In the previous post I shared how Marcuse describes art and what it does and here I want to speak a bit more to what it had become. In One-Dimensional Man, Marcuse’s section on art, literature, and culture, was just an example of how the industrialized society was transformed through technology to become, as he says, one dimensional.
Art previously had taken a stance of contrast to the established order of things and, with new technological advancements and a new kind of society, became hijacked, used as a form of domination. It no longer creates a sense of alienation that allow someone to step out of their present circumstances and look for something new. They became subsumed into this change that was happening, this new way of technological and administrative domination that creates a one dimensionality. It’s purpose is to be sold, used for immediate gratification, used to entertain. It doesn’t generate conscious reflection, or provocation, it generates submission. Art, literature, cultural values—real cultural values that had a an actual meaning—became liquidated and sold off.
Today’s novel feature is the flattening out of the antagonism between culture and social reality through the obliteration of the oppositional, alien, and transcendent elements in the higher culture by virtue of which it constituted another dimension of reality. This liquidation of two-dimensional takes place not through the denial and rejection of the “cultural values,” but through their wholesale incorporation into the established order, through their reproduction and display on a massive scale. In fact, they serve as instruments of social cohesion. The greatness of a free literature and art, the ideals of humanism, the sorrows and joys of the individual, the fulfillment of the personality are important items in the competitive struggle between East and West. They speak heavily against the present forms of communism, and they are daily administered and sold. The fact that they contradict the society which sells them does not count. Just as people know or feel that advertisements and political platforms must not be necessarily true or right, and yet hear and read them and even let themselves be guided by them, so they accept the traditional values and make them part of their mental equipment. If mass communications blend together harmoniously, and often unnoticeably, art, politics, religion, and philosophy with commercials, they bring these realms of culture to their common denominator—the commodity form. The music of the soul is also the music of salesmanship. Exchange value, not truth value counts. On it centers the rationality of the status quote, and all alien rationality is bent to it. As the great words of freedom and fulfillment are pronounced by campaigning leaders and politicians, on the screens and radios and stages, they turn into meaningless sounds which obtain meaning only in the context of propaganda, business, discipline, and relaxation. Herbert Marcuse / One Dimensional Man