What does the boombox mean, Frankfurt School?
Russell Bernard, from Modern Culture and Critical Theory, 1989:
“The behavioralist thesis that the musical supermarket stimulates the consumer’s will to buy is a crudely mechanistic trivialization of a profound restructuring of the public sphere. The ubiquity of Muzak tends to obliterate communication and to break down individual resistance, constructing instead the beautiful illusion of a unanimous collective. Yet because it is a false collective in which no one is ever at home, it constantly collapses in a sadomasochistic antinomy: on the one hand, the autistic pseudoprivacy of the Walkman, on the other, the megalomaniacal self-assertion of the ghetto blaster. The former apparently creates a self-enclosed passivity, while the latter imposes itself aggressively on its surroundings, and each of these gestures stands in an [end of 85] inverse relationship to the social status of the group associated with the respective technical device: the poorest sound the loudest. This contradiction indicates how, even in the context of the aestheticization of daily life, the postauratic work still operates with a vestige of autonomous aesthetics: the nonidentity of appearance and reality. The power of the music does not reflect the power of the recipient – the reverse is rather the case – and the corresponding principle of illusion is located at the intersection of aesthetic resources and political control.
“Yet the hypothesis that the intonation of society acts as a vehicle for illusion is only an external explanation. The destruction of the public sphere through musical blockage is not only manipulation but also the desublimation of a desire for isolated passivity, speechlessness, and silence which are demanded of the recipient precisely by the overwhelming volume of the music. The deadening roar of the underclass radios conjoins with the catatonia of the Walkman victims in a mimesis of death. The secret of the libidinal economy is revealed in the locus of postmodern sociability, the dating bar, in which the decentered individual moves relentlessly from union to union, while the electronic noise guarantees the obsolescence of language and the pointlessness of communication. The specific constellation of sexual desire and deathly silence, eros and thanatos, indicates a new logic. Live performance has survived only in nostalgic enclaves – Dixieland in New Orleans or high school bands at football games. Elsewhere music exists mainly as technical reproduction. In this form, as dead labor, it envelops the contemporary listener who, still alive, pursues death through imitation in a revised political economy. As passive as the absent producers, he fully understands the violence of the productive system, and even when it is directed against himself, precisely that violence fascinates his instinctual aggression. The aestheticization of life appeals to a death desire that redefines artistic consumption; the exponential violence in the mass media and in spectacular crimes reflects a fundamental revision of the political-instinctual foundation of social organization. For the collapse of the ethic of worldy asceticism contributed to the end of autonomy aesthetics (Aschenbach’s work); the subsequent aestheticization of everyday life, however, transforms experience in ways that uncover a considerable potential for aggression.”