The Herd of Independent Minds:
Has the Avant-Garde Its Own Mass Culture?
The basis of mass culture in all its forms is an experience recognized as common to many people. It is because millions are known to react in the same way to scenes of love or battle—because certain colors or certain kinds of music will call up certain moods—because assent or antagonism will inevitably be evoked by certain moral or political opinions—that popular novels, movies, radio programs, magazines, advertisements, ideologies can be contrived. The more exactly he grasps, whether by instinct or through study, the existing element of sameness in people, the more successful is the mass-culture maker. Indeed, so deeply is he committed to the concept that men are alike that he may even fancy that there exists a kind of human dead center in which everyone is identical with everyone else, and that if he can hit that psychic bull’s eye he can make all of mankind twitch at once. (The proposition, “All men are alike” replaces the proposition, “All men are equal” in the “democracy” of mass-culture institutions, thus making it possible for rich or politically powerful mass-culture leaders to enjoy their advantages while still regarding themselves as “men of the people.”)
On the other hand, the producer of mass culture has no use for experience, his own or another’s, which cannot be immediately shared. What is endured by one human being alone seems to him unreal, or even an effect of madness. The “alienation” of the artist, his characteristic neurosis, which we hear so much about today, is an essential axiom of mass-culture thinking: every departure from the common experience appears to be an abnormality requiring some form of explanation—medical, sociological, etc. Actually, the concept that the artist is “alienated from reality” has little to support it either in the psychology of artists or in any metaphysics of art. As Thomas Mann said recently, it depends on who gets sick; the sickness of a Nietszche may bring him much closer to the truth of the situation, and in that sense be much more “normal,” than the health of a thousand editorial writers.
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