Библиографическое описание:

Бежнар А. П. Basic philosophical aspects of comprehension of the phenomenon of mass culture // Молодой ученый. — 2015. — №9. — С. 1463-1467.

In this study the author characterizes the basic theory of understanding of the phenomenon of mass culture in the history of philosophy.

Keywords:culture, mass culture, «culture industry», popular culture, theory of mass culture.



On a today's moment a mass culture became the inalienable factor of development of modern society, it appears as a form of organization and translation of cultural characters and symbols, and similarly as the phenomenon, defiant reflections and theorizing in the most different areas of humanitarian knowledge.

Term «mass culture» arose up in the USA in 30th, and in the generally accepted culturological sense at first it was used by the German sociologist and philosopher Max Horkheimer in essay «Art and Mass Culture» (1941). Word-reduction «мasscult» («мasskult») appeared later, that was entered in everyday life by American culturologist Dwight Macdonald («A Theory of Mass Culture», 1957).

D. Macdonald marked that two cultures are within the framework of western civilization — traditional (high, that became the achievement of all reading-books), and mass, that is created specially for a market. Among historical reasons of development of mass culture a researcher marked political democracy and distribution of education, that pranged the monopoly of higher class in area of culture.

Mass cheap production and distribution of books, pictures, music and furniture, origin of such new facilities, as as the cinema and television, that assist a mass consumption are similar tendencies of D.Macdonald defined a term «mass culture». According to his opinion, a mass culture is the factory product intended for the wholesale selling at the market. It is created by technical specialists, on call of businessmen; its’ audience is passive consumers that decide only: «to buy or not buy». D.Macdonald names a mass culture «dynamic revolutionary force, that destroys the barriers of traditions, tastes, dissolves all cultural distinctions, levels distinctions and personal judgements, does a culture homogeneous, monotonous [3, p. 24].

The ambiguousness of going near consideration of mass culture shows up already in the statement of a question at considerations of essence of mass culture that is presented as a culture of mass society, «culture industry», as a result of scientific and technical revolution etc. In the dynamics of study of mass society and mass culture it is possible to distinguish the basic stages and paradigms of theoretical comprehension of this phenomenon of ХХ of century, what is an purpose of this study hired along with the analysis of basic researches of foreign scientists creating the fundamental theories of mass culture.

The basic material

Researchers paid attention to the phenomenon of mass culture long before than the term found its’ clear form. For example, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville in-process «Democracy in America» (1835) yet in the middle ХІХ of century reflected about the consequences of universal equality, displays of stereotypes, and marked that the requirements of market, but not traditions or love, become the dominant tendency of culture to the handicraft.

Impressive demographic changes assisted an exit on the historical arena of «man of mass». So, for 12 centuries of history (with VI on XIX century) the European population never exceeded more than 180 millions persons, and for time from 1800 to 1914 it attained 460 millions. Therefore it was begun to speak about «man-mass» as the special planetary and historical force from the end XIX — XX of centuries began. Before this time such words as mass, crowd, people are used actually as synonyms.

The maiden attempts of theoretical comprehension of the phenomenon of mass culture behave to the border of XIX — the XX century, and related to the names of Gustave Le Bon and Gabriel Tarde, that examined the problem of mass culture in close connection with the process of transformation of civil society in mass. In the first detailed research of the phenomenon of mass of «The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind» (1895) Gustave Le Bon gave a negative estimation to mass and coming «era of the masses» associated to author with uncontrollable and aggressive crowds of roturiers. Behavior of mass-crowd, in opinion of the French psychologist, can become a reason of social shocks of smashing destructive capacity. That, as a rule, differs in an aggressiveness, disruptiveness and irresponsibility.

G. Le Bon marked that individuals did not differ as though, formative mass — by the way of life, employments, character, degree of form, — by only fact of converting into mass they acquire the collective soul. Therefore mass, actually, is some all-sufficient creature, deprives the man of personality internals, limits his freedom, prevents to development of creative initiative.

One of basic tendency while analyzing of the phenomenon of mass culture in the first half of ХХ century was consideration of mass culture as a culture of «mass society» that replacing traditional forms folk, or «popular culture». In the middle of 20th — 30th of ХХ century a mass culture becomes the article of research and analysis of the prominent Spanish thinker Josе Ortega y Gasset, that in the classic labours of «The rebellion of the masses» (1930) and «The dehumanization of art and Ideas about the novel» (1925) expounds own theoretical vision of this phenomenon. According to his presentations, a mass culture is not that another, as a culture of mass man.

A researcher considers that rebelling of the masses is the basic phenomenon that is observed in ХХ eyelid and it was prepared by previous epochs. That started transformations that change the structure of society cardinally. Society becomes mass, as a new type of man — mass man prevails in it. A mass man reposes in that can walk up a higher social level, he considers the desires and necessities most meaningful, and own aesthetic and moral presentations absolute. «Man of mass» — it not social and not class, and a psychological concept is clean. Domination of mass man is a direct threat for existence of western civilization. That is Ortega y Gasset determines a mass man: «Man of mass it that, whoever feels in itself no special gift or difference from all, good or bad, who feels that he is «exactly like all other», and not distressed with it, vice versa, happy to feel himself like all» [2, р.121].

Thus, the criterion of division of society on the «man of mass» and man of select minority (man of elite) is mans’ reflexive attitude to himself and call of duty, duties in relation to other, and mass it is not crowd (as a concept is quantitative and visual), but process of transition of quantitative description «many» to quality.

J. Ortega y Gasset gives sharply a negative estimation to the mass culture and determines it as «banality and mediocrity that is sent to satisfaction of queries and tastes of inhabitant... the rapid increase of quantity of population and professional specialization that formed mass man weakened a cultural consensus and blew up modern civilization, conduces to instability and shipwrecks of culture on the whole» [2, р.139].

An important role in the theoretical comprehension of forms of mass culture was played by labours of Frank Raymond Leavis and his wife, Queenie Dorothy Leavis. The «Leavis-period» continued almost forty years, and criticism of mass culture within the framework of theory of literary modernism was carried out in such works, as «Mass Civilization and Minority Culture» (1930) by Frank Raymond Leavis (his work became the original manifest of literary modernism and declaration of non-acceptance of mass culture), «Fiction and the Reading Public» (1932) by Queenie Dorothy Leavis, «Culture and the Environment» (1932) by Frank Raymond Leavis and Denys Thompson.

F. R. Leavis estimated extraordinarily highly the role of elite culture of the enlightened minority in society life. However, exactly at the beginning the XX century a qualificatory a veritable culture minority appears in a crisis. Reason for loss of authority and displacement of the values-system he sees in americanization of culture that appears in standardization, in penetration of mass tastes in all areas of mass culture (the press, advertisement, television, cinema). Works of researcher are directed against the easy pleasures, delivered to wide public by the various forms of mass culture (by the best sellers, newspapers, films, advertisement), where visualness predominates with its’ capacity for hypnotism. This does not suggest F. R. Leavis hopes to best future of culture, opposite, he is apt to the pessimistic estimation of prospects of cultural development, and the only hope he binds with the returnability of attention, respect and authority of cultural elite.

Critical attitude toward the phenomenon of mass culture, stopped up Josе Ortega y Gasset, it was continued after Second World War by the representatives of Frankfort school of social researches. The original mixture of Marxism and psycho-analysis, created by the institute of social researches at the Frankfort university (founded in 1923), was named a «critical theory». Walter Benjamin («The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction», 1936) belong here, Eric Fromm («Escape from Freedom», 1941), Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer («Dialectic of Enlightenment», 1944), Herbert Marcuse («One — Dimensional Man», 1964).

Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer do not use a concept mass culture, and formulate the category of «culture industry», totality of the phenomena of new culture is represented in maintenance of that. Сulture industry prevents development of autonomous personalities that are capable independently estimate and make decision, opposite the producers of «cultural commodities» are interested only in the sale-increase and they tune society under their interests.

T. Adorno considered that culture industry is conscious integration of mass consumer in society, he intrudes «upon from above», but initially it is not inherent to humanity. The function of culture industry, in opinion of thinker, consists in that, to organize spare time the same as industrialization organized working. All culture industry promises us escape to paradise from conservative everyday work, but this paradise inevitably returns us in that place from that we got in him. Pleasure assists obedience that must help a man to forget everything. In other words, labour conduces to the mass culture, and it in turn returns to labour. Only «the real» culture that operates out of scopes of culture industry is able some time to tear this vicious circle [7, р. 142].

Mass culture supporters of Frankfort school, especially Herbert Marcuse bound to the ideological imposing capitalist values to workers. The question is about imposing of false necessities that are necessary for the system survival. As a result people do not realize that their veritable necessities remain dissatisfied, and culture industry inculcates false and represses veritable necessities. From here H. Marcuse draws conclusion, that society of mass culture is society of total unfreedom and oppressing. This society does not have an alternative by virtue because of absence of the real social forces to resistance and revolution. Marginal social layers not consisting of mass society can become such force only. To them Marcuse attributes prostitutes, homosexuals, «counterculture» motions, students. Exactly this understanding of heat of the matter underplayed «new left» motion and events 1968 year in Europe.

One of major flows in the theory of culture at the end of 50th and at the beginning of 60th there were Cultural Studies with Center of modern culturological analysis at the Birmingham university. The set tendency to distinction of concepts «is mass» and «popular culture» got the theoretical ground within the framework Cultural Studies, and popular culture became the article of the special researches. As Stuart McPhail Hall marked, «in the British theory of culture of Cultural Studies was the most powerful, most characteristic flow» [6, р.19].

The basic moments of analysis of popular culture within the framework of researches of Cultural Studies are formed in labours of «The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life» (1957) by Richard Hoggart, «Culture and Society» (1963) by Raymond Henry Williams, «The Malting of the English Working Class» (1963) by Edward Palmer Thompson, «The Popular Arts» (1964) by Paddy Whannel and Stuart McPhail Hall. General for these researches is a statement, that the concept of popular culture (in a difference from mass) is understood both presented in practices of reception and interpretations, in experience of both readers and audience, listeners. Such position does an accent on «participation of man», on active creation of culture, but not on its’ passive consumption. Cultural studies work on forms of social differentiation, control and inequality, identity, community — building, media, and knowledge production, for example, have had a substantial impact.

Large attention to the analysis of mass culture was spared by the theory of feminism. An especially important period in history of feminist analysis of popular culture are 1950th. Since this time feminist theory all anymore calls to the problem of presentation of woman in a popular culture and in medias, examines their representations as unfair, exploiter and binds in more wide context with tender inequality and oppressing.

Feminism straight binds a popular culture to the social context of epoch. The problem of interpretation of gender roles and gender equality is presented in researches of Tania Modleski «Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture» (1986). The culturological analysis of the popular cinema is presented in-process Laura Mulvey «Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema» (1975), in research of Janice Stacey «Star Gazing: Hollywood and female Spectatorship» (1994). Role of woman in the cinema similarly was thoroughly studied in-process Teresa de Lauretis «The Cinematic Apparatus» (1989). Intercommunications of pleasure and sense of guilt in the context of mass culture are devoted works of Rosalind Coward «Female Desire: Women's sexuality today» (1984). Her research touches a fashion, woman novels, pop music, horoscopes soapy fledge, woman magazines and other texts and practices that tighten a woman in the infinite computational loop of pleasure and sense of guilt.

On the whole, a feminism analysis pays attention to that a cultural production eliminates, marginalize, trivialize woman, that is presented in form a stereotype figure, embodiment of sexual attractiveness or domestic labour. In opinion of feminist theorists, academic researches, as well as popular culture, eliminate, ignore a woman as social category.

A problem of mass culture and its’ aspects is in a center attention of post-modernisms, including Roland Gеrard Barthes («Mythologies», 1957), Jean-François Lyotard («The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge», 1954), Michel Foucault («The Archaeology of Knowledge», 1969), Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari («Capitalism and Schizophrenia», 1972–1980), Jean Baudrillard («In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities», 1982), Fredric Jameson («Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism», 1991), Umberto Eco («Foucault's Pendulum», 1988).

The analysis of mass culture in discussion of post-modernism is characterized by the disturbance of researchers by expansion of visual forms and genres that oust «a book» culture. There is disappearance of border between «a high» and «subzero» art. In turn, it stimulates the origin of the real possibility of forming of the «guided mass» by means of communicative technologies. The basic theory and methodology setting of post-modernisms consists in that a mass culture is a that type of reality, to that the classic charts of analysis can not be applied. Executing quite a few publicly important functions, a mass culture can however, in their opinion examined in a axiological plane.

Since 70th of ХХ of century the row of works appears in western culturological literature, where the problem of mass culture is comprehended in a axiological plane, that differs from a sharply critical mood in relation to a mass culture in researches of before-war and post-war period. In works of Herbert Marshall McLuhan «The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man» (1962), Daniel Bell «The coming of post — industrial society: A venture of social forecasting» (1973), Alvin Toffler «The Third Wave» (1980) et al, a mass culture is examined as the personal touch of postindustriAL, informative society.

In the researches scientists exposed social pre-conditions of origin of mass culture, analysed the mechanisms of its’ development, conducted differentiation of kinds and genres of mass art, investigated the problem of intercommunication of mass culture and facilities of mass communication. An idea is grounded that the transition of society from industrial in the postindustrial stage of development conduces to averaging of culture. As a result of value, once were property only elites, become accessible to wide public, and the most mass culture changes substantially, acquiring lines that were once inherent to the folk and elite culture. In opinion of Daniel Bell, a culture bears the complete responsibility for today's changes in society, even public contradictions follow from cultural circumstances, class contradictions grow into professional, economic, cultural, moral.

The positive estimations of the phenomenon of mass culture appear. So, Marshall McLuhan declares that there cannot be one culture in liberal society («the global village»), and an origin of different cultures is the certificate of freedom of speech, because everybody can realize itself in cultural space. Accordingly, mass culture, does not threaten and does not destroy a high culture, and only democratizes her, and, therefore, is blessing for society.

Thoroughly an idea about positive influence of mass culture on the process of development of personality and becoming of democratic political institutes was developed Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski («Between Two Ages: America's Role in the Technetronic Era», 1970). Z. Brzezinski often repeated a phrase that became winged in course of time: «If Rome gave to the world right, England — parliamentary activity, France — culture and republican nationalism, then the modern USA gave scientific and technical revolution and mass culture» to the world [1, p. 9]. An author establishes that humanity entered into the new stage of development, that is determined by not social revolutions, and scientific and technical progress, where a decision role passes to the machines, computers and cybernetic systems, and science becomes decision force. In the world there will be main contradiction between the developed and undeveloped countries — technocratic, overcoming that, it is possible to create single world community, it is forever deprived from conflicts and contradictions.

Within the framework of this theoretical approach some researchers identify a mass culture with mass-medias, seeing in her a direct generation asserting such, that the self-mean of communication has influence on character and maintenance of transferrable information. If to take a statement for basis, that information it is communication, operation of translation of symbols, and to agree that a mass culture is related to the mass circulating of certain information, becomes clear that introduction of informatively-communication technologies assists distribution of the phenomena of mass culture. One of new tendencies of mass culture that arises up in an informative era, there is a virtualization of her products as aspiration to simulatively and creation of great number of characters. The Internet as powerful media means that aims to eat up all other facilities of mass communication plays a leading role here, certainly.


On early comprehensions mass culture examined from frankly conservative, critical positions, in the context of disturbance by the origin of the phenomenon. G. Le Bon, J. Ortega y Gasset, F. R. Leavis and Q. D. Leavis examined mass as violent crowd, and the culture of mass society came forward as a threat of traditional elite culture.

The Institute for Social Research (now known as Frankfurt School of Critical Thinking) (E. Fromm, T. W. Adorno, M. Horkheimer, H. Marcuse) put in a center a concept «culture industry», guaranteeing stability of capitalism. A general conclusion the representatives of School came to that consists in that a mass culture forms conformism, retains the reactions of consumer in the infantile, static state, allows to manipulate his consciousness.

The theory of feminism does an accent on patriarchal ideology as basis of mass culture in that character of woman is exploited for the achievement of commercial success of her products. In their interpretation the phenomenon of mass culture is negative.

Post-modernism is seen in the forms of mass culture by embodiment of sweeping changes in a role of mass-media wearing away a verge between an image and reality, between a high and subzero art.

In the epoch of information technologies a mass culture is understood as the objective stage of development of civilization. In future this tradition of decline of critical fervor became basic, and the study of mass culture closely interlaced with the analysis of consequences of development of new information technologies.

The conducted review of theories of mass culture, arising up in the first decades of the XX century and continuing to arise up till today, far is not full. Some aspects of these theories lost the actuality, and some find the reflection in modern researches. The considered conceptions testify to complication and multifunction of mass culture.




1.      Brzezinski Z. Between Two Ages: America's Role in the Technetronic Era. — N. Y., 1970. — 296 р.

2.      Jose Ortega y Gasset. Selected Works. — Kiev: Osnovy, 1994. — 420 p. (in Ukrainian)

3.      Mac Donald D. A Theory of Mass Culture // Mass Мedia and Mass Man. — N.Y., 1968. — P. 12–24.

4.      Mass Culture: Uchebnoe posobye. — Moscow: Alfa-М; INFRA-М, 2004. — 304. (in Russian)

5.      Storey John: Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. — Kharkiv: «Akta», 2005. — 360 р. (in Ukrainian)

6.      Stuart Hall. Some paradigms in cultural studies//Annali. — № 3. 1978. — Р.13–48.

7.      Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. — London: Verso. 1979. — 258 р.

Основные термины: mass culture, popular culture, concept mass culture, Mass culture supporters, mass culture changes, Mass Culture //, mass culture forms, comprehensions mass culture, mass man, Ortega y Gasset, mass society, mass culture», F. R. Leavis, culture industry, Mass cheap production, elite culture, Frank Raymond Leavis, veritable culture minority, «culture industry», mass communication


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