boredom / happiness studies: adorno on the fetishism of suntanning & schopenhauer


An archetypal instance is the behaviour of those who grill themselves brown in the sun merely for the sake of a sun-tan, although dozing in the blazing sunshine is not at all enjoyable, might very possibly be physically unpleasant, and certainly impoverishes the mind. In the sun-tan, which can be quite fetching, the fetish character of the commodity lays claim to actual people; they themselves become fetishes. The idea that a girl is more erotically attractive because of her brown skin is probably only another rationalization. The sun-tan is an end in itself, of more importance than the boy-friend it was perhaps supposed to entice. 

   
Adorno on the evils of suntanning:

The act of dozing in the sun marks the culmination of a crucial element of free time under present conditions – boredom. The miracles which people expect from their holidays or from other special treats in their free time, are subject to endless spiteful ridicule, since even here they never get beyond the threshold of the eversame: distant places are no longer – as they still were for Baudelaire’s ennui – different places. The victim’s ridicule is automatically connected to the very mechanisms which victimize. At an early age Schopenhauer formulated a theory of boredom. True to his metaphysical pessimism he teaches that people either suffer from the unfulfilled desires of their blind will, or become bored as soon as these desires are satisfied. The theory well describes what becomes of people’s free time under the sort of conditions of heteronomy, and which in new German tends to be termed Fremdbestimmtheit  (external determination). In its cynicism Schopenhauer’s arrogant remark that mankind is the factory product of nature also captures something of what the totality of the commodity character actually makes man into. Angry cynicism still does more honour to human beings than solemn protestations about man’s irreducible essence. However, one should not hypostatize Schopenhauer’s doctrine as something of universal validity or even as an insight into the primal character of the human species. Boredom is a function of life which is lived under the compulsion to work, and under the strict division of labour. It need not be so. Whenever behaviour in spare time is truly autonomous, determined by free people for themselves, boredom rarely figures; it need not figure in activities which cater merely for the desire for pleasure, any more than it does in those free time activities which are reasonable and meaningful in themselves. Even fooling about need not be crass, and can be enjoyed as a blessed release from the throes of self-control. If people were able to make their own decisions about themselves and their lives, if they were not caught up in the realm of the eversame, they would not have to be bored. Boredom is the reflection of objective dullness.


Adorno on DIY (home improvement?):

 

‘Do it yourself ’, this contemporary type of spare time behaviour fits however into a much more far-reaching context. More than thirty years ago I described such behaviour as ‘pseudo-activity’. Since then pseudoactivity has spread alarmingly, even (and especially) amongst those people who regard themselves as anti-establishment. Generally speaking there is good reason to assume that all forms of pseudo-activity contain a pent-up need to change the petrified relations of society. Pseudo-activity is misguided spontaneity. Misguided, but not accidentally so; because people do have a dim suspicion of how hard it would be to throw off the yoke that weighs upon them. They prefer to be distracted by spurious and illusory activities, by institutionalized vicarious satisfactions, than to face up to the awareness of how little access they have to the possibility of change today. Pseudo-activities are fictions and parodies of the same productivity which society on the one hand incessantly calls for, but on the other holds in check and, as far as the individual is concerned, does not really desire at all.

 

—excerpted from Adorno’s essay “Free Time,” in his The Culture Industry: Selected Essays On Mass Culture (1991).

 

Theodor Adorno, Free Time

 

The question concerning free time, what people do with it and what

opportunities could eventually evolve from it, must not be posed as an

abstract generalisation. Incidentally the expression ‘free time’ or ‘spare

time’ originated only recently – its precursor, the term ‘leisure’ (Muβe)

denoted the privilege of an unconstrained, comfortable life-style,

hence something qualitatively different and far more auspicious – and

it indicates a specific difference, that of time which is neither free nor

spare, which is occupied by work, and which moreover one could

designate as heteronomous. Free time is shackled to its opposite.

Indeed the oppositional relation in which it stands imbues free time

with certain essential characteristics. What is more, and far more

importantly, free time depends on the totality of social conditions,

which continues to hold people under its spell. Neither in their work

nor in their consciousness do people dispose of genuine freedom over

themselves. Even those conciliatory sociologies which use the term

‘role’ as a key recognize this fact, in so far as the term itself, borrowed

from the domain of the theatre, suggests that the existence foisted

upon people by society is identical neither with people as they are in

themselves nor with all that they could be. Of course one should not

attempt to make a simple distinction between people as they are in

themselves and their so-called social roles. These roles affect the

innermost articulation of human characteristics, to such an extent that

in the age of truly unparalleled social integration, it is hard to ascertain

anything in human beings which is not functionally determined. This

is an important consideration for the question of free time. It means to

say that even where the hold of the spell is relaxed, and people are at

least subjectively convinced that they are acting of their own free will,

this will itself is shaped by the very same forces which they are seeking

to escape in their hours without work. The question which today

would really do justice to the phenomenon of free time would be

following: what becomes of free time, where productivity of labour

continues to rise, under persisting conditions of unfreedom, that is,

under relations of production into which people are born, and which

prescribe the rules of human existence today just as they always have

done? Free time has already expanded enormously in our day and age.

And this expansion should increase still further, due to inventions in

the fields of automation and atomic power, which have not yet been

anywhere like fully exploited. If one were to try and answer the question

without ideological preconceptions, one could not avoid the suspicion

that ‘free time’ is tending toward its own opposite, and is

becoming a parody of itself. Thus unfreedom is gradually annexing

‘free time’, and the majority of unfree people are as unaware of this

process as they are of the unfreedom itself.

 

I should like to elucidate the problem with the help of a trivial

experience of my own. Time and time again, when questioned or

interviewed, one is asked about one’s hobbies. When the illustrated

weeklies report on the life of one of those giants of the culture industry,

they rarely forego the opportunity to report, with varying degrees

of intimacy, on the hobbies of the person in question. I am shocked by

the question when I come up against it. I have no hobby. Not that I am

the kind of workaholic, who is incapable of doing anything with his

time but applying himself industriously to the required task. But, as far

as my activities beyond the bounds of my recognised profession are

concerned, I take them all, without exception, very seriously. So much

so, that I should be horrified by the very idea that they had anything to

do with hobbies – preoccupations with which I had become mindlessly

infatuated merely in order to kill the time – had I not become

hardened by experience to such examples of this now widespread,

barbarous mentality. Making music, listening to music, reading with

all my attention, these activities are part and parcel of my life; to call

them hobbies would make a mockery of them. On the other hand I

have been fortunate enough that my job, the production of philosophical

and sociological works and university teaching, cannot be

defined in terms of that strict opposition to free time, which is

demanded by the current razor-sharp division of the two. I am however

well aware that in this I enjoy a privilege, with both the element of

fortune and of guilt which this involves: I speak as one who has had the

rare opportunity to follow the path of his own intentions and to fashion

his work accordingly. This is certainly one good reason why there

is no hard and fast opposition between my work itself and what I do

apart from it. If free time really was to become just that state of affairs

in which everyone could enjoy what was once the prerogative of a

few – and compared to feudal society bourgeois society has taken some

steps in this direction – then I would picture it after my own experience

of life outside work, although given different conditions, this

model would in its turn necessarily alter.

 

If we suppose with Marx that in bourgeois society labour power has

become a commodity in which labour is consequently reified, then the

expression ‘hobby’ amounts to a paradox: that human condition which

sees itself as the opposite of reification, the oasis of unmediated life

within a completely mediated total system, has itself been reified just

like the rigid distinction between labour and free time. The latter is a

continuation of the forms of profit-oriented social life. Just as the term

‘show business’ is today taken utterly seriously, the irony in the expression

‘leisure industry’ has now been quite forgotten. It is widely

known but no less true therefore that specific leisure activities like

tourism and camping revolve around and are organised for the sake of

profit. At the same time the difference between work and free time has

been branded as a norm in the minds of people, at both the conscious

and the unconscious level. Because, in accordance with the predominant

work ethic, time free of work should be utilized for the recreation

of expended labour power, then work-less time, precisely because it is a

mere appendage of work, is severed from the latter with puritanical

zeal. And here we come across a behavioural norm of the bourgeois

character. On the one hand one should pay attention at work and not be

distracted or lark about; wage labour is predicated on this assumption

and its laws have been internalized. On the other hand free time must

not resemble work in any way whatsoever, in order, presumably, that

one can work all the more effectively afterwards. Hence the inanity of

many leisure activities. And yet, in secret as it were, the contraband of

modes of behaviour proper to the domain of work, which will not let

people out of its power, is being smuggled into the realm of free time.

In earlier times children were allotted marks for attentiveness in their

school reports. This had its corollary in the subjective, perhaps even

well-meaning worries of adults that the children should not overstrain

themselves in their free time; not read too much and not stay awake too

late in the evening. Secretly parents sensed a certain unruliness of mind

which was incompatible with the efficient division of human life.

Besides, the prevalent ethos is suspicious of anything which is miscellaneous,

or heterogeneous, of anything which has not clearly and

unambiguously been assigned to its place. The rigorous bifurcation of

life enjoins the same reification, which has now almost completely

subjugated free time.

 

This subjugation can be clearly seen at work in the hobby ideology.

The naturalness of the question of what hobby you have, harbours the

assumption that you must have one, or better still, that you should have

a range of different hobbies, in accordance with what the ‘leisure

industry’ can supply. Organized freedom is compulsory. Woe betide

you if you have no hobby, no pastime; then you are a swot or an old-timer,

an eccentric, and you will fall prey to ridicule in a society which

foists upon you what your free time should be. Such compulsion is by

no means merely external in character. It is linked to the inner needs of

people in the functional system. Camping – an activity so popular

amongst the old youth movements – was a protest against the tedium

and convention of bourgeois life. People had to ‘get out’, in both senses

of the phrase. Sleeping out beneath the stars meant that one had

escaped from the house and from the family. After the youth movements

had died out this need was then harnessed and institutionalized

by the camping industry. The industry alone could not have forced

people to purchase its tents and dormobiles, plus huge quantities of

extra equipment, if there had not already been some longing in people

themselves; but their own need for freedom gets functionalized,

extended and reproduced by business; what they want is forced upon

them once again. Hence the ease with which the free time is integrated;

people are unaware of how utterly unfree they are, even where they feel

most at liberty, because the rule of such unfreedom has been abstracted

from them.

 

Taken in its strict sense, in contradistinction to work, as it at least

used to apply in what would today be considered an out-dated ideology,

there is something vacuous (Hegel would have said abstract)

about the notion of free time. An archetypal instance is the behaviour

of those who grill themselves brown in the sun merely for the sake of a

sun-tan, although dozing in the blazing sunshine is not at all enjoyable,

might very possibly be physically unpleasant, and certainly impoverishes

the mind. In the sun-tan, which can be quite fetching, the fetish

character of the commodity lays claim to actual people; they themselves

become fetishes. The idea that a girl is more erotically attractive

because of her brown skin is probably only another rationalization. The

sun-tan is an end in itself, of more importance than the boy-friend it

was perhaps supposed to entice. If employees return from their holidays

without having acquired the mandatory skin tone, they can be

quite sure their colleagues will ask them the pointed question, ‘Haven’t

you been on holiday then?’ The fetishism which thrives in free time, is

subject to further social controls. It is obvious that the cosmetics industry

with its overwhelming and ineluctable advertisements, is a contributory

factor here, but people’s willingness to ignore the obvious is

just as great.

 

The act of dozing in the sun marks the culmination of a crucial

element of free time under present conditions – boredom. The miracles

which people expect from their holidays or from other special

treats in their free time, are subject to endless spiteful ridicule, since

even here they never get beyond the threshold of the eversame: distant

places are no longer – as they still were for Baudelaire’s ennui – different

places. The victim’s ridicule is automatically connected to the very

mechanisms which victimize. At an early age Schopenhauer formulated

a theory of boredom. True to his metaphysical pessimism he

teaches that people either suffer from the unfulfilled desires of their

blind will, or become bored as soon as these desires are satisfied. The

theory well describes what becomes of people’s free time under

the sort of conditions of heteronomy, and which in new German tends

to be termed Fremdbestimmtheit (external determination). In its cynicism

Schopenhauer’s arrogant remark that mankind is the factory product of

nature also captures something of what the totality of the commodity

character actually makes man into. Angry cynicism still does more

honour to human beings than solemn protestations about man’s

irreducible essence. However, one should not hypostatize Schopenhauer’s

doctrine as something of universal validity or even as an insight

into the primal character of the human species. Boredom is a function

of life which is lived under the compulsion to work, and under the

strict division of labour. It need not be so. Whenever behaviour in spare

time is truly autonomous, determined by free people for themselves,

boredom rarely figures; it need not figure in activities which cater

merely for the desire for pleasure, any more than it does in those free

time activities which are reasonable and meaningful in themselves.

Even fooling about need not be crass, and can be enjoyed as a blessed

release from the throes of self-control. If people were able to make

their own decisions about themselves and their lives, if they were not

caught up in the realm of the eversame, they would not have to be

bored. Boredom is the reflection of objective dullness. As such it is in a

similar position to political apathy. The most compelling reason for

apathy is the by no means unjustified feeling of the masses that political

participation within the sphere society grants them, and this holds true

for all political systems in the world today, can alter their actual existence

only minimally. Failing to discern the relevance of politics to their

own interests, they retreat from all political activity. The well-founded

or indeed neurotic feeling of powerlessness is intimately bound up

with boredom: boredom is objective desperation. It is also, however,

symptomatic of the deformations perpetrated upon man by the social

totality, the most important of which is surely the defamation and

atrophy of the imagination (Phantasie). Imagination is suspected of

being only sexual curiosity and longing for the forbidden by the spirit

(Geist) of a science which is no longer spirit. Those who want to adapt

must learn increasingly to curb their imagination. For the most part the

very development of the imagination is crippled by the experience of

early childhood. The lack of imagination which is cultivated and inculcated

by society renders people helpless in their free time. The

impertinent question of what people should do with the vast amount

of free time now at their disposal – as if it was a question of alms and

not human rights – is based upon this very unimaginativeness. The

reason why people can actually do so little with their free time is that

the truncation of their imagination deprives them of the faculty which

made the state of freedom pleasurable in the first place. People have

been refused freedom, and its value belittled, for such a long time that

now people no longer like it. They need the shallow entertainment, by

means of which cultural conservatism patronizes and humiliates them,

in order to summon up the strength for work, which is required of

them under the arrangement of society which cultural conservatism

defends. This is one good reason why people have remained chained to

their work, and to a system which trains them for work, long after that

system has ceased to require their labour.

 

Under prevailing conditions it would be erroneous and foolish to

expect or to demand that people should be genuinely productive in

their free time; for productivity – the ability to bring forth something

that was not already there – is the very thing which has been eradicated

from them. At best what they then produce in free time is scarcely

better than the ominous hobby – the imitation of poems or pictures

which, given the almost irrevocable division of labour, others could do

better than these amateurs (Freizeitler). What they create has something

superfluous about it. This superfluousness makes known the inferior

quality of the product, which in turn vitiates any pleasure taken in its

production.

 

Even the most superfluous and senseless activity undertaken in

people’s free time is integrated in society. Once again a social need is at

work. Certain forms of service, in particular domestic servants, are

dying out; demand is disproportionate to supply. In America only the

really wealthy can afford to keep servants, and Europe is following

close behind. This means that many people carry out activities which

were formerly delegated. The slogan ‘do it yourself ’ latches onto this as

practical advice. However, it also latches on to the resentment which

people feel towards mechanization, which unburdens people, without

– and not the fact itself but only its current interpretation is a matter of

dispute – their having any use for the newly acquired time. Thus, once

again in the interests of certain specialized industries, people are

encouraged to perform tasks, which others could do more simply and

more proficiently for them, and which for this very reason, deep down,

they must despise. Actually, the idea that one can save the money one

spends on services, in a society based upon the division of labour,

belongs to a very old level of bourgeois consciousness; it is an economy

made from stubborn self-interest, an economy which flies in the face

of the fact that it is only the exchange of specialized skills which keeps

the whole mechanism going in the first place. William Tell, the obnoxious

paradigm of absolute individuality, proclaimed that the household

axe spared the need for the carpenter – indeed a whole ontology of

bourgeois consciousness could be compiled from Schiller’s maxims.

 

‘Do it yourself ’, this contemporary type of spare time behaviour fits

however into a much more far-reaching context. More than thirty years

ago I described such behaviour as ‘pseudo-activity’. Since then pseudoactivity

has spread alarmingly, even (and especially) amongst those

people who regard themselves as anti-establishment. Generally speaking

there is good reason to assume that all forms of pseudo-activity

contain a pent-up need to change the petrified relations of society.

Pseudo-activity is misguided spontaneity. Misguided, but not accidentally

so; because people do have a dim suspicion of how hard it

would be to throw off the yoke that weighs upon them. They prefer to

be distracted by spurious and illusory activities, by institutionalized

vicarious satisfactions, than to face up to the awareness of how little

access they have to the possibility of change today. Pseudo-activities are

fictions and parodies of the same productivity which society on the

one hand incessantly calls for, but on the other holds in check and, as

far as the individual is concerned, does not really desire at all. Productive

free time is only possible for people who have outgrown their

tutelage, not for those who under conditions of heteronomy, have

become heteronomous for themselves.

 

Free time then does not merely stand in opposition to labour. In a

system where full employment itself has become the ideal, free time is

nothing more than a shadowy continuation of labour. As yet we still

lack an incisive sociology of sport, and particularly of the spectator.

Nevertheless one hypothesis, amongst others, springs to mind; namely

that, by dint of the physical exertion exacted by sport, by dint of the

functionalization of the body in team-activity, which interestingly

enough occurs in the most popular sports, people are unwittingly

trained into modes of behaviour which, sublimated to a greater or

lesser degree, are required of them by the work process. The accepted

reason for playing sport is that it makes believe that fitness itself is the

sole, independent end of sport: whereas fitness for work is certainly

one of the covert ends of sport. Frequently it is in sport that people first

inflict upon themselves (and celebrate as a triumph of their own freedom)

precisely what society inflicts upon them and what they must

learn to enjoy.

 

Let me say a little more on the relation of free time and the culture

industry. Since Horkheimer and I coined the term more than thirty

years ago, so much has been written about this means of domination

and integration, that I should like to pick out a particular problem,

which at the time we were not able to gain a proper perspective on. The

ideology critic, dealing with the culture industry, and working on the

premise that the standards of the culture industry are the ossified

standards of what was formerly entertainment and low art, has the

tendency to believe that the culture industry totally and utterly dominates

and controls both the conscious and the unconscious of those

people at whom it is directed – the same people out of whose taste

during the liberal era the culture industry grew. Nevertheless there is

reason to believe that production regulates consumption in the process

of mental life, just as it does in that of material life, especially where the

former has so closely approximated the latter, as it has in the culture

industry. One would have thought the culture industry was perfectly

adapted to its consumers. But since the culture industry has meanwhile

become total – itself a phenomenon of the eversame, from which it

promises temporarily to divert people – it is doubtful whether the

culture industry and consumer-consciousness can be simply equated

with one another. A few years ago at the Frankfurt Institute for Social

Research we conducted a study devoted to this problem.

Unfortunately, the full analysis of this material was postponed in

favour of more pressing tasks. Nevertheless a passing inspection of it

does reveal something which might well be relevant to the so-called

problem of free time. The study concerned the wedding of Princess

Beatrix of Holland with the junior German diplomat Claus von

Amsberg. The objective was to assess the reactions of the German

public to the wedding, which was broadcast by all the mass media,

dwelt on incessantly by the illustrated weeklies, and so consumed by

the public in their free time. Since the way in which the event was

presented, like the articles written about it, accorded it an unusual

degree of importance, we expected the spectators and readers to treat it

just as seriously. In particular we expected to observe the operation of

the characteristic contemporary ideology of personalization; through

which, as a clear compensation for the functionalization of reality, the

value of individual people and private relationships is immeasurably

overestimated in comparison to actual social determinants. I should

now like to say with due caution, that these expectations were too

simplistic. In fact the study offers a virtually text book example of how

critical-theoretical thought can both learn from and be corrected by

empirical social research. It was possible to detect symptoms of a split

consciousness. On the one hand people enjoyed it as a concrete event

in the here and now quite unlike anything else in their everyday life: it

was to be a ‘unique experience’ (einmalig) to use a cliché beloved of

modern German. To this extent the reaction of the audience corresponded

to the familiar pattern, according to which even the relevant,

possibly political news was transformed into a consumer item by the

way in which the information was transmitted. The format of our

interview, however, was devised in such a way that the questions concerned

with determining the immediate reactions of the viewers, were

supplemented by control questions about the political significance

that the interviewees ascribed to the grand event. Here it turned out

that many of the people interviewed – we shall ignore the exact proportion

– suddenly showed themselves to be thoroughly realistic, and

proceeded to evaluate critically the political and social importance of

the same event, the well publicized once-in-a-lifetime nature of which

they had drooled over breathlessly in front of their television sets. What

the culture industry presents people within their free time, if my

conclusions are not too hasty, is indeed consumed and accepted, but

with a kind of reservation, in the same way that even the most naive

theatre or filmgoers do not simply take what they behold there for real.

Perhaps one can go even further and say that it is not quite believed in.

It is obvious that the integration of consciousness and free time has not

yet completely succeeded. The real interests of individuals are still

strong enough to resist, within certain limits, total inclusion. That

would concur with the social prediction that a society, whose inherent

contradictions persist undiminished, cannot be totally integrated even

in consciousness. Society cannot have it all its own way, especially not

in free time, which does indeed lay claim to people, but by its very

nature still cannot totally claim them without pushing them over the

edge. I shall refrain from spelling out the consequences; but I think that

we can here glimpse a chance of maturity (Mündigkeit), which might

just eventually help to turn free time into freedom proper.

 

—originally published as ‘Freizeit’, Gesammelte Schriften 10/2, Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1977), pp. 645–55.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s