How to Mediate Reality: Thinking Documentary Film with Horkheimer and Adorno

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Abstract

In recent years, documentary formats have entered prominently into the realm of the culture industry, especially since Hollywood and Netflix started to invest in costly productions addressed to the mainstream. Many of these documentaries claim to show reality in its immediacy (“as it really is”), to reveal that which is obscured, or to critically assess societal evils. They use aesthetic strategies that reinforce the appearance of authenticity, while concealing the mediation of what they represent, and the authoritarian stances they presuppose. This turns them into powerful instruments for diffusing authoritarian and populist ideologies. Their political impact on society, their performative power of opinion-shaping, and their subliminal influence on how we perceive and understand reality call urgently for critical assessment. Horkheimer and Adorno’s critique of the culture industry, along with their philosophical, sociological, and aesthetic writings, provide a constructive starting point. This essay aims to mobilize their critical theory of society for the problematization of documentary films in terms of their dialectical relation to society.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHow to Critique Authoritarian Populism
Subtitle of host publicationMethodologies of the Frankfurt School
EditorsJeremiah Morelock
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherBrill
Chapter15
Pages412-430
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-04-44474-4
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-44473-7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameStudies in Critical Social Sciences
PublisherBrill
Volume180
ISSN (Print)1573-4234

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