media notes #6: Adorno on stereotypes and TV

Stereotypes “are an indispensable element of the organization and anticipation of experience, preventing us from falling into mental disorganization and chaos, no art can entirely dispense with them.”

But “reified and rigid” stereotypes are a threat in the present “setup of cultural industry.” “The more opaque and complicated modern life becomes, the more people are tempted to cling desperately to clichés which bring some order…”

“We should never forget that there are two sides to every psychodynamic phenomenon, the unconscious or id element and the rationalization.” The latter can be legitimate, but even where legitimate, as in moral messages that are cheesy but positive and true, “mechanical oversimplifications” risk “distorting.”

“The standard device employed is that of the spurious personalization of objective issues.” Personalization of issues is necessary but not to the extent of presenting “individuals as mere specimens of an abstraction.” TVs “phony psychology of the big shots” leads to identification with power.

Two examples of stereotypes in mass culture: “a pretty girl can do no wrong” and is “exploitative, demanding” etc. and the artist as a “maladjusted, introverted” weakling in contrast to the “man of action.”

“As happens frequently in mass culture, the roles of the sexes are reversed -the girl is utterly aggressive, and the boy, utterly afraid of her, describes himself as ‘woman-handled’ when she manages to kiss him.”

These “illustrations and examples” are not new but they are newly relevant in light of “the cultural and pedagogical problem presented by television.” The aim is to knowingly “face psychological mechanisms operating on various levels in order not to become blind and passive victims.”

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