Mass culture

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Mass culture is the idea that such culture emerges spontaneously from the masses themselves, like popular art did before the 20th century.


  • In general they are intoxicated by the fame of mass culture, a fame which the latter knows how to manipulate; they could just as well get together in clubs for worshipping film stars or for collecting autographs. What is important to them is the sense of belonging as such, identification, without paying particular attention to its content. As girls, they have trained themselves to faint upon hearing the voice of a 'crooner'. Their applause, cued in by a light-signal, is transmitted directly on the popular radio programmes they are permitted to attend. They call themselves 'jitter-bugs', bugs which carry out reflex movements, performers of their own ecstasy. Merely to be carried away by anything at all, to have something of their own, compensates for their impoverished and barren existence. The gesture of adolescence, which raves for this or that on one day with the ever-present possibility of damning it as idiocy on the next, is now socialized.
  • What would we think of an observer who published a log in which he recorded: On the 12th I saw the moon, on the 13th the sun looked very nice, the following night you could see a lot of stars (et cetera)? ... Most of our writers are moral observers of precisely that caliber, and the expert is as appalled when he reads it as an expert astronomer would be to read such a log.
  • In a public, as we may understand the term,
(1) virtually as many people express opinions as receive them,
(2) Public communications are so organised that there is a chance immediately and effectively to answer back any opinion expressed in public. Opinion formed by such discussion
(3) readily finds an outlet in effective action, even against – if necessary – the prevailing system of authority. And
(4) authoritative institutions do not penetrate the public, which is thus more or less autonomous in its operations.
In a mass,
(1) far fewer people express opinions than receive them; for the community of publics becomes an abstract collection of individuals who receive impressions from the mass media.
(2) The communications that prevail are so organised that it is difficult or impossible for the individual to answer back immediately or with any effect.
(3) The realisation of opinion in action is controlled by authorities who organise and control the channels of such action.
(4) The mass has no autonomy from institutions; on the contrary, agents of authorised institutions penetrate this mass, reducing any autonomy it may have in the formation of opinion by discussion.
  • A mass culture is a culture which can be appropriated by the meanest capacities without any intellectual or moral effort whatsoever. ... Liberal education is the counterpoison to mass culture, to the corroding effects of mass culture, to its inherent tendency to produce nothing but “specialists without spirit or vision and voluptuaries without heart."
    • Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education,” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), p. 5
The phrase “specialists without spirit or vision and voluptuaries without heart.” is from Max Weber

See also

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