No future? Subcultures, manufactured cultures and the economy Manufactured cultures and the economy—the
Adorno argued that this production of popular music as a commodity determined its cultural quality. Because it has to attract large number of consumers, it has to create false needs-false because they have to serve capitalism. Thus the need to consume is invented, satisfied by consumption. One reason for this line of argument was that mass culture, especially films and popular music, was seen as ‘Americanised’. Non-Americans were fascinated by American music, especially jazz, films, newspapers and methods of mass production. America became a symbol of democracy, of progress, modernisation, accessibility to consumption and freedom. America itself, argues Frith, became an object of consumption and a symbol of pleasure. Most critics of mass culture took for granted the passive element of consumption by the masses. Its very accessibility meant that it became written off as inferior. One element of European criticism was elitist. Something which had such wide appeal and was mass produced must be inferior. The other criticism came from Marxists who, because of the implications of American capitalism, argued mass culture must be shoddy and banal, and its purpose was seen to divert the masses from their position of exploitation. By the 1950s the mass culture debate was in fact a debate about American mass culture. In the context of the Cold War, American culture was seen by American sociology as democratic culture, and defended as such. However, even in the 1930s there were competing interpretations of culture. Walter Benjamin (1970) discussed ‘the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction’ seeing the technology of mass reproduction as a progressive force which broke the traditional authority and awe (the ‘aura’) of art. Artists could be seen as democratic producers, whose work was open to the mass of the people, each of whom could become an ‘expert’. During the 1950s the view was popular that mass culture was a form of the ‘opium of the people’. But, as Laing points out, popular music such as rock contains liberating as well as oppressive forces. Rock music certainly resulted from the music industry’s attempt to develop new markets, but it also resulted from its youthful audience’s attempts to find a medium expressing its own experience. It is this space which gives popular art its form and direction, and where the artist concerned can work. It was Hall and Whannel (1964) who correctly interpreted teenage culture as ‘a contradictory mixture of the authentic and the manufacturedan area of self expression for the young and lush grazing ground for the commercial providers’.