Second verse, same as the first:
"Cartoons were once exponents of fantasy as opposed to rationalism. They ensured that justice was done to the creatures and objects they electrified, by giving the maimed specimens a second life. All they do today is to confirm the victory of technological reason over truth. A few years ago they had a consistent plot which only broke up in the final moments in a crazy chase, and thus resembled the old slapstick comedy. Now, however, time relations have shifted. In the very first sequence a motive is stated so that in the course of the action destruction can get to work on it: with the audience in pursuit, the protagonist becomes the worthless object of general violence. The quantity of organised amusement changes into the quality of organised cruelty. The self-elected censors of the film industry (with whom it enjoys a close relationship) watch over the unfolding of the crime, which is as drawn-out as a hunt. Fun replaces the pleasure which the sight of an embrace would allegedly afford, and postpones satisfaction till the day of the pogrom. Insofar as cartoons do any more than accustom the senses to the new tempo, they hammer into every brain the old lesson that continuous friction, the breaking down of all individual resistance, is the condition of life in this society. Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unfortunate in real life get their thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment."
After reading brain-fried paragraphs like this one, I begin to reconsider my resolve not to bother reading any more Adorno. Most of his writing in the "culture industry" chapter of the DIALECTIC is stiff and moralistic but seems essentially sane, but this goofball paragraph makes no sense whatsoever and so provides a bit more entertainment. One thing is certain from it: the author *really* didn't like Donald Duck.
It's also interesting that in this one paragraph from a 1944 book Adorno states the central theme of Gesrhon Legman's LOVE AND DEATH, the 1949 essay-collection in which Legman accuses all comic books of promulgating a "superman ideology" as a means of keeping American audiences psychologically "beaten down." In MEN OF TOMORROW Gerard Jones provides strong if circumstantial evidence for Adorno's possible influence on Fredric Wertham, but Legman and Adorno seem much closer in tone: more Kafkaesque in their evocation of Shadowy Controllers who call all the shots. By contrast Frederic Wertham directs all of his rhetoric against mere unscrupulous human beings.
Parenthetically, the fellow-traveler status of Legman and Adorno is illustrated by this 1954 Adorno essay, in which Adorno quotes one of Legman's essays.
The main reason the Adorno paragraph is such a mess is because he declined to cite any particular "exponents of fantasy" or of "rationalism," so that it's impossible to know what he's reacting against. But again, the appearance that one phase of cartoons produced by the culture industry could actually be better than another phase emphatically contradicts his stance that the products of the culture industry are always essentially the same.
It seems likely that the issue of violence is the thing that drives all three intellectuals-- Adorno, Wertham and Legman-- into states of relative incoherence. All were either Jewish or of Jewish extraction, and for all of them the rise of fascism in Europe became a spectre that they perceived to be haunting the United States as well (this despite the fact that the U.S. gave Adorno a sanctuary from fascism). However, Adorno's critique of popular culture goes much further than those of Wertham and Legman, as one sees here:
"A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself. Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong which it furthered. It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardisation and mass production, sacrificing whatever involved a distinction between the logic of the work and that of the social system."
Though Adorno is mapping out new territories of Capital's domination, territories of which Marx probably never dreamed, the Marxist paradigm remains unchanged: "the logic of the work" is perverted by those who control the social system, the masters whose only real logic is self-interest.
It's a paradigm that *can* appeal to the emotions of anyone who has been forced to knuckle under to the illogical, self-interested demands of parents, teachers, or bosses-- that is, to anyone. Thus the Frankfurt School of Adorno and his colleagues enjoyed a vogue for some time on college campuses, despite the fact that Adorno provides so few examples, or, in some cases, radically misstates the facts.
For instance, in the section I quoted in Part 1, Adorno condemns the heartless studios for having passed over "the tragic Garbo" in their ceaseless quest for the new. This misrepresents the facts in Garbo's case. Though a story did circulate for a time that Garbo had fallen out of favor due to the failure of her last film, a closer reading of the evidence suggests that (a) said film actually made five times its cost, and that (b) Garbo walked away from the business on her own, being a somewhat aloof and perhaps depressive personality who had invested her money so wisely that she didn't actually HAVE to work.
This is not to say that many workers in all industries have not been canned by cruel and capricious bosses. Because injustices of this kind exist (and may well always exist), Adornism (my term) continues to make converts. Still, it's been said that its influence on college campuses has waned in the last decade. It could be that it's lost some currency because of its tendency to see devils where none can be proved to exist.
The comics world, unfortunately, often remains behind the curve as far as new cultural developments. In the comics world Adornism does have one bastion as yet unshaken by more measured considerations of popular culture and canonical literature.
And anyone who can't guess the name of the bastion of "advocacy journalism" to which I've referred probably needs to take refresher courses in Comics Criticism 101.
More on that in an essay due out sometime in March 2010.
Number 2118: “Hot dawg! Ain’t I nifty?”
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