Cultural Workers of the World Unite!
by Tricia Dower
I attended the opening reception of
Cultural workers may not make a lot of money, but we spend it—hopping planes, ferries, and buses to attend workshops and readings and book signings. And don’t forget the librarians (cultural workers, all) who may stop for double doubles on their way to work and pop out for egg salad sandwiches at noon. (I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that this unionized group of cultural industry workers has been away from work for close to a month due to a lock-out.
When I got home I googled “cultural industry” and found that it was first used in a book called Dialectic of Enlightenment written in 1947 by German philosophers Theodor Odorno and Max Horkheimer. 1947! I am so behind the times. They actually came up with a theory that roughly says popular culture produces commodities that manipulate the masses into passivity. (Not my book, surely!) That the cultural industry cultivates false needs – those that are created and satisfied by capitalism. True needs are intangibles like freedom and creativity. Odormo and Horkheimer posited that the cultural industry serves the “ideological role of perpetuating the capitalist ethos.” That it never permits enough challenging material on the market to disturb the status quo. Heavy stuff, and there’s a whole lot more to what they wrote than I’ve summarized.
Anyway, a few days later, I caught the inaugural program of an arts collective program on CFUV, hosted by Brian Mason. (Every Monday from 1 – 2 P.m., Pacific Time, on the Internet at CFUV.) He interviewed Wendy Morton who MCs a weekly poetry night at
Wendy has a vision of poetry being part of mainstream culture. Part of the cultural industry, the status quo. Corporate logos all over our babushkas. It gives me pause. I want to be “successful” as translated into book sales. But I also want to find readers who will engage with the issues I highlight in my stories, such as human trafficking, bride kidnapping, domestic violence, and sexual politics. But to get published, someone has to think your book will sell. So, if Inanna thinks my book will sell, does that mean I’ve written a cultural industry commodity destined to lull the masses into apathy?
I don't want to think about it. Hand me the clicker.
Images: Top: Poet John Stettler being poemed by fellow cultural industry worker Wendy Morton on October 5, 2007 in