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Herbert Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979) was one of a number of philosophers who pioneered a radical rethinking of philosophy during the twentieth century. He has also been a steadfast critic of the politics and culture of his times, especially of the ideological dominance of the mass media.

Until 1933 Marcuse was part of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, known as the 'Frankfurt School'. When the Nazis came to power he emigrated to America, where he has remained. In 1955 he published Eros and Civilization, which took to task Sigmund Freud's ideas that humans were inherently repressed and distorted. Instead, Marcuse argued that it was society that made people repressed and distorted – 'The sickness of society lay in the society not the people.'

The counterculture revolution of the 1960s was based in large part on the ideas of three members of the Frankfurt School--Herbert Marcuse, Eric Fromm and Theodor Adorno. Marcuse became an outspoken critic of the Vietnam war and coined the anthemic phrase of the era, 'Make love, not war'. Around the same time Marcuse's ideas were influential to early feminist debates.

In 1972 Marcuse's book One-Dimensional Man presented a pessimistic view of the forces of the mass media, recognising that the mass media define how we think about the world. The essence of his ideas is that the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers to the producers and, through the latter to the whole social system. As a result the products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against alternative interpretations. This creates a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behaviour.

For Marcuse, this 'gives to the mass media and the culture industry a role of ideological dominance which destroys both bourgeois individualism and the revolutionary potential of the working class' (Woollacott 1982: 105).

Numerous Web sites provide further information about Marcuse.

bibliographical reference

WOOLLACOTT, Janet, 1982, 'Messages and Meanings', in Michael Gurevitch, Tony Bennett, James Curran and Janet Woollacott (eds.), Culture, Society and the Media: Part 1 'Class, Ideology and the Media', Methuen.


copyright © Bob Trubshaw 2003


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