Adorno and Blogs

November 18, 2009

Today we will be discussing The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer as well as Clement Greenberg’s Avant-Garde and Kitsch. I will post something about our discussion later and I am excited about how our conversation will go.  I just want to post some thoughts that I have been having and also share an interesting writing about blogs and visual culture that I came across.

Lately I have been feeling very apathetic.  It is probably due to a lot of reasons but wasting way too much time in front of the computer every night doesn’t help.  I subscribe to over 50 blogs as I am sure most everyone else does at well.  I have become compulsive about checking them and feel I am neglecting my “work” if I don’t read the posts everyday.  It’s funny but for all the art that the blogs bring to me rarely do I come across anything fantastic.  Most of the blogs that I subscribe to are art blogs and after looking at them I feel exhausted.  It is like I have just walked through 20 galleries and not seen anything great.  It is the same feeling that I have when walking through a lot of art fairs, exhausted and wishing for just one great thing, something that will redeem the boredom.  The most satisfying blogs are ones that get an uncomfortable laugh out of me like Regretsy or People of Wal-Mart with their pithy comments and incredible self-loathing.  But I always feel a little bitter after looking at their posts, like I have become someone that I’m not proud of.

I have been thinking about how everything looks the same to me and with the more I see the more bored I feel.  I bring up the Adorno article because I think the same boredom and anger at mediocre cultural endeavors is there.  I think if I had read this article maybe a year ago, my reaction would be quite different.  I would think that Adorno was harsh or maybe completely out of line.  But I have to say that I found parts of The Culture Industry to be charming and hold a lot of truth.  I will get to the two writings in further depth following our discussion today, but for now I want to share an article that I came across in a blog the other day that embodies the same dissatisfaction that I have been feeling as of late.  The article is titled Are We ffff*ucked? and is written by Mario Hugo.  I came across it via the It’s Nice That blog.

I see it as along the same lines of Adorno and Greenberg.  Hugo is dissatisfied with the blog culture and how it has misrepresented the arts.  I wonder if Hugo is a follower of Adorno’s writings?  Any thoughts?


She’s evil…and not just high school evil.

November 17, 2009


I saw the movie “Jennifer’s Body” a while ago and it has really stuck with me.  I knew after seeing it that it really relates to the discussion of this course and blog.  I want to see this movie again, but it is out of the theaters now.  I am waiting for it to come onto DVD so that I can watch it several times in a row.  I was surprised to find that this film did not get such great ratings from the critics, despite the fact that it is written by Diablo Cody.

The reviews that I read stated that it fit into the horror genre comfortably.  I feel that is just a surface read of the film.  Sure, you can watch it and enjoy it without a close reading.  It has beautiful actresses, gore, complicated sets and contemporary costumes, but I feel that simply watching it loses many of the intricate cultural criticisms within it.

Firstly I see the two main characters as both playing within and also dismantling stereotypes of the genre.  There is the mousy character of Needy and the sensual character of Jennifer.  They are opposing, yet within the confines of the film they are best friends.  Yet they do not remain in their stereotypes.  As characters, they surpass them.  I saw this film as a great metaphor for the kind of toxic close friendships that many women experience in their adolescence.  Every woman has been a Needy and every woman has been a Jennifer.  Rather than stereotypes, I saw the two characters as archetypes.

This film feels very “of the now” with the embedded references to the Station nightclub fire, the rise of adolescent vampire chic and the cultural acceptance of the Emo male heartthrob within television shows like Gossip Girl and the OC. But it turns those conventional cultural landmarks on their heads.  The Emo heartthrob is actually a comedic satanic practitioner who wants to “make it big” with his band, the nightclub fire is a backdrop for the characters rather than a life changing event and the moody emotionless male vampire (Twilight, Angel, True Blood) has been replaced with a strong sexual woman who hungers for more than just flirtation.  The climatic scene in the film which occurs on Prom Night, rather than taking place in the dark hallways of the highschool has moved outside of the school.  It has been misplaced to an abandoned mansion’s pool filled with living fauna and flora.  The mansion as well as an earlier setting in the film of an abandoned subdivision speak to the landscapes teenagers have always sought out, yet are currently more available due to the economic downturn.

I felt that this film was a film for women, rather than a typical teen horror film aimed at men.  Diablo Cody has rescued actress Megan Fox from the likes of Transformers 2 and made her an interesting, flawed and real monster.  In the end, the film was about the relationship between two women, which I can think of no other horror film that fits that description.  Here’s hoping that this film will encourage other women writers to tackle the genre of horror and bring their cultural baggage into it.  This film felt a lot more messy and a lot more fascinating than any other horror film I can think of and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Giants and Toys

November 17, 2009

Yesterday I had the pleasure to watch the 1958 film Giants and Toys (Kyojin to gangu) directed by Yasuzo Masumura.  Netflix had recommended this film to me, and I must say that yet again Netflix knows me better than I know myself.  I loved this film.  The look of it was amazing and the plot I found to be very significant in our readings of Harris and Adorno.

The film’s main character Nishi is a young employee of the World Caramel Company in the advertising and marketing sector.  World Caramels are in direct competition with two other caramel companies and it is the time of their advertising launches.  This is the heyday of product giveaways and promotions to sell a product and Nishi is learning to navigate the harsh environment.  Nishi interacts with members of his rival companies in a bar and it is through them that he learns of the realities of business.  World Caramels creates a superstar in Kyoko, a young girl with horrible teeth that Nishi sees on the street.  Kyoko and her dreadful teeth become the face of World Caramels and the promotion is settled on a giveaway of spacesuits and space toys.  Traditionally, Nishi would become the powerful in this film and Kyoko would become the used and thrown away as another postergirl was found for the product, someone fresher and more viable.  But that is not the case with this film.

I was thinking about Adorno and Harris’ ideas while watching this film.  I was thinking about the culture of advertising and Adorno’s culture industry.  Nishi is not aware of what he is getting himself into and neither are we as the viewers.  The industry here is pervasive and wicked and both Nishi and Kyoko are its instruments.

The look of this film is so wonderful.  I love the seas of businessmen in suits and the photos of Kyoko selling her caramels.  The transformation of Kyoko is remarkable as a character and also aesthetically beautiful.  She becomes something much more than caramels.  Although I love the look of Kyoko as she first appears in the film with her high ponytail, bangs and tin can of tadpoles, she is barely recognizable in her final performance scene at the end.  All of the tomboy charm and wild energy is replaced with calm and glamor.  She has truly embodied the essence of the postergirl, the it girl, the star.  The final advertising clip that Kyoko shoots for World is so strange and surreal.  She in her spacesuit surrounded by mayflower queens is a strange sight.

No matter how much Nishi and Kyoko are different from the advertising industry and the culture industry, they get sucked into it and it changes them.  As much as they believe they have control, they are controlled.

Dunkin’ Donuts Kitsch

October 28, 2009

Thanks to Julia, Lauren and Jenn for the good discussion this morning.  With the unforeseeable demise of our coffee shop, we moved to the outdoor Dunkin’ Donuts populated with students, sunshine and the radio.  Hopefully next time we can secure a place with less distractions.

dunkindonutsI guess it makes sense in a way to be talking about deliciousness and kitsch in the Dunkin’ Donuts.  I am so glad to have Lauren and Jenn join in on the discussion because it brings multiple perspectives and I believe our text to be related to all of our artworks.  I am a little sad to have finished the discussion of Harris’ book.  I really love this text and I think that it is very influential to me.  I enjoyed our discussion of bathing today as related to Harris’ chapter on cleanness.  The sexuality of the bath as a preparation for sexual acts in old advertising transforms into the bath as a place of escape from the hectic world of the modern woman.  “You deserve it!”  “Calgon, Take me away!”

3952216088_cf257d6de0The trend in advertising to acknowledge the distrust of the consumer is something that we discussed through the example of the Dove commercials now circulating the claim of showcasing real beauty.  We talked about the dual ad for Dove and Wal-Mart that uses the “Ears hang low”song which lead into the interesting topic of the real or authentic.  From there we got into a discussion of modernism versus relational aesthetics.  All in all I think it was a good ending for our discussion of Harris’ book.  I think that the ideas and aesthetics in this book will stick with me.  I know that I will return to it and relate it to future readings.  We have decided to take a break next week and then return to discuss texts by Adorno and Greenberg.

The Kinkiest Film of the Year

October 24, 2009


Sweeney Todd

October 24, 2009

Julia and I met to watch ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’.  The film was a musical, which neither of us had realized it was going to be.  I knew that it was a film adaptation of a Broadway musical, but I had no idea that the film was also going to be a musical.  I figured that it was going to be a version of the story with no songs.  The songs were okay, but I think that it would have functioned better without them.  It was a little jarring when the characters began to sing.  The songs seemed really conventional, flat and ordinary compared to the aesthetics of the film.

I had no knowledge of the story walking into the film.  I knew that the original musical was really bloody but I think I was not prepared for the amount of blood in this film.  It was a theatrical gushing of bright red that upstaged all the actors and became, for me, the center of the film.  The blood became the unexpected other in the cast of characters, more vivid than the gothic setting of shades of black and grey.


I would like to discuss this film in relation to the aethetics of consumerism of Daniel Harris.  I was thinking about Harris’ proposal of quaintness during this film.  But I think that Sweeney Todd operates in both the realm of quaint and anti-quaint.  It is quaint in a sense that it is a period piece, so therefore an idealized version of the past.  But instead of idealizing the typical quaintness of London in the late 1800’s with warm cheery interiors, it idealizes an anti-quaintness of drafty, dirty coolness.  The anti-quaint is not authentic.  This is not a real dank basement filled with corpses and a machine that turns them into pies.  It is imaginary, even within the constrains of the film.  This is evidenced by Todd’s barber shop where the killing occurs, yet it remains as clean as a stage set even for all the gushing blood.

The dream sequence in the film is pretty extraordinary.  The anti-quaint aesthetic is transported via the characters to a scenery where it simply does not fit, the sunny beach.  The characters are not transformed in the change of locale, they remain their ever-morbid selves.

Watching this film and thinking about Harris’ book, made me realize that the aesthetic of this film, that of the macabre, is something largely ignored by Harris.  He talks about it in the chapter on Coolness, but I feel that it is much larger than that and is deserving of its own chapter.

If I am able to find the anti-quaint in this film, and the anti-cute is prevalent in so many films (Bride of Chucky, Problem Child), this makes me wonder how many other anti-aesthetics are out there?  Is it possible to have an anti-aesthetic that negates or respond to each of the aesthetics outlined by Harris?

The films of Tim Burton are prime examples of the pop-macabre genre.  The macabre is cool rather than seriously dark, and also rebellious and humorous.  Theatrical is a good way of describing his works.  Playful rather than austere.  All elements of the film are self-aware of their rebelliousness, which is perhaps the charm of them.

Rembrandt/Saturday Evening Post

October 24, 2009

“An increasingly dominant market system, fueled by the irrepressible fecundity of mass production, generates its own characteristic cultural forms (advertising, mass media), which threaten to usurp art’s role entirely, even as they erode the public’s ability to distinguish a Rembrandt from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.  Far from overcoming our narcissistic isolation, consumer culture feeds on it, transforming the redemptive power of an aesthetic communion into the banal transactions of the shopping mall and the Ebay auction.  We are reduced to an atomized pseudocommunity of consumers, our sensibilities dulled by spectacle and repetition.  The relationship between art, advertising and propaganda constitutes a central point of tension in modern art theory.  Art’s function as a form of emancipatory communication is almost always presented in opposition to a malevolent other (kitsch, mass culture, etc.) that threatens to destroy or compromise it in some way.  As a result, the “universal freedom” that art promises “to everyone” must be deferred as art struggles simply to survive against the encroaching flood of billboards, glossy magazines, and Hollywood movies.  By the mid- to late nineteenth century, techniques of mass production and the consolidation of advertising as a cultural form designed to both incite and regularize consumer demand were making it increasingly difficult to establish a firm ontological boundary between the “work of art” and the commodity.”

—Grant H. Kester, Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art, pg 29-30.

CP3 copy

I am in the process of re-reading Conversation Pieces for my sculpture seminar course with Celeste Roberge.  I am totally in love with this book.  I really like Kester’s voice and the way that he lays out his argument is really refreshing.  I like the premise of this book as well–he is proposing that the work that is becoming more and more prevalent that focuses on conversation at its core (which he calls dialogical) is both in response against and following the tradition of modernism.  Instead of just jumping into the work that he wants to discuss, he builds a strong foundation by discussing the avant-garde and its place within its own history.  I especially like the above paragraph in relation to our discussion of kitsch and Harris’ book.  I think it is very well stated.

Martin Parr/Kitsch Culture

September 20, 2009

Ran across this blog about Martin Parr…

The post is about an exhibit in Paris that shows the photography of Parr alongside objects he has collected.  Some of Parr’s work explores tourism so the link here between kitsch and tourism is strong.  I am very interested in his personal postcard collection, as I have one of those myself.  I think this idea is a great one.  Show source material along with work.  Especially when the source material is as fantastic as the Hussein watch of Parr’s.

J. Crew is so gross!

September 20, 2009

Okay.  So speaking of our low/high culture clash conversation, here is an all time low.  A couple of days ago, I received the newest J. Crew catalog in the mail.  I urge you to get a copy of this if you can!  I will bring my copy to the next discussion group.

What’s so strange about a J. Crew catalog, you may ask?

Well.  Generally not much, but this time is a different story.  J. Crew is currently trying to re-vamp their image as boring basics peddler and become truly high class mass-produced sweat-shop-made couture.  With Michelle Obama wearing their duds and a slew of news stories surrounding their new look, they are on their way to changing their image.

I happened to notice in the last catalog that came my way, a photo of the artist Alex Katz decked out a la J. Crew.  I thought it was some sort of strange anomaly, but no.  The current issue of the J. Crew catalog is filled with artists wearing J. Crew clothes.  Okay, this is a little weird, no?  But it goes further.  The women’s section remains the same as ever.  The women’s clothes are all being sold by models. Flip to the men’s section and it is a completely different catalog.  The men’s section has NO models.  Artists in their studios are photographed wearing J. Crew clothes.  This is completely sick to me.

This catalog is telling me that

1. there are no female artists,

2. or, the only artists worth mentioning are men

3. that it is important to look good as an artist

4. j. crew = looking good

There are so many things wrong with this catalog.  I am seriously outraged over this.  I mean, what is avant-garde about J. Crew?  Why would anyone seriously do this?

The list of artists appearing in this catalog are:

Vito Acconci, Ryan McGinness, Chris Dorland, Glenn Ligon, Lucien Smith, Billy Sullivan and Stephen Shore

Why these artists?  What is so marketable about them, J. Crew?

Here is a link to some of the photos:

I want Jerry Saltz to write about this.  I want to write a letter to J. Crew and tell them how gross they are to me.  I want to NEVER shop at J. Crew again.

Since when did a catalog become a faux-magazine?

I was talking to Charlie about this and his thoughts comforted me somewhat.   He said that…

1. The women’s and men’s sides of the catalog probably have different photo editors and creators and that they probably had no idea that what they put together would be read as so offensive to me.

2. Vito Acconci is wearing a lot of make-up in his photos.

3. When I asked Charlie why they didn’t have architects (or writers or actors, etc.) he said that he  thought artists were probably cheaper.

P.S>>>Here is a link to a blog talking about Alex Katz appearing in the previous issue of the J. Crew catalog..

Self Storage

September 20, 2009

Here is the link for the article Julia told us about in crit.

The article appeared in the New York Times Magazine on 9/6/09.  It is titled, The Self Storage Self.  Author Jon Mooallem begins by giving the history of the self storage unit which seems to be quintessentially American.  The article is pretty depressing.  I find storage units fascinating and the article still depressed me.  How could it not?  It gives an account of an older man who is a veteran and lives in his truck, keeping all of his possessions in a storage unit because he is in deep credit card debt.

Why are storage units so American?  This accumulation of uselessness is heartbreaking.  What is it that we think these broken toaster ovens, boxes of books that aren’t that great, Tupperware containers without lids and old clothes will bring us?  Why do we have such a hard time letting go?

This makes me think of the Beijing artist Song Dong’s exhibit, Projects 90 at MoMA that I saw this summer.

Here is a link to MoMA’s site about the show:

I spent a long time looking at this accumulation of materials.  And I took a lot of pictures which I will add below.  The story of the exhibit is sad and amazing, but nothing can compare with seeing it in person.  The materials are categorized so beautifully.  I like the mingling of sadness and beauty that I felt while experiencing this piece.  I guess that is the same way I feel about storage units.

empty plastic bottles

empty plastic bottles

toothepaste tubes

toothepaste tubes



Part of why Song Dong’s piece resonates so much with me is that the objects themselves are so colorful and beautiful and seeing them collected together strengthens each individual object.  But the objects are inherently sad.  There is a lingering stillness and death about each one.  They are dead objects whose purpose is no longer useful, but they were kept and there was an unwillingness to let them go.

Daniel Harris talks about objects in the Quaintness chapter and the anthropomorphism that we put onto those objects.  We think that old homes retain the essence of their former owners, and we feel the same way about furniture and everyday objects.  I must say that I am someone that fully subscribes to this idea however irrational it may be.  But usually this anthropomorphism happens to expensive Victorian chairs, and old pianos, and drafty houses, and not everyday mass produced items.  We don’t think of new computers as having this quality, or empty tubes of toothpaste.  Which is why the Song Dong exhibit really floored me.  Here is all this stuff, trash really, and I was feeling some essence off of it.  I was feeling the artist and his mother.  I was feeling the sorting and the collecting and the refusal to throw away.

Maybe I am sensitive to this coming from recently cleaning out my grandmother’s home when she passed away in 2007?  Or maybe I am just a sentimental person?  But I have to question how our feelings towards objects have changed now that we own almost nothing that is not mass-produced.  I think that this idea is really relevant to our discussion and questioning of kitsch.  What do we value?  And why?