Dialectic of Pop, 75–102


I. The Dystopia of Popularity


‘You’re all pizza and fairy tales,’ Lennon and McCartney once mischievously declared. The phrase is not a bad summary of everything that, according to Adorno, pop culture offers up in the guise of utopia: an illusory, eclectic,repugnant diversion. Of course, what for Lennon is a provocation, for the critic is a pessimistic belief. Popular music, the latter is convinced, is doomed from the start to turn any utopia into dystopia: because the utopia of reconciliation, abundance, and lightness is not only what pop promises, it is also what it sells, as an industrial product. Taking advantage of this ambiguity, the culture industry rationalizes the promises of reconciliatory immediacy, and draws from it its own myths, starting with that of the supposed ‘lightness’ of popular music: the myth that eternal entertainment can negate the laborious and alienated condition of man. The celebration to which we are invited by a music enmeshed in the culture industry is not just an occasion for catharsis and shared joy; for Adorno it is the orchestration of a kind of aesthetic dystopia. And this dystopia
begins with a party to which men are not invited, but forced to attend: a feast of soggy pizza and fairy tales served up to partygoers who had come seeking heavenly fare and truths about the world, and who are then ordered to declare themselves sated and content once the show is over.…