Frankfurt school represents a fairly broad series of views, ranging from the pessimism of Theodor Adorno through the balancing ideas of Herbert Marcuse to the optimism of Jürgen Habermas. As such, I find myself torn between the disagreement with some of its thinkers (like Adorno) and my support for others (like Habermas). Therefore I decided to look at some of the issues raised in their works, attempting to show you some real-life examples, that – in my view – make or break their points.
Adorno makes the case that technology prevents the class conflict by saturating the masses with goods (p.130) yet those goods are only material, not intellectual. I will counter him with another Frankfurtianist - Walter Benjamin, who views the technology as the tool bringing arts to the masses.Yes, standarization of culture is strong, but at the same time independent forces are getting stronger then ever – look, for example, at the distribution of independent movies through the Internet (visit onedotzero or iFilm), or consider how the idependent music challenging established brands (artists saying 'we don't want to pay you crippling royalties, we will sell our music online, and here, we are all equal).
Adorno and his fellow pessimists state that late capitalism represents the subordination of reason to industry commerce and profit market. I do actually agree with this – watching The Corporation should be enough to convince anybody – but the realization that globalization and capitalism are not perfect should not really be shocking. Homo sapiens is not a creature of perfection, but have we really sacrificed justice? I don't think so – if we did, we would have never created such an organization as the International Criminal Court. Equality? Equal rights is a fairly modern concept, if I am not mistaken? Loss of imagination? Tell that to the role-playing gamers, struggling with the accusations that they live in the world of imagination. Tolerance? I haven't heard of any religious wars or stake burnings lately - have you? The world is coming to an end? Uh – too far, they have not been saying that, did they? Still - scaremongering, I say to most such concepts. Although considering that most of those are basically a minority (off mainstream culture) pastimes, I can see why Herbert Marcuse argues that the potential of change lies with the outcasts.
Finally, we reach Harbermas. His ideas do tie nicely with the critique of the more pessimistic Frankrurtians. In his writings about the public sphere he aims to overcome the pessimism of his predecessors, but not abandoning it (a healthy dose of pessimism is always good, I say). Thus he makes a very good point that the mass society, with its institutions like the political parties undermine the quality of discourse and weaken the public sphere. But there is hope: this is why classical media is becoming a dinosaur threatened by the blogs, and blogosphere for many Internet-users is becoming a proffered source of information.(if you haven't, I strongly encourage you to visit the famous blogs like andrewsullivan.com, politics1.com or Daily Kos). Similarly, the political parties are under attack from non-partisan information-dissemination sites like Project Vote Smart. Habermas writes much about such discourse online, seeing in those tools the ideal way to reach the social consensus.
All things considered, I think that Frankfurt school offers a very wide range of frameworks we can chose to look at the reality surrounding us. I have chosen mine – and I look forward to hearing yours.