‘The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises.’ – Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer

What does the above quote mean and what is its significance?

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In their chapter called "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Deception," in Dialectic of Enlightenment, Adorno and Horkheimer define the culture industry as what was primarily produced for popular consumption at the time (1947): magazines, radio programming, and movies. The two men argue that the culture industry grinds out its "art" as if movies or magazine articles are factory products. Everything is more or less that same. Standardized production of culture doesn't wake people up to look at the world in a new way, which genuine art does, but lulls them into passivity. It simply reproduces the world around them that they are already familiar with.

Adorno and Horkeimer say that "The culture industry perpetually cheats its consumers of what it perpetually promises." They mean that the trailers for movies or advertisements for magazines are teasers that lie to the consumer. They pretend to offer a wonderful, different kind of world, but deliver more of the same old things that people are used to. As the two writers put it, instead of a feast, a viewer's appetite is offered no more than:

the depressing everyday world it sought to escape

Rather than alternatives, the culture industry mass produces the same white teeth, the same kind of beauty, the same plots, and ultimately, the same politics. This leaves people empty. Because of this emptiness, individuals feel driven to consume more and more seeking fulfillment that never comes. Mass culture is like junk food that never quite satisfies the body's need for nutrition. It does, however, the writers contend, keep people passive so that they won't seek political change.

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