The Frankfurt School is a sociological school of thought founded during the interwar period which sought to analyse the areas of society that Karl Marx ignored, such as the superstructure of society, which I’ll come onto later. Marx’s theory that a socialist revolution would arise in revolt against the systems which oppressed people turned out to be inaccurate, with fascism rising in popularity instead – the opposite to Marx’s theory. The writings of the Frankfurt School pointed to alternate methods of social change. The main figures of the school sought to learn from the works of Marx, Kant, Hegel, Freud and Weber.
The Frankfurt School were the first to coin the term Critical Theory, which was initially outlined by Horkheimer in 1937. Critical theory is a self-conscious social change critique that aimed to emancipate people through enlightenment. By this, they mean that researchers’ analyses are always shaped by the ideologies that their society has adopted, and thus, conclusions always conform to those ideologies.Theory’s original aim was to analyse the true significance of “the ruling understandings” generated in a Bourgeois society in order to show how they misrepresented actual human interaction in the real world. Frankfurt School sought a logic that would always remain true without consideration of historical context.
In order to do this, theorists of the school had to look at the parts of society which were framing the way people thought. This is where The Culture Industry and Superstructure society come in to play. Superstructure is a term for cultural institutions, political power structures and the channels through which the ruling class implement their ideologies. The Culture Industry is the idea that more or less everything is commodified to be bought and sold, and that nothing is truly original. The school’s theorists claimed that “culture now impresses the same stamp on everything” and that “movies and radio need no longer pretend to be art. The truth that they are just business is made into an ideology in order to justify the rubbish they deliberately produce.” The Frankfurt School hold people accountable for allowing this to happen, they believed that: “the attitude of the public, which ostensibly and actually favours the system of the culture industry, is part of the system and not an excuse for it”. This may be because “there is something for everyone so no-one may escape”, explaining how capitalism provides material products for everyone to consume in order to keep them content.
What intrigued me about The Frankfurt School and their ideas on the Culture Industry and Critical Theory is that I believe a lot of their principle ideas can still be seen as relevant today. The socialist revolution still hasn’t happened, and a lot of the ideas about culture are still prevalent in today’s society. The Frankfurt School predicted that “the ruthless unity in the culture industry is evidence of what will happen in politics”. Now, look who is the Republican nominee for President of the United States and how, throughout most of his campaign, the majority of the media outlets have supported him. There are frightening similarities to the rise of fascism in the 1930s.