Sunday, March 16, 2014

Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer, Bieber?

            I remember a discussion I had with a friend about how Facebook and Twitter has allowed any person to become “celebrity.” They most likely won’t attract hordes of followers and paparazzi, but today anyone can experience the sensation of others viewing their lives and are able to (or attempt to) construct an image of how others perceive them in an unprecedented way. In a similar fashion, Blogger/Wordpress, Flickr, Deviantart, Bandcamp, etc. allow anyone to be an author, a photographer, an artist, or a musician, with an engaged audience (however small). While there’s a blatant gap in time and technology, this idea complicates our readings in an interesting way in terms of blurring the lines between an industry, an author, and the public.
            Benjamin enters this notion in terms of cult and exhibition value, which seem to be divided by the smallest margin thanks to the aforementioned applications.  Because the cult value is dependent on objects “existence, not their being on view” (The Work of Art… 5), we can imagine the fine line between photographs that are viewed only by the individual taking them, and those same pictures being uploaded to a site viewed by any number of followers. While Benjamin suggest the transition to exhibition occurs “all along the line” (6) of photography, I wonder how he would view the fact that most of us carry around cameras on our phones that allow for greater availability to ritualistic photographs, while simultaneously allowing easier exhibition of them than ever before. If a father snaps a picture of his son on the kid’s birthday, it seems like the user decides which pole of reproduction the photo would take; the transformation would occur instantaneously and, more importantly, independent of other similar works.
             For Horkeimer and Adorno, I see this issue fitting into their understanding of culture and industry, but immanently modifying it through the idea of the masses. “Because culture presents itself as a bonus,” they say, “its reception has become a matter of taking one’s chances. The public crowds forward for fear of missing something” (131). Reading this made me instantly think of a tween girl religiously following Justin Bieber’s tweets, but then I realized I’m in no position to criticize due to my constant reloading of reddit (where, incidentally, most of my Bieber news is foisted upon me). And while I’m sure many of us have sites or blogs that we follow and track, the idea that most of us engage in our own social media sites paints us as part of the problem. We’re not churning out CGI vomit like Michael Bay, but we’re producing our own microcosm of culture that others are constantly checking. In this way, do we not constitute consumers of culture as well as part of the industry?


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