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Adorno. Lazarsfeld & The Princeton Radio Project, 1938-1941
Unformatted Document Text:  and Hans Speiers came to a similar conclusion about Nazi radio: that simplification and repetition were essential to radio propaganda. Adorno thought: “…totalitarian radio was assigned to the task…of providing good entertainment and diversion…” xxvii He was surprised that American radio served the same function: to distract listeners from political reality. Adorno thought about American radio differently from his colleagues at the Princeton Radio Project. “Music…serves in America today as an advertisement for commodities which one must acquire in order to be able to hear the music.” xxviii He saw how popular songs on the Hit Parade were mysteriously transformed into fetishized commodities xxix by the process of “climax and repetition.” xxx “They all obey the absurd slogan… ‘Especially for You.’” xxxi Since by definition, mass art is mass produced, the listener is deceived into thinking the beautiful woman is singing “Especially for You” when she’s singing to everyone in the anonymous mass. “Recognition of the familiar was the essence of mass listening, serving more as an end in itself....Once a formula was successful, the industry plugged the same thing over and over again. The result was to make music into a kind of social cement operating through distraction,displaced wish- fulfillment, and the intensification of passivity.” xxxii Adorno’s analysis of “plugging” songs into the radio hits of the forties prophesied what would happen to American commercial television, film, Broadway theatre and book publishing in the twentieth century: endless repetition of successful formulas, sequels. Jingles (music + ads) produced an emotional response in what Adorno called “the victim, ” like the sound of dropping dog food in a bowl, the dog comes running. Adorno thought commercial radio used “standardized” pop music to turn individuals into Pavlov’s consumer dogs! No longer able to recognize real music, listeners accepted what was given to them, a watered down plastic-muzak. Adorno’s three studies for the Princeton Radio Project were not exactly what Lazarsfeld had in mind! He was under government pressure to produce useful information about radio listening for the war effort. Adorno’s Marxist critique of American radio went beyond what governmental consulting allowed. xxxiii Adorno was not invited back to do

Authors: Cavin, Susan.
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background image
and Hans Speiers came to a similar conclusion about Nazi radio:  that simplification and 
repetition were essential to radio propaganda.    Adorno thought: “…totalitarian radio was 
assigned to the task…of providing good entertainment and diversion…
He was surprised that American radio served the same function: to distract listeners from 
political reality.
 
 Adorno thought about American radio differently from his colleagues at  the 
Princeton Radio Project.  “Music…serves in America today as an advertisement for 
commodities which one must acquire in order to be able to hear the music.”
  
He saw 
how popular songs on the Hit Parade were mysteriously  transformed into fetishized 
commodities
 by the process of “climax and repetition.
 “They all obey the absurd 
slogan…  ‘Especially for You.’” 
  Since by definition,  mass art is mass produced,  the 
listener is deceived into thinking the beautiful woman is singing “Especially for You” 
when she’s singing to everyone in the anonymous mass.  “Recognition of the familiar was 
the essence of mass listening, serving more as an end in itself....Once a formula was 
successful, the industry plugged the same thing over and over again. The result was to 
make music into a kind of social cement operating through distraction,displaced wish-
fulfillment, and the intensification of passivity.”  
   Adorno’s analysis of “plugging” 
songs into the radio hits of the forties prophesied  what would happen to American 
commercial television, film, Broadway theatre and book publishing in the twentieth 
century:  endless repetition of successful formulas,  sequels.  
Jingles (music + ads) produced an emotional response in what Adorno called “the 
victim, ” like the sound of dropping dog food in a bowl, the dog comes running.  Adorno 
thought  commercial radio used “standardized” pop music to turn individuals  into Pavlov’s 
consumer dogs!  No longer able to recognize real music, listeners accepted what was given 
to them, a watered down plastic-muzak.
Adorno’s three studies for the Princeton Radio Project were not exactly what 
Lazarsfeld had in mind!  He was under government pressure to produce useful information 
about radio listening for the war effort. Adorno’s Marxist critique of American radio went 
beyond what  governmental consulting allowed
  Adorno was not invited back to do 


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