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    Essay question: 1.      How does contemporary popular music operate as a ‘culture industry’? Please illustrate with a case-study of a particular genre, artist or group.
    Initially put up by Adorno, the notion ‘culture industry’ refers to ‘those institutions’ make and deliver cultural products by setting them as ‘commodities’ (Cited in Shuker 2001: 28). This essay, in the light of this, will take the documentary named Searching for the Sugar Man, directed by Malik Bendjelloul in 2012, as a main resource of the case study of the singerSixto Rodriguez. By taking a focus on the failure of his record sales in his native country (the U.S.A) and his unexpected success in South Africa, I will illustrate how contemporary popular music operates as a ‘culture industry’. And this huge contrast will then be stated as a reveal of the inner characters of  ‘culture industry’, meeting the critiques level against contemporary popular music first asserted by Theodor W. Adorno(2006: 73). These features, listed in this essay, include the standardization of music products, passive listening of the consumers, and the function of popular music as social cement.
    Culture industry, deemed by Adorno, as a field where essential possibilities were forbidden. This is, according to him, because it manipulates the degree of the products ‘ population in process of manufacture and delivery, thought the channel of mass media. (Laughey, 2007: 146).
    Under this preset, the notion of ‘standardization’ put up by Adorno (Storey, 2003: 111) is hence understandable. It refers to ‘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’ (Laughey2007:204).To make it clear, it means that in societies nowadays, the main aim of culture industry, presented in form of cultural products, is to extort the capital within its consumers, rather than to meet the real need of them. In a word, the destination f standardization of culture industry is to make the most money among consumers by dulling them, which makes the course of making profits far easier.
    Bearing this in mind, below I will analyse the fundamental factors contribute to Rodriguez’s failure. America at that time (in the 1970s) was dominated by rock music, the outstanding characters of which are presented through its resistant lyrics and more importantly, its violent performance, for example, raving, crying, and sometimes even the destroying of instruments. In this light, it is therefore not hard to identify the reason why Sixto Rodriguez’ songs were not so popular at that time in his own country. Firstly, his songs are features as blues and soul, which was not consistent with the mainstream music genre at the time in his country. Moreover, as it is mentioned in the documentary (Searching for the Sugar Man), Rodriguez has the background of higher education in philosophy, which enables him to acquire a critical view and profound understanding of the world where he lives in. And these deep thoughts are shown in the lyrics he wrote in his songs. For example, in his song named Jane S. Piddy, he wrote: ‘now you sit there thinking feeling insecure. The mocking court gesture (jester) claims there is no proven cure. Go back to your chamber, your eyes upon the wall’.
    By contrast, the majority of the mass was not as educated as him. Just as Adorno points out (2006: 73), these people were dulled by the capitalist society, hence were deprived their capability of thinking. The daily exploitation of the industrial work economically, in conjunction with the deceptions performed by the current government in a political aspect were both so well acknowledged and internalized among these people. Consequently, it is nature that they were not to be bothered to appreciate the brilliant reflections conveyed by Rodriguez’s songs and more of the truth, they could not understand or be triggered the resonance sharing his thinking. Whereas by contrast, those who were in South Africa, are comparatively more aware of the actual situation for the reason that the development of capitalization is not as advanced and completed as that in America at the time.
    The dominance of capitalism in America at that time brings us to another reason explaining why his songs were not popular. According to Adorno (2006:75), music consumers in contemporary culture industry are shaped as passive listeners. To be clear, this means that those who buy music products do not want to be put into a situation where they have to make efforts to think critically, rather, they are seeking a way to escape the real world, which is full of boredom and repression. In this sense, rock music, prevailing in the 1970s in America, meets their demand better in comparison to Sixto Rodriguez’s music with genres of soul and blues. This is because, despite the fact that rock music also has rebellious lyrics as have Rodriguez’s music, rock music is distinguished since it provides listeners as way to physically release their anger (including raving, crying as mentioned above), which hence creates an illusory feeling of escaping from the undesirable actual world they live.
    As Murdock and Golding (cited in Strinati 2004: 125) assert, cultural products inevitably function as an assistant of the ruling class. According to this, as one form of cultural products, music is therefore in the service of the government. As one of the interviewees expressed in the documentary, all the music surrounding at the time (1970s) corresponded with the political system. This expression of lives up to one of Adorno’s theories of culture industry well: for him, music functions as  ‘social cement’ (2006:75). This means, specifically speaking of this case, this music was popular due to the reason that it survived from the censorship by the government, since it can maintain the harmony in contemporary society in America. Oppositely, what Rodriguez was trying to reveal in his music was deemed as undesirable by those in charge, and therefore was not promoted and might have been suppressed in a way. The emotions against the contemporary society he was trying to convey can be easily spotted by the lyrics: ‘crooked children, yellow chalk, writing on the concrete walk. Their King died. Drinking from a Judas cup’.In this sense, his music, driving away from the expected function as ‘social cement’, was not surprising too be banned in South Africa by the government there.
    Apart from the factors analysed above, there is another reason accounting for his failure in attracting the consumers. This is the notion of ‘political economy’, asserted by Golding and Murdock (cited in Storey 2003: 112). As they stress, apart from constraining our view within cultural studies, we shall at the same time take the “variations in people’s responses to their overall location in the economic system’ into consideration.
    Bearing this in mind, the analyses on the political economy factors will be displayed. While in South Africa, the political system at stake led to the result that, the need to fight for political rights exceeded that to seek for entertainment. Subsequently, even thoughRodriguez’s personal image is not so attractive that it can satisfy consumers by offering a chance to This is similar to the notion called ‘screen culture’(Mundy1999), which emphasizes elements like singers’ appearance, rather than the pure music itself. Here, we can see the extra-musical elements affecting the consumption of music. Also, this phenomenon perfectly fit what Storey (2003: 115) states, ‘consumption is an active,creative and productive process, concerned with pleasure, identity and the production of meaning’. In South Africa, white people found a sense of belonging by listening to his songs, and were enlightened and encouraged to protest the suppression by the government, especially in terms of racial segregation, as stated in the documentary.
    In conclusion, by pointing out the reasons beneath consumers’ response to Rodriguez’s music, respectively in his own country (America) and in South Africa,this essay has shown how contemporary popular music operates as a form of culture industry. Firstly.it inevitably entails standardization of the products and since Rodriguez’s music does not belong to the standardized rock genre then his failure is within expectation.Secondly, since the consumers are in general made to be passive listeners by culture industry, then they lose the capability to make their own choice. Lastly, the function of culture industry (in terms of politic) is exposed employing the notion of ‘political economy’ (Golding and Murdock cited in Storey 2003: 112). Meanwhile, it also reflects identity (class and ethnicity specifically in this case) in the process of consumption.
    Reference list
    Adorno, T. W. (2006) Cultural Theory And Popular Culture: A Reader. Connecticut: University of Georgia Press
    Laughey, D. (2007) Key Themes in Media Theory. England: Open University Press.
    Mundy, J. (1999) Popular Music On Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video Manchester: Manchester University Press
    Shuker, R. (2001) Understanding Popular Music. 2nd ed. London: Routledge
    Strinati, D. (2004) An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. London: Routledge
    Storey, J. (2003) Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture.2nd ed. Edinburg: Edinburg University Press


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