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The Quality of Monopoly Capitalist Society: Culture and Communications

This is a hitherto unpublished chapter of Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966). The text as published here has been edited and includes notes by John Bellamy Foster. The style conforms to that of their book. Part of the original draft chapter, dealing with mental health, was still incomplete at the time of Baran’s death in 1964, and consequently has not be included in this published version. For the larger intellectual context see the introduction to this issue.

The culture of a society includes the education of its young, its literature, its theater, music, the arts—in short whatever contributes to the “training and refinement of mind, tastes, and mannersthe intellectual side of civilization.” i To inquire further into the culture of monopoly capitalism, we have here selected for attention two areas which offer a larger body of specialized research and which we judge to be decisive for the quality of culture as a whole: book publishing and broadcasting. These are both now big businesses, and they therefore demonstrate the striking extent to which culture has become a commodity, its production subject to the same forces, interests, and motives as govern the production of all other commodities.

The development of big business in the cultural field has of course been possible only because of the enormous increase in the productivity of labor under advanced capitalism. In earlier times culture was the monopoly of a tiny minority, while the vast majority had to work most of their waking hours to keep body and soul together. In England, as late as the nineteenth century,

only the relatively well-to-do minority of the middle class, the merchants, bankers, professional men, manufacturers, and so on, could spend full evenings with their families and their books. In the lower levels of that class, most spent long hours at their work, small employers and overseers keeping as long hours as their workmen. Retail tradespeople, a million and a quarter of them by the 1880’s, were in their shops from seven or eight in the morning until ten at night, and on Saturdays until midnight. For skilled and unskilled laborers, the working day was so long during the first half of the century as to be a national scandal. Hundreds of thousands of miners and factory- and mill-hands crept to their employment before dawn and emerged after sunset. The fourteen-hour day was commonplace, and the sixteen-hour day was not rare. ii

Under these circumstances the market for culture was necessarily infinitesimal, and popular education, to the extent that it existed, was confined to imparting knowledge needed for the efficient performance of work. Reformers, understanding this, focused much of their energies on the struggle for a shorter worker day. Only when the worker had some free time of his own could he hope to improve his mind and fit himself for full participation in the life of society. But as he acquired more income and more leisure, the fruits of rising labor productivity, the worker surely would be able to claim his rightful share in “the intellectual side of civilization”: such was the promise of developing capitalism.

The actual course of events has taken a different turn. Rising incomes and shortening work days have indeed been accompanied by a commensurate increase in the production and consumption of printed matter, drama, music, cinema. But this vast increase in quantity has been accompanied by an equally impressive change in quality—a change in general for the worse. As the cultural industries have moved from handicraft to mass production, they have fallen under the sway of corporate business, which has learned that one way to make maximum profits is to cultivate and cater to all the frailties and weaknesses in human nature. The result is a cultural output which has turned into its opposite. Instead of the “training and refinement of mind, tastes, and manners,” we witness the diminution of mind, the debasement of tastes, and the brutalization of manners.


The pride of place among cultural media has traditionally belonged to books. For long centuries manuscript books were the repository of man’s knowledge, and the chief means by which it was passed on from one generation to the next. Since the discovery of printing, books have made the fruits of civilization accessible to ever wider strata of the population. While books have today been replaced by newspapers and periodicals as the predominant form of reading matter, and while their traditional functions have been partly taken over by records, film, and tape, they still retain a place of unique importance in society’s cultural apparatus.1 And the quantity and quality of books written, published, and read in a society can certainly be taken as reliable indicators of its cultural condition.

In what follows, we do not claim to examine all aspects of the book business in the United States. We exclude textbooks. They are an integral part of the educational system and necessarily reflect its characteristics and requirements. We also exclude scientific, technical, and scholarly books: the publics which they reach are small and highly specialized. Finally, we largely neglect the segment of literary output which many people mistakenly think of as the main preoccupation of publishers: serious works of fiction and nonfiction, addressed to the general reader—“trade books” is the publishing term. According to the 1958 Census of Manufactures, adult trade books were only 4.2 percent of all books published that year and accounted for 7 percent of all receipts from sale of books.iii And the public which buys these books, apart from libraries and institutions of various kinds, is a very small segment of the population—even of the book-buying population.iv Clearly, books in this category are not bought by and have little influence on the vast majority of Americans: as indicators of society’s cultural condition they have a marginal significance.2

In our society, as in other societies, there are of course writers of independence and integrity who are creating works of art, sometimes of the highest quality. Just as some people manage to acquire a good education in spite of the educational system, so there are authors who produce good books in spite of all the forces and pressures working against them. In neither case, however, is the number large; and, in relation to the size of the literate population, there are probably fewer independent literary artists of the first rank in the United States today than there were a hundred years ago. The reason for this is certainly not any decline in artistic potential but simply that serious art does not pay. Unless he has independent means or is prepared to live in poverty—which is doubly hard in an “affluent” society—the artist is either forced to sell his talents by writing for the slick magazines, the movies, TV, and radio, or else to seek refuge in the sheltered life of a college teacher which notoriously fails to provide the atmosphere, the scope of experience, and the freedom essential to creative work. Ernest van den Haag puts the point in a nutshell: “Our society may not treat the creator of great works of art much worse than he was treated in the past. But we treat the creator of popular art so much better that the inducement becomes almost irresistible. There was no such temptation in the past.”v

One further point: most serious writers today reflect a profound sense of disillusionment with American reality, and too often a sense of despair about the future. In the minds of the country’s artists, the American dream has turned into a nightmare.

This negative view of American society is not confined to fiction. There was a period after the Second World War, which C. Wight Mills aptly called the American Celebration, when self-critical literature was distinctly out of style. But in the last few years commentators on the American scene have been increasingly turning to the work of exposure which was carried on by the muckrakers before the First World War and by a variety of social critics during the 1920s and 1930s. This literature contradicts the widely held belief that the United States is the kind of conformist society which brooks no criticism. On the contrary, it is the kind of conformist society—indeed perhaps the only one of its kind—which revels in criticism. This is not because of some masochistic streak in the American character. Rather, when the economy falters and social ills stand out ever more glaringly, the publication of works of social criticism is not only good business, it can also perform a profoundly conservative Charles Poore, in a recent review, described this function with precision:

The charm of the swarming new books like Mr. Hoyt’s is that they somehow create illusion out of disenchantment. They give us the feeling that if absurdities and inequities are presented to us forcefully and frequently enough, those plaguey things will go away.

We all could, so to speak, just sit there reading the books while other people cope decisively with the ailments of a vulnerable society.vii

The kind of social criticism which finds favor with American publishers is essentially a quietistic literature, stressing evils but not seeking their causes in the structure of the social order. Human nature, the American character, industrialism—these and other real or imaginary factors are held responsible for whatever is wrong. But never monopoly capitalism. The reader is therefore told, explicitly or implicitly, that nothing can be done about it, or that safely superficial reforms will bring improvement, or that “we” should resolve in the future to be virtuous where in the past “we” have been wicked. In any case, the status quo is fortified, the more so because the exposure of evils and the airing of grievances act as a sort of safety valve for what might otherwise become explosive passions, and because the very prevalence of such criticism “proves” how liberal and open and progressive our society is. But genuinely radical social criticism, which concentrates on laying bare the roots of social evils, is taboo among American publishers.viii


The book business has undergone a tremendous expansion since the Second World War. Books are now everywhere—in people’s pockets and living rooms, in mail order catalogues, drugstores, and supermarkets. Between 1950 and 1962, the number of titles published (new and reprinted) doubled from 11 to 22 thousand; and the share of disposable income spent on books which was 0.37 percent in 1957 (the same as in 1929), rose to 0.45 percent in 1961.ix

The total quantity of books sold in the United States has thus more than doubled, but that of paperback editions has multiplied eight times. At the present time paperbacks constitute the bulk of all books produced in the country. And the bulk of that bulk is in so-called mass distribution paperbacks. The word “book” refers to a different object from fifty years ago; and these changes reflect in turn (and partly also cause) a far-reaching transformation of its contents and the part that it plays in society.

In the course of this century, and in particular since the Second World War, American publishing has undergone a drastic shake-up. Although it is a misleading, idyllic view of the past to say that “traditionally, publishing houses have been small, family-owned firms whose proprietors were really literary patrons, much more interested in cultivating talent than in operation in a business like fashion,” it is nevertheless true that “publishing has long since passed into the hands of more frankly commercial-minded people.”x Indeed the production of books, like other commodities, has become highly concentrated, with the field increasingly dominated by a relatively small number of large corporations. In 1958, the 50 largest companies accounted for 69 percent of all book shipments.xi Since then failures and mergers have been sweeping the industry: mergers increased from an annual average of 3.5 in 1948–1955 to 10.8 during the years 1956-1960. At the end of 1961, there were only 18 publishing firms in the mass distribution field as against 82 seven years earlier.xii

Despite all this concentration, book publishing still remains a highly competitive business. Although it might seem that every book is a unique product meeting with rather inelastic demand, this is really so of only a few books and a narrow market made up of libraries, institutions, and well-to-do individuals who are little influenced by price considerations. The great majority of books are possible substitutes for each other and also have to compete fiercely with other reading (newspapers, magazines, digests), other forms of recreation (movies, TV, radio, spectator sports) and also alternative ways of spending or saving money. Prices of mass-distribution books must therefore be closely calculated, and they remain on a low, competitive level. At the same time the emerging oligopolistic character of the industry manifests itself in the fact that prices for each class of book are fully standardized, with the standards being well observed throughout the trade.

All this puts book publishing into a tight squeeze. Its costs have been rising faster and profit margins falling. In order to maintain profit volume it has become necessary to raise sharply the minimum acceptable size of an edition. Bennet Cerf, referring to trade books, wrote in 1947 that “the break-even point for a publisher used to be 2,500 to 4,000 copies [of any new book printed]; now it is 10,000.”xiii And more recently it has been reported that only by selling 15,000 copies can a trade book publisher make an assured profit on a new title. Even these figures would seem trifling to a mass distribution publisher. In that field 150,000 copies are considered to be a minimum break-even point, with a strong tendency for this floor to move up.xiv

All this has given an ever-increasing importance to “subsidiary rights.” These relate to serialization in magazines, distribution through book clubs, translation, and use in the movies, television, radio, and the like. “It has become increasingly difficult to publish a book profitably merely on its trade salesand more and more publishers are finding that a book which would have shown a loss otherwise has been made profitable by the sale of subsidiary rights.”xv Although successful writers, or more often their agents, are increasingly adept in excluding or limiting publishers’ participation in prospective film royalties, those and other potential subsidiary revenues play a frequently decisive part in the publishers’ decisions concerning book manuscripts.xvi

This compelling necessity for large editions, the urgent concern with subsidiary rights, and the ever more pronounced big business structure of the publishing industry not only influence decisively the number and prices of books published. They exercise also a profound impact on the nature of what is being published. It has become imperative to produce material which will attract as wide a public as possible. Here the motivations of the modern publishing giant are essentially no different from the old-fashioned small publishing firm: to make the largest possible profit. What has changed is the framework and the degree of rationality with which the profit objective is pursued.

The small book publisher of old was typically seeking to sell expensive books to a small public. The large publishing concern of today is typically trying to put cheap books on a very large market. These different objectives call for different methods. The small publisher could expect books that he liked to be also liked by the public. Personal tastes and judgments helped to determine his choice. Decisions in a larger publishing corporation today, as for all other large-scale corporate business, are carefully thought out under the overriding principle of “Safety First.” There is little room for haphazard investments, for experimentation, for gambling on manuscripts merely because they have aroused the interest of an individual executive or editor. The material to be invested in is now selected by boards of experts representing such departments as sales, production, subsidiary rights, and public relations. A book can no more be judged solely by its merits than can next year’s automobile model. It must be considered in terms of the market—a market well-defined, clearly visualized in relation to other markets, and scientifically explored. The product must be standardized, adjusted, and “quality-controlled.” As a result, what may be called a set of unwritten rules has emerged.

First, the published material should avoid antagonizing any class, stratum, geographical, or religious section of the prospective readership. If giving offense to some group is to be risked, it should be done only if the number of the offended is small and overcompensated by the number of those gratified. Books expressing views contrary to widely held religious sentiments will be discriminated against, while books wallowing in rape, murder, and mayhem will be perfectly acceptable.

Second, severe selectivity must be applied to the issues that may be discussed. Controversy about some is admissible and even desirable; it increases the sales appeal of the book. Problems of sex, psychology, and lately of race relations are okay, just so long as they involve no direct attack on the actual basic structure of the economic and social order.

Third, preference will naturally be given to authors whose fame provides advance assurance of a large market. But the fame of most mass-distribution authors has little to do with literary distinction and very much to do with publicity and a knack for catering to the mass market. Publicity in turn is manufactured by mass media, and obviously no writer with radical views will be built up by magazines, newspapers, radio, and television. Thus the premium placed on the authors’ fame tends to preclude dealing with touchy subjects and antipathy to touchy subjects facilitates the achievement of fame.xvii

The fourth rule is to keep a sharp eye out for whatever succeeds and immediately to imitate it. Just as in the garment industry new styles sweep the entire trade, so successful books set fashions which all publishers are eager to follow.

It would be of the utmost interest to follow through the changes which these specifications underwent in the age of monopoly capital.xviii 3 All we can do at this point is to draw attention to the vast increase of the part played by publishers’ rules and specifications in the genesis of the contemporary work of fiction.xix This quantitative change transforms, however, the very quality of the work itself. With the writer becoming more and more pronouncedly an employee of the publishing corporation and his independence turned increasingly into a sham (just as that of a small businessman) and with the results of the publishers’ market and motivation research and the consequent decisions of editorial boards determining the contents of the directives under which he operates, it becomes futile to look at the outcome of this manufacturing process for the expression of the artist’s views, insights, and convictions. Ironically, the material coming upon the market does not even necessarily convey the sentiments, notions, and creeds of the members of the teams whose business it is to put together marketable copy. It indicates rather what these teams on the basis of their collective deliberations, investigations, and hunches estimate to be the kind of reading people are likely to “go for.”

The observance of these general rules leads to progressive uniformity of literary output, an ever more pronounced loss of identity in the individual book. This clearly increases elasticity of demand—it becomes increasingly immaterial to the buyer which of the many books crowding the market he will read while sitting in some place or riding some plane—and intensifies the competitive pressures in book publishing. And yet no single publisher dares to break the general rules nor can they all get together and decide to be “different.” The most they can do is to amend and adjust the rules to meet the requirements of particular markets.

Sometimes the publisher even circularizes a selected mailing list with a brochure which describes the merits of a new, great, and unprecedented work. He of course does not say that the work is not yet written; so far it is merely an “idea” of the publisher. But if the number of orders is satisfactory a writer will be commissioned to compose the necessary copy. Here the book as commodity, manufactured to suit the market, is wholly unmistakable.

In the mass distribution market, all the rules are scrupulously observed, except that the authors involved need not be celebrities. For saleable wares, what is required is material made by the most promising up-to-date formula, with a good prospect of becoming a best seller and yielding substantial subsidiary revenues. Although known writers are of course favored, novices (and ghost writers) also have a chance provided they comply with the rules and fashions.xx

Fiction written for the mass distribution market is not therefore the expression of an artists’ apprehension of individual and social existence; it is, as Elmer Davis says, “not what somebody wanted to write, but what somebody else wanted to get written.” Nevertheless, the study of this output can throw much light on the nature of prevailing concepts, creeds, and attitudes.xxi But we must shift our analytical focus; instead of trying to grasp and interpret the message of the writer, we must try to weigh and interpret the relevant statistical and descriptive information about those themes which publishers, their employees, and their authors have found commercially worth treating.

One chief source of information is the work of Alice Payne Hackett, 60 Years of Best Sellers, 1895–1955.xxii Of course “the best seller of all times in this country, most certainly the best in the mid-twentieth century, is the Bible.” The average yearly sales of the unabridged text reach some 7 million copies. In addition, more religious fiction and non-fiction have made the best seller lists than any other kind. This is but one aspect of what has been called a great “religious boom” since the Second World War. Between 1940 and 1960, church membership has grown from 49 percent of the population to 64 percent, and outlays on new church buildings rose from $126 million in 1947 to $805 million in 1961.xxiii

The nation is full of confused persons who feel that there is something wrong, something deeply unsatisfying, about the lives they are living but would have trouble saying what it is and even more trouble discovering what to do about it. These are the people who are not yet badly enough disturbed (or wealthy enough) to be ready for a psychoanalyst, but they are frustrated, depressed, have a feeling that they have been victimized by life and some of them are on the way to a crack-up.xxiv

But the great bulk of the religious literature which these people buy can do little to clarify the causes of their misery or to suggest a more intelligent approach to their inner and outer worlds. Solipsism and mysticism are dominant threads. There is “frequent stress on the view that thought is the highest reality and matter either illusory or subservient to thought.” And “we can say with very minor qualifications that basic economic, political, and cultural forms are not invoked as having a bearing upon the fortunes of the ‘self,’ or in combination with other agencies.Manscarcely lives in a society or culture at all.”xxv Material like this, far from improving understanding and mental well-being, effects what might be called literary lobotomy.

A profound state of psychic malaise underlies the demand for this sort of literature—which also serves the interests of the Establishment in more ways than one. An advertisement for Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking admonishes executives to “give this book to employees. It pays dividends!” A satisfied customer is reported to be saying that the book helped to quiet the complaints of his employees, increasing their enthusiasm for their firm. Salesmen have “renewed faith in what they sell and in their organization,” and the office staff exhibits “greater efficiency” and a “marked reduction in clock-watching.”xxvi No wonder the sale of Peale’s book, and others like it, has been swelled by bulk purchases by big corporations for free distribution among their employees.

Cookbooks—next to the Bible and books on religious subjects—have sold best and most consistently in the non-fiction field since 1895. And next comes the vast market for fiction, where crime, detection, and mystery stories are the leading genre. The quantitative leap in this market has been spectacular, with current sales numbering something like a 100 million copies a year. And even this quantitative revolution has been accompanied by a qualitative transformation in the material.

The classic detective story is an exercise in logic and inference designed to uncover a criminal act—usually a murder, though it may also be a gem theft, or some diplomatic or business intrigue. For the plot a highly rational, uncannily clever detective puts together a series of improbable looking clues and bits of evidence to clinch some ingenious explanatory hypothesis. The hero’s extraordinary power of correct reasoning may be underscored by juxtaposing to him a more slow-witted character, whose bungling helps to obscure the issues and draw red herrings across the trail. The classic detective story thus reflects the spirit of partial rationality that was characteristic of bourgeois thought in the nineteenth century—it may be said to effect a neat transposition of the spirit and methods of double-entry bookkeeping into the realm of fiction.

This is indeed a world apart from the detective story that now dominates the field today. The emphasis has now shifted from the virtuoso performance of the detective to the crime itself. The act of murder with all the details is now carefully described; and the tracking down of the perpetrators is accomplished not by patient pursuit of complicated leads but by haphazard action, torture, and brutality. The detective is no longer the servant of justice; he is investigator, judge, and executioner all in one person. Mike Hammer is the leading character in Mickey Spillane’s productions, six of which belong to the first fifteen best-selling books of the twentieth century.xxvii And Mike Hammer is in essence a stupid and amoral sadist with a wholly inordinate appetite for liquor, women, and violence. His professed motto is “kill, kill, kill, kill!” He beats, maims, and shoots in the stomach men and women in many cases who have nothing to do with the original crime.xxviii The destruction of life, the lust for carnage are described with gusto; and the tremendous success of these subhuman, or indeed anti-human, works fully justifies Christopher La Farge’s question: “What has come to our country that it can support and applaud these attitudes toward our common life as a country?”xxix

There is a parallelism between the development of the detective story and that of the mass distribution novel. In the work of any authentic artist, the story crucially important as it is, is not an end in itself. It serves as a means for the representation of individual and social conflicts, of human passion, joy, and suffering. And the artist of the first rank does not impose his own world outlook, his analytic and interpretive work. His characters speak for themselves; their actions, their words, their gestures reflect and convey his view of reality, his thoughts, and his insights. But just as the nub of the modern detective story is the physical description of crime and violence, so the heart of the contemporary mass distribution novel is a minute account of the hero’s (frequently improbable) overt behavior, without any attempt at the discovery, elucidation, and comprehension of the underlying causes and motivations. The purpose is merely to thrill.

This fictional material differs from Spillane only in length and structure rather than in aesthetic quality or in intellectual and moral orientation. It is intended to provide the consumer with entertainment, suspense, and excitement, and calculated to titillate the senses.

The cover of one offers for 95 cents “a realistic tough, ruthless, outspoken novel of men and women who always take more than they give. It is filled with sin and success as the sharply drawn characters search endlessly for love and power, to dominate others even at the expense of self-destruction.” Another volume at 75 cents, announces that “the bedroom behavior of a nymphomaniac, an inhibited intellectual, a frigid wife, a father-dominated bride, an adulteress, and an aggressive career woman is examined in this adult novel.” And a third, somewhat thinner and therefore only 50 cents, tells us that “SEX spins the plot,” and promises a “no-holds-barred account of sin in suburbia.”xxx These examples could be multiplied. Albert Van Nostrand has examined 302 titles which appeared during the last twenty years:

Just seventy-one adjectives describe all of these books, but by a declining ratio. There are forty-nine adjectives on the first hundred covers (arranged alphabetically by title), seventeen new ones on the next hundred, and only five new adjectives on the covers of the restThese novels are “moving,” “brilliant,” “dynamic,” and compelling.” They are “gripping,” “graphic,” and “fascinating.” They are “emotion-charged” and “blood-stirring,” and occasionally “drum-tight.”They are about equally “compassionate” and “brutal”; and some—often the less expensive ones—are both.They score by being “merciless,” “stinging,” “biting,” or “fearless.” And they “speak out” too. But for every “outspoken” novel, seventeen are “frank” and three are “utterly frank.” The subject of this candor is variously “bawdy,” “daring,” “intimate,” “racy,” “stark,” and “unnatural.” Searching for a new sensation, one publisher even labeled the contents of his book “turgid!”—which is certainly being “utterly frank.”xxxi

Announcing a book called McCaffery, the advertisement states that this is “a sensational new novel about a furious young man who burns away his poverty and his past by plunging into a life of depravity”:

He is McCaffery, bright, good-looking and gifted with a certain fatal charm. One dark night he moves from a tenement in New York’s Yorkville to a plush Greenwich Village brothel. In the oldest profession, he is an innovator. No act is too sordid for McCaffery, no wealthy woman too old or too fat, no male customer too demanding. Then a remarkable man named Bentley—suave, sophisticated, unnatural—introduces McCaffery to genuine luxury and horror. McCaffery lives in his penthouse, learns the savage rites of perversion, attends the parties where thirty people make thirty kinds of love. He finds himself sinking into a well of decadence so deep that only the most violent crime can save him. McCaffery’s story is a terrifying journey along the edge of disaster to the beginnings of wisdom. This is raw book. It deals with the degradation of sex in our society, and is one of the most controversial novels of recent years. Lady Chatterly’s Lover, for readers old enough to know where babies come from, is really a dull book. Nobody can say that about McCaffery.xxxii

To be sure, high-pressure salesmanship, mendacious advertising, and the peddling of worthless and harmful products is not unique to the book market. But it does reflect a steady and methodical debasement of the book itself over the last few decades. Transferring to the sale of books the methods used in marketing “sex apparel” and cosmetics, liquor and cigarettes and nostrums of all kinds, undermines all respect for literary work, and annihilates the book as a cultural medium. Nor does this apply only to trash. Respectable or even great works of art change in the process their impact and their function. Being made to promise what they cannot “deliver,” being presented as something they never intended to be, they not only discredit themselves in the eyes of the reader, but strongly influence his attitude towards books in general. Literary works are not confronting him as sources of insight, and aesthetic enjoyment, as documents to be appreciated; they are stridently marketed as cheap means of easy entertainment, of vicarious experience—to be skimmed through for the exciting passages dealing with crime, sin, and sex, and then to be thrown away like the daily newspaper or the wrapping on a cake of soap.

The very term “book” is scarcely applicable to much of the tremendous output of “comic books.” In 1958 it was estimated that some 600 million comic books were sold throughout the United States annually—this in addition to the newspaper comic strips that are seen by more than 100 million Americans every day.xxxiii

Between the ages of six and eleven, 95 percent of boys and 91 percent of girls buy comic books for a steady reading diet. Between twelve and seventeen, the figure falls to 87 percent of boys and 81 percent of girls. Between eighteen and thirty, it is down to 16 and 12These are steady readers. To estimate the occasionals, add another 13 percent of men and 10 percent of women.In the recent war, at the post exchanges, the combined sales of Life, the Reader’s Digest, and the Saturday Evening Post were exceeded by comic books by a ratio of ten to one.xxxiv

Although views concerning the effects of this intake on both adults and children differ widely, there is a general agreement among serious students as to the intellectual hollowness, ideological tendentiousness, and aesthetic shabbiness of this output. Even one writer amiably disposed toward the comics finds:

It doesn’t seem possible that anything so raw, so purely ugly, should be so important. Comic books are ugly; it is hard to find anything to admire about their appearance. The paper—it’s like using sand in cooking. And the drawing: it’s true that these artists are capable in a certain sense; the figures are usually well located in depth, they get across action.But there is a soulless emptiness in them, an outrageous vulgarity; and if you do find some that seem, at least, funny and gay, there’s the color. Ouch! It seems to be an axiom in the comic book world that color which screams, shrieks with the strongest possible discord, is good. Even these aspects of comic-book art are mild and dull when contrasted with the essence of it: the layout, the arrangement of ideas; and that goes, too, for the ideas themselves.xxxv

Another student states that content analysis “shows the comics to contain a high degree of ethnocentrism, conservatism, violence, crime, and sex.”xxxvi Hostile critics use tougher language. In February 1955, a United States Senate Committee Inquiry on Juvenile Delinquency reported that crime and horror comic books, which constitute the majority of the total, “offer short courses in murder, mayhem, robbery, rape, cannibalism, carnage, necrophilia, sex, sadism, masochism, and virtually every other form of crime, degeneracy, bestiality and horror.”xxxvii

The one negatively strong point in favor of the comics is that it is not fair to single them out for special condemnation. For much that has been said about the comics can be said with equal justification about other forms of printed matter, and about radio, television, and other cultural institutions of our society.


The economic organization of television in the United States may well present the publishing industry with what could be called the mirror of its future. In the late 1950s some 540 stations were broadcasting television programs, but the industry as a whole was already a tightly controlled oligopoly. Economic forces, political manipulation, and technical factors have contributed to the concentration of control in the hands of three great corporations.

All but thirty-five television stations are now affiliated with one or more of three national networks which service them with programming and which sell their facilities to network advertisers. Each national network organization operates a radio as well as a television network, owns and operates eight to ten radio-TV stations, serves as national spot representative for those stations and for some affiliates too, produces live and filmed programs, and has extensive connections with related industries like motion picture exhibition, or the manufacturing of radio-TV sets, tubes, transmitters, antennas, studio equipment, etc.xxxviii

The television networks have a dominant position in radio and a powerful influence on Hollywood; they are also closely linked with the country’s newspapers. Leo Bogart reported in 1958 that “164 of the country’s 502 TV stations, or 33 percent, were owned by newspapers, or associated with them,” and “the newspaper-affiliated TV stations have over 90 percent of the nation’s receivers within their coverage areas.”xxxix

How much time is spent looking at television and listening to radio? While estimates vary, they are in the neighborhood of what one careful student of the subject accepts as reliable: the typical TV set works more than 5 hours a day (less on weekdays, more on weekends), and on the average a man spends 2 ½ hours, a woman 3 ½, and a child 4 hours a day watching the screen.xl In addition, men spend daily some 1-1 ½ hours, and women 1-2 hours, listening to the radio.xli

The three great networks are themselves essentially but processors and agents of advertisers. As the president of the 20th Century Fox Television Peter Levathes, puts it: “You’ve got to look at television realistically, as what it is today. The sponsor buys a show to sell his product. That is the basic purpose of TV. To sell someone’s product.”xlii There are altogether approximately four thousand firms whose products television helps to sell, but ten large corporations account for more than 35 percent of television’s advertising revenue, while ten advertising agencies are responsible for half the money spent on national television advertising—network and spot.xliii

Inevitably, television programming—and the situation is similar in radio—is essentially under the control of the sales departments of a few powerful corporations. They have no concern with the promotion of culture, they are interested in maximizing sales and profits by reaching the widest possible audience. The result is programs which are “ultra-conservative” and “appeal to the lowest common audience denominator.”xliv 4

As with comic books, there are substantial differences of opinion among students of broadcasting about the effects of these programs on adult and child audiences; but all informed observers—outside the industry itself, of course—are highly critical about the general level of the offerings. This widespread condemnation of television and radio comes of course from those who think the industry should be trying to do more than provide mere entertainment, but it comes also from those whose only concern is to assess the quality of the entertainment provided.xlv

In 1961, after four months in office, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Newton Minow, declared: “I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet, or rating book to distract you and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.”xlvi Other comments are in the same vein. Walter Lippman accuses the broadcasting companies of “debasing and degrading the most powerful of all popular institutions of education and entertainment.”xlvii One concise verdict was pronounced, ironically enough, by Albert Freedman, the producer of the fraudulent quiz show which became such a cause célèbre in 1959: “In the field of TV programming saturated with murder and violence, it is my opinion that the quiz shows as entertainment were a breath of fresh air.”xlviii

The comprehensive British Report of the Committee on Broadcasting, 1960—the so-called Pilkington Report—registers particular complaints about the inclusion in British programming of material produced in the United States. “This criticism was not an expression of xenophobia,” the authors of the Report note, “but a condemnation of the poor quality of the product and of the values depicted by it.” And the British Broadcasting Corporation told the Committee that it had to reject many American westerns, a species which accounts for a large proportion of our own TV fare, “because they contained excessive violence and sadism.”xlix

Sadism and crime, the low level of taste, imbecility—these are only one aspect of what is wrong with television and radio entertainment. Even more important is the persistent mendacity of what is being broadcast. It has been argued that the phony quiz shows, once exposed, will not be permitted to occur again. This is really beside the point. It is not the particular form of swindle and deception that is important but the basic fact that it is swindle and deception that incessantly fill the air.

The dominance of the lie is not confined to explicit advertisements. The lie also permeates most of the television day. The world presented on TV is not the real world with its conflicting interests, its irrationalities, its tensions, but also with its unending struggles and tremendous potentialities for betterment. It is an artifact which conjures up a tendentious, utterly misleading image of reality. As one study said:

Content analyses of daytime serials, TV dramas, short stories in popular magazines, and other entertainment features, consistently revealed that the dramas were typically played out in worlds wherein the best people were native Americans, wherein conflicts stemmed essentially from individual inadequacies and very rarely from social forces, and wherein any deviation from culturally unquestionable behavior led to catastrophe. Films derived from books were found typically to omit or temper any social criticism which might have been in the original, and to tighten the bonds of poetic justice.l

And one of the more conservative students of mass communications adds:

There can be little doubt about that the dramatic fare offered on television (one of television’s most popular type of program, and one which accounts for nearly half of the total service) avoids many legitimate dramatic themes, characters, plots, situations, and outcomes. In the category of discussion there are doubtless many ideas about politics, religion, economics, race, and other sensitive subjects which never receive adequate representation in the broadcast

It would be wrong to suppose that this “factory of dreams” merely transplants the viewer into an unreal fairyland, offering him a welcome opportunity for rest and recreation after a hard day of work and worry. It rather propagates attitudes, emotions, and concepts which by their very incongruity with real life accentuate his sense of loneliness, bewilderment, and futility. By befogging the nature and the cause of his suffering, the brainwashing process carried out by television and other mass media contributes to a crippling of the individual’s mental and emotional capabilities. By helping to instill in him a phantasmagoric image of his existence, it disarms him both on the social and the individual plane. “Thus, people may not only lose true insight into reality, but ultimately their very capacity for life experience may be dulled by the constant wearing of blue and pink spectacles.”lii 5

And as this sham dominating the world of mass communications becomes increasingly transparent through daily confrontation with reality, the individual brought up under its incessant impact cannot but lose his faith in what he reads, watches, and listens to. Learning from childhood that the mass media are for the most part purveyors of swindle, he “matures” by growing increasingly cynical about all the purported values and truths he is urged to accept. The knowledge that the racket constitutes the normal way of life merges with the impotent feeling “Who am I to say what is right and wrong?” People ultimately reach the attitude described by [an astute critic]6: “In modern American society there is a secret understanding, shared by almost everyone and obliquely expressed by the mass media only in tabloids and exposé magazines, that all public life and all public institutions are a fraud. Contemporary society itself is widely assumed to be fixed.”liii

This secret understanding relates also to private existence and personal relations. It discounts as corny all talk about the family as the source of harmony and happiness, it scorns as sentimental all tales of love, it yawns at the mere mention of honor, duty, solidarity, and devotion to ideas. Narrowing love to sexual attraction, and other human relations to personal advantage, it undermines the meaning of both and helps destroy the very capacity for affection, sexual gratification, friendship, and sympathy, which have always been the sources of both human suffering and human fulfillment.

The increasing awareness of the falsehood of what is conveyed by society’s cultural apparatus does not result in a heightened search for truth, reason, and knowledge, but rather in the spread of disillusionment and cynicism. Summing up a national survey by twelve reporters of Look after the 1959 quiz show scandals, one of the magazine’s editors, William Attwood, observed that “moral indignation is out of fashion; it isn’t smart to get mad. Americans do not seem to feel any personal responsibility for improving the nation’s moral condition.”liv

In the age of monopoly capital, of limitless manipulation of the individual in the interest of corporate profits, the notions of individual dignity and responsibility, the concepts of freedom, justice, and honor, are often little more than obsolete residues of outlived ideologies generated by earlier social orders. Their breakdown in the face of the new realities, however, does not signify, as some have claimed, the end of all ideology, and the beginning of an era of sober scientific thinking. It marks rather the evolution of one ideological structure into another; the tough, hard-boiled, matter-of-fact distrust of anything resembling an ideal, the disdain for everything that transcends the immediately tangible reality, the cynical exposure of the hypocrisy of the officially professed values—this is the ideology of our society, the ideology of monopoly capital.

It is the nature of “false consciousness,” which was Engels’s definition of ideology, to be not merely a jumble of thoughts unrelated to reality, but also to encompass a partial, biased view of reality, half-truths, reflecting some important aspects of it without encompassing its totality.7 And under monopoly capitalism the ever more widely held conviction that the culture dispensed by mass media is essentially a lie constitutes in itself the principal truth grasped by society’s consciousness. The spreading truth that no one individually can put an end to this systematized stream of mendacity is the principal insight that seems to be dawning upon that mendacity’s captive audience.

The apprehension of the lie and the proliferation of cynicism stemming from it capture only half the truth. The other half remains foreclosed. That other half relates to the existing and expanding possibilities for a different, more rational, more human existence. While the only tasks worthy of society’s cultural effort—whether as intellectual persuasion, aesthetic expression, or moral appeal—are to advance people’s understanding of reality and to widen their view of their potentialities, the cultural apparatus of monopoly capitalism serves quite opposite ends. It aims to make people accept what is, to adjust to the tawdry reality and to abandon all hope, all aspiration for a better society. Unless powerful social and political forces halt this drift, the conjecture of Norman Mailer may be borne out by the historical process: “Nineteenth-century capitalism exhausted the life of millions of workers; twentieth-century capitalism can well end by destroying the mind of civilized man.”lv


  1. Oxford Dictionary, “culture.” This is a somewhat old-fashioned definition, and it is customary nowadays to subsume all characteristics of a society under the term “culture.” The change in usage is symptomatic of the dulling of the once-sharp critical edge of bourgeois thought. Just as the substitution of “behavioral sciences” for “social sciences” deflects attention from the structural determinants of thought and actions, so the broadened meaning of “culture” obscures the distinction between society’s socio-economic foundation and its ideational superstructure. All aspects of social existence are placed on an equal footing—the economic organization and table manners, political power structure and sports—the need to put first things first and devise a meaningful strategy of social change is dangerously obscured. [Editor’s note: The 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary includes the precise definition quoted by Baran and Sweezy here as one of its principal definitions of culture. This reflects, as Raymond Williams noted in his essay “Marx on Culture,” “one of the predominant twentieth-century senses {of the word}, as a general term for artistic, literary and intellectual work. There is no comparably adequate general term, so the use can be readily justified. But it is well known that culture is also used, in anthropology and sociology but also more generally, to describe a distinctive way of life, then including arts and learning but also much more general practice and behavior.” Behind these diverse uses of the term culture, Williams argued, are different, but related, questions about society. The focus on culture in terms of intellectual and artistic life and the development of structures of communication is particularly relevant to the questions raised by the Marxist tradition, with respect to the cultural apparatus and cultural hegemony. Raymond Williams, What I Came To Say (London: Hutchinson Radius, 1989), pp. 199–202.]
  2. Richard D. Altick, “The Spread of Reading,” in Eric Larrabee and Rolf Meyersohn, eds., Mass Leisure, Glencoe, Illinois, 1958, p. 44.
  3. Phyllis B. Steckler, ed., The Bowker Annual of Library and Book Trade Information, New York, 1964, pp. 38–39.
  4. “Probably the single most important book and book-store audience in this country is small, vastly influential, easy to locate, hard to hit, and difficult to fool. It lives primarily in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and their suburbs.” Robert Gutwillig, “What Ails the Book Trade,” The New Leader, May 15, 1961.
  5. “Of Happiness and Despair We Have No Measure,” in Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White, eds., Mass Culture, Glencoe, Illinois, 1957, p. 521.
  6. A list of books published in the last ten years [1954–1964] falling into this category would fill pages. Throughout this book [Monopoly Capital] we have drawn on them frequently for factual information and to support our own interpretations. Our footnotes are therefore sprinkled with examples of this abundant literature.
  7. Review of Edwin P. Hoyt, The Golden Rot: A Somewhat Opinionated View of America, New York, 1964, in the New York Times, November 3, 1964.
  8. The history of Monthly Review Press, publisher of the present work [referring to Monopoly Capital], is of relevance. It came into existence solely as a makeshift arrangement for publishing books which established houses considered to have overstepped the limits of permissible criticism. Publishers of course do not couch their rejection slips in these terms, and in individual cases other considerations may be involved. But anyone who knows the book business would acknowledge the reality of the taboo; and the success and expansion of Monthly Review Press, with no access to normal sources of capital and normal channels of publicity, obviously proves that lack of a market is not the reason for the general refusal to publish radical criticism.
  9. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1963, p. 527. Percentages calculated from tables ibid., pp. 213, 328; and Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1957, pp. 139, 224.In spite of these striking increases, the United States trails behind other advanced countries. In 1952 when the number of titles published in the United States was about 12 thousand, the USSR published 37.5 thousand, Great Britain 18.7, India 17.4, Japan 17.3, and West Germany 13.9. In a tabulation of book production per million inhabitants in 23 countries, the United States, with 74 million, stood fourth from the bottom, exceeding only Brazil, India, and China. The Netherlands produced nine times as many books per million inhabitants, Czechoslovakia six times, and the Soviet Union two and a half times as many. (R. E. Barker, Books for All: A Study of the International Book Trade, UNESCO, Paris, 1956, p. 21.) Nor did the more than 50 percent increase in the number of titles between 1952 and 1962 raise the United States’ relative standing. Other countries experienced similar or greater increases: in 1961, the USSR published 74 thousand titles. Steckler, ed., The Bowker Annual, 1964, p. 75.
  10. Robert Lubar, “Henry Holt and the Man from Koon Kreek,” Fortune, December 1959.
  11. Concentration Ratios in Manufacturing Industry 1958, Report prepared by the Bureau of the Census for the Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 37th Congress, 2nd Sess., Washington, 1962, p. 22.
  12. Business Week, December 30, 1961.
  13. Quoted by Alan Dutscher, “The Book Business in America,” in Rosenberg and White, eds., Mass Culture, p. 129.
  14. Business Week, December 30, 1961.
  15. Joseph Marks, “Subsidiary Rights and Permissions,” in Chandler B. Grannis, ed., What Happens in Book Publishing, New York, 1957, p. 213.
  16. The chance of a book being bought for a Hollywood film script is always an important consideration for the publisher, since the appearance of the movie automatically boosts the sales of the book.
  17. In one respect, the premium on fame operates differently and in a way paradoxically. The most famous writers are the dead, and with the growth of population, literacy, and income, the demand for their works naturally grows. This is further stimulated by the cult of “great books” on college campuses and among other readers with cultural aims. Also, most works of dead writers can be published without payment of royalties. Thus the publication of classics, both fiction and nonfiction, has expanded enormously in recent years, and the best literature of the past has been made widely available, which is all to the good. Yet this wealth from the past makes it that much more difficult for unknown living writers to get into print. “I have no quarrel with either Dante or Shakespeare,” Cecil Hemley writes, “But it is a trifle ironic that competition from them should make it more difficult for the unnamed ones of the present.” Cecil Hemley, “The Problem of the Paperbacks,” in Rosenberg and White, eds., Mass Culture, p. 144.
  18. An excellent example of such a study is the frequently reprinted paper by Leo Lowenthal, “Biographies in Popular Magazines,” in Leo Lowenthal, Literature, Popular Culture, and Society Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1961, pp. 109–40 [Editor’s note: where it is given the new title “The Triumph of Mass Idols”].
  19. This process of “creation” is brilliantly described by Albert Van Nostrand in The Denatured Novel, New York, 1960, in particular Chapter III, “The Clay Feet of Polk and Franklin.”
  20. A book note in the New York Times (November 28, 1964) reads: “Patrick Dennis, known as the author of Auntie Mame [runaway best-seller of a few years ago], has written a novel about marriage on the rocks, called The Joyous Season, which Harcourt Brace and World will publish on January 13. The publishing concern’s confidence in the book is shown in a first printing of 40,000 copies. Twentieth Century-Fox has purchased the story for a film. The Ladies Home Journal is running an excerpt in January. All are best-seller portents.”
  21. “There is not likely to be great disharmony between an author’s views and those of his readers when they invest their own funds to purchase his books. Although it is theoretically possible for people to buy books with which they disagree in order to perceive accurately the heresies or shortcomings of opponents, no research on mass media has revealed any such tendency. People appear to expose themselves to offerings of the mass media which coincide with their predilections.” Louis Schneider and Stanford M. Dornbusch, Popular Religion: Inspirational Literature in America, Chicago, 1958, p. 156.
  22. New York, 1956. A best seller in Miss Hackett’s treatment is any book which sold at least half a million copies in this period.
  23. See The Christian Century, March 27, 1957; and Statistical Abstract of the United States 1962, p. 749.
  24. Paul Hutchinson, editor of The Christian Century, quoted in “Have We a ‘New’ Religion?” Life, April 11, 1955, p. 143.
  25. Schneider and Dornbusch, Popular Religion, pp. 19, 23, 24.
  26. William Lee Miller, “Some Negative Thinking About Norman Vincent Peale,” The Reporter, January 13, 1955, pp. 23–24.
  27. John W. Dodds, American Memoir, New York, 1961, p. 28.
  28. See Dwight MacDonald, “A Theory of Mass Culture,” in Rosenberg and White, eds., Mass Culture, p. 68.
  29. Christopher La Farge, “Mickey Spillane and His Bloody Hammer,” in Rosenberg and White, eds., Mass Culture, Glencoe, Illinois, 1957, p. 185.
  30. The books respectively are: Harold Robbins, The Carpetbaggers, Pocket Books, 1962; Irving Wallace, The Chapman Report, New American Library, 1962; and Evan Hunter, Strangers When We Meet, Pocket Books, 1959, 1960.
  31. Van Nostrand, The Denatured Novel, p. 134. This valuable work contains a wealth of information on the condition of contemporary American fiction.
  32. New York Times, October 10, 1961.
  33. State of New York, Report of the New York State Joint Legislative Committee Studying the Publication and Dissemination of Offensive and Obscene Material, March 1958, p. 69. An even larger circulation was suggested by James D. Hart, The Popular Book: A History of America’s Literary Taste, New York, 1950, p. 286, where the weekly consumption of comic books is put at 25 million copies, i.e., 1.3 billion a year. And see Rosenberg and White, eds., Mass Culture, p. 187. The market for this material of course includes many adults.
  34. Coulton Waugh, The Comics, New York, 1947, p. 334.
  35. Ibid., p. 333.
  36. Leo Bogart, “Comic Strips and Their Adult Readers,” in Rosenberg and White, eds., Mass Culture, p. 190. [Editor’s note: As the above title indicates, Bogart was concerned here with comic strips rather than comic books, but Baran and Sweezy clearly believed the statement had a wider application to comic books as well.]
  37. Quoted in Report of New York State Legislative Committee, p. 68.
  38. Harvey J. Levin, “Economic Structure and the Regulation of Television,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 1958, p. 427.
  39. Leo Bogart, The Age of Television, 2nd edition, New York, 1958, p. 187. [Editor’s note: For a treatment of the role of the Federal Communications Commission in promoting oligopoly in broadcasting see Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, “Behind the FCC Scandal,” Monthly Review, April 1958, pp. 401–11.]
  40. Leo Bogart, “American Television: A Brief Survey of Research Findings,” Journal of Social Issues, 1962, no. 2. It is believed that TV viewing by children takes up from two to somewhat over three hours per weekday and as much as ten hours on Saturdays and Sundays, with the heaviest viewing being between the ages of eleven and thirteen. See Bogart, The Age of Television, especially chapter 4.
  41. Sebastian de Grazia, Of Time, Work, and Leisure, New York, 1962, p. 125.
  42. Variety, October 21, 1959, as quoted in Meyer Weinberg, TV in America: The Morality of Hard Cash, New York, 1962, p. 142.
  43. Bogart, The Age of Television, p. 193.
  44. Sydney W. Head, Broadcasting in America: A Survey of Television and Radio, Boston, 1956, p. 262.
  45. “Drama, comedy-variety, music, and quiz shows are the staples of television’s daily programming dietThey are virtually all in the realm of entertainment. With the exception of news shows, none of them are concerned with ideas or information.” Bogart, The Age of Television, p. 51.
  46. New York Times, May 10, 1961.
  47. Quoted in Weinberg, TV in America, p. 259.
  48. New York Times, November 9, 1959. An excellent account of the quiz shows is given in Weinberg, TV in America. [Editor’s note: See also Leo Huberman and Paul M. Sweezy, “The TV Scandals,” Monthly Review, December 1959, pp. 273–81.]
  49. Report of the Committee on Broadcasting (Pilkington Committee Report) (London: HMSO, 1962), Cmd. 1753, par. 109, and par. 120. [Editor’s note: On the Pilkington Committee Report, see Raymond Williams, Communications, second edition (London: Chatto and Windus Ltd., 1966), 156–59]
  50. Joseph T. Clapper, The Effects of Mass Communication, Glencoe, Illinois, 1960, p. 39.
  51. Head, Broadcasting in America, p. 441.
  52. T.W. Adorno, “Television and the Patterns of Mass Culture,” in Rosenberg and White, eds., Mass Culture, p. 484.
  53. Murray Hausknecht, “The Rigged Society,” Dissent, Winter 1960, quoted in Weinberg, TV in America, p. 268.
  54. Quoted in Weinberg, TV in America, p. 245.
  55. Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself, New York, 1959, p. 436.


  1. The concept of the “cultural apparatus”—and more particularly the “cultural apparatus of monopoly capitalism”—opens and closes Baran and Sweezy’s analysis of culture and communications in this chapter. For the historical development of this category within Marxism see the introduction to this issue. See also Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966), 339.
  2. Baran and Sweezy had discussed whether to include elite culture as well as mass culture at some point in their analysis, but they decided in the end either to confine the analysis to the latter or would have made the changes in the final draft. On December 5, 1962 Sweezy wrote to Baran: “Somewhere in QOS (2) [Quality of Monopoly Capitalist Society II] there should, I think, be a discussion of the ‘elite culture’ in which our intellectuals and would-be intellectuals plunge themselves—art galleries, Japanese prints, hi-fi, foreign films (and their U.S. imitators), and all the rest. Quantitatively all this is by no means unimportant, and qualitatively some of it is no doubt good to excellent. But seen in its relation to the system as a whole (which is the way we must try to see everything), it merely emphasizes the lack of human solidarity (also reflected in the content of the elite culture), the torn-apartness, the alienation, the futility, the sickness of the society. I don’t know just where this belongs, and perhaps you have plans for doing something of the sort at the end. But I think it is important that it be included, because many of our readers will be precisely those who are most addicted to the elite culture (for which one cannot blame them since one has to do something with oneself) and will accuse us of being ‘unfair’ or presenting an ‘unbalanced’ picture if we don’t discuss it. The discussion needn’t be long and certainly doesn’t have to denounce or even criticize (in fact, a wonderful critique of monocap society could be developed via a content analysis of elite culture); the point would be simply to put the thing in its proper setting and perspective.” To this Baran replied on December 7, 1962: “I do have in mind to say something about ‘elite culture,’ but haven’t quite decided where and how. My first idea was to put it at the end of what you have read so far, but I thought this would overload the chapter, and I resolved to return to it in IS [“The Irrational System”—the concluding chapter of the book] precisely because I felt that it should be dealt with in reference to the system as a whole, its consciousness. QoS I and QoS II are directed towards “the state of the people”—in IS I thought I would talk a little about the ‘ideas of the age.’ That’s why I did not refer to ‘good’ books—Hemingway, Steinbeck, and company—or ‘good’ arts…. This is perhaps wrong but it is not an omission; it is a commission.” [Editor’s note: the ellipses preceding this final sentence are the author’s. The source of the above letters is the Baran Papers, Monthly Review Foundation.]
  3. This paragraph (including the footnotes associated with it) is an abridged version of two lengthy paragraphs that were deleted in the final draft of the chapter prepared by Sweezy. In the original draft by Baran the first three sentences and the remainder of the paragraph were in distinct paragraphs separated by illustrative material. We have included these passages from the deleted material because of what we regard as their importance for the overall analysis.
  4. Baran and Sweezy’s critique of advertising was developed more fully in their “Theses on Advertising” (reprinted in this issue) and in their chapter on “The Absorption of the Surplus: The Sales Effort,” in Monopoly Capital, 112–41.
  5. Baran was a close reader of Adorno’s work and considered his dialectical deconstruction of Huxley’s Brave New World (and the implications of this analysis in relation to “literati” like Orwell and Koestler) to be “masterful.” See Paul A. Baran, The Political Economy of Growth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1957), 297-98; Theodor Adorno, Prisms (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1967), 95–117.
  6. The words “an astute critic” here have been inserted to replace a name error in the draft text.
  7. The reference is to Engels’s 1893 letter to Franz Mehring where he introduces the term “false consciousness” in defining ideology. Baran and Sweezy here give this a sophisticated interpretation, connecting it to the general treatment of ideology by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology. See Frederick Engels to Franz Mehring, July 14, 1893, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), 433–37; Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), especially 59, 62.
2013, Volume 65, Issue 03 (July-August)
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