Theodor W. Adorno - Standardization


The phenomenon of standardization is “a concept used to characterize the formulaic products of capitalist-driven mass media and mass culture that appeal to the lowest common denominator in pursuit of maximum profit” (Laughey:2007:204). It would suggest that in today’s modern society (edited in 2012), according to Adorno we inhabit a media culture driven society in which one of it’s main characteristics is product consumption. Mass media is employed to vehicle message about products and services to consumers in order to convince these individuals to purchase the commodity they are advertising. Standardization consists of the production of large amounts of commodities to then pursue consumers in order to gain the maximum profit possible.

They do this by, as mentioned above, individualising products to give the illusion to consumers that they are in fact purchasing a product or service that was specifically designed for them: Adorno highlights the issues created with the construction of popular music. Where different samples of music used in the creation of today’s chart topping songs, are put together in order to create, re-create and modify numerous tracks by using the same variety of samples from one song to another. He distinguishes the difference between “popular music” & “serious music”. Popular music is defined as the highly produced and promoted music of the “pop music” industry: music that is composed of variable parts and interchanged to create several different songs. “The social and psychological functions of popular music acts like a social cement (Adorno, 1990)’ to keep people obedient and subservient to the status quo of existing power structures.” (Laughey:2007:125)

Whereas serious music, according to Adorno, achieves excellence when it’s whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. The example he chooses to expose is that of Beethoven’s symphonies: “ greatness shows itself in the complete subordination of the accidentally private melodic elements to the form as a whole”. (Laughey:2010:125)

Standardization not only refers to the products of the culture industry but to the consumers as well: consumers are daily, numerous times a day, being bombarded by media advertising. Being pushed and shoved into consuming products and services being presented to them by the media system. The masses have become conditioned by the culture industry: which makes the impact of standardization much more important. By not realizing the impact of social media and commercial advertising, the individual is caught in a situation where conformity is the norm. “During consumption the masses become characterized by the commodities which they use and exchange among themselves. “(Laughey:2007:124)

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