What can critical theory, from Theodor Adorno to contemporary writers on the relationship between capitalism and digital media, tell us about the specific form or medium that is television? This article undertakes a two-step answer to this question, first by locating television as a key medium in the midcentury analysis of the “culture industries” and then by seeking to frame it as a theoretical object capable of shedding light on contemporary cultural and aesthetic forms in their relation to economic and political conditions. My argument is that Adorno and his readers/critics still have a great deal to teach us about the arrangement of desire and need that television implants, an arrangement that crystallized into its broadcast corporate form in the 1950s. Elsewhere, I have shown how helpful Adorno can be in splaying open the mechanisms of midcentury broadcast media, insofar as his writings attended to the specificities of 1950s television, including the importance of stereotypes as holdovers from radio comedy, the constraints of studio shooting, the standards of script development, and the complicated reception of “common sense.” What remains now is to bring the questions he raises in his television criticism (broadly speaking, questions of psychosocial response, of writing for and about the culture industries, and of ideological analysis) into the current moment, testing the utility of his procedures and insights in light of convergence culture, the proliferation of digital platforms, new phenomenological modes of engagement, and new aesthetic forms. If Adorno by the pool in midcentury Los Angeles is not to be abandoned, how might he speak to us now?
1 June 2016
Research Article|June 01 2016
Adorno by the Pool; Or, Television Then and Now
Social Text (2016) 34 (2 (127)): 71-87.