.
    – Gordon
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 15:09

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