T.W. Adorno
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: Browbeating, Cuspers, HiLo Heroes, Paranoia, Philosophy, Semiotics, Theory


Infamous among middlebrow intellectuals then and now for dismissing mainstream American music, movies, and magazines of the 1940s and ’50s as nothing more than vehicles for a relentless message of “adjustment and unreflecting obedience,” the German social philosopher and theorist T.W. ADORNO (1903-69) had a relentless message of his own. Thanks to the “introjection and integration of social pressure and coercion, men resign themselves to loving what they have to do, without even being aware that they are resigned,” he insisted, in everything he wrote: i.e., even though there’s no shepherd issuing orders, we behave like docile sheep. (Sound Foucauldian? In a 1978 interview, Foucault said that if he’d been familiar with Adorno’s work, “I would have avoided many of the detours which I made while trying to pursue my own humble path.”) But Adorno was not entirely pessimistic, even about pop culture. In fact, he enjoyed unique and eccentric lowbrow productions — which he described as being every bit as “embarrassing” to the coercive aims of the Disneyfied culture industry as were those highbrow works (e.g., Schoenberg) for which he is a better-known advocate. The HiLobrow.com project is deeply indebted to Adorno’s anti-middlebrow negative dialectics.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Arvo Part |

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).



Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011); and he is co-editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.