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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Note on Progress: Theodor Adorno


Whoever rubs his hands with humility and satisfaction while remembering the sinking of the Titanic, because the iceberg supposedly dealt the first blow to the idea of progress, forgets or suppresses the fact that this accident, which incidentally was by no means fateful, occasioned measures that in the following half century protected sea voyages from unplanned natural catastrophes. Part of the dialectic of progress is that historical setbacks which themselves are instigated by the principle of progress -- what could be more progressive than the race for the blue ribbon? -- also provide the condition needed for humanity to find the means to avert them in the future. The nexus of deception surrounding progress reaches beyond itself. It is mediated to that order in which the category of progress would first gain its justification, in that the devastation wrought by progress can be made good again, if at all, only by its own forces, never by the restoration of the preceding conditions that were its victim. The progress of the domination of nature that, in Benjamin's simile, proceeds in the reverse direction of that true progress that would have its telos in redemption, nevertheless is not entirely without hope. Both concepts of progress communicate with each other not only in averting the ultimate disaster, but rather in every actual form of easing the persistent suffering.

Theodor Adorno: excerpt from Progress, Lecture at Münster Philosophers' Congress, 22 October 1962, translated by Henry Pickford in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, 1998


TC said...

The concept of technological progress as ultimate end of human history provided perhaps the most common marketing slogan of the America in which I grew up.

Its principal spokesman, a film actor of no particular merit, would graduate from standing in front of refrigerators in a television studio, as pitchman for Progress, to the Oval Office.

The immensely popular tv show General Electric Theatre was the venue for promulgating this Doctrine of "Progress as Our Most Important Product".

TC said...

The following comments on the show are those of William L. Bird Jr., from The Museum of Public Broadcasting:

'General Electric Theater saturated its audience with [Ronald] Reagan's genial progress-talk in introductions, segues and closing comments, and [Don] Herbert's commercials. From the viewpoint of its sponsors, the program's entertainment component seemed beside the point of audience "recall scores," "impact studies" and the "penetration" of company messages culminating with the motto, "Progress is our most important product." Commercials from the 1954 fall season, for example, included "Kitchen of the Future," "Lamp Progress," "Jet Engine Advancement," "Turbosupercharger Progress," "Sonar Development," "Atomic Safety Devices" and so on. "Kitchen of the Future" achieved the highest impact score (90% audience recall) recorded to date by the polling firm of Gallup-Robinson, whose specialists reported the General Electric Theater as "the leading institutional campaign on television for selling ideas to the public. " Following a 4 November 1956 Herbert "progress report" on the subject of steam turbine generators and their contributions to "progress toward a fuller and more satisfying life," Reagan reiterated, "In the meantime, remember: From electricity comes progress; progress in our daily living; progress in our daily work; progress in the defense of our nation; and at General Electric, progress is . . . "

'By 1957 General Electric Theater had hit stride with a top-rated program package the equal of the company's early technical proficiency in television. While GE's product divisions developed individual sponsorships to reach appliance, lamp and electronics consumers via The Jane Froman Show, The Ray Milland Show, I Married Joan, Ozzie and Harriet and Today, the General Electric Theater aspired to the overarching sale of Total Electric living. A 10 February 10 telecast featuring Jimmy Stewart, for example, celebrated the first anniversary of the electric utilities' "Live Better Electrically" campaign and "National Electric Week." The closing commercial featured Nancy and Ronald Reagan in the kitchen of a Total Electric home. "When you live better electrically," Reagan told viewers, "you lead a richer, fuller, more satisfying life. And it's something all of us in this modern age can have." In his 1965 autobiography Where's the Rest of Me? Reagan recalled that GE installed so many appliances in his Pacific Palisades home that the electrical panel needed to serve them soon outgrew the usual pantry cupboard for a three-thousand-pound steel cabinet outside the house. The General Electric Theater was no less loaded with the corporate stewardship of personal and social improvement, expressed over and over by Reagan: "Progress in products goes hand in hand with providing progress in the human values that enrich the lives of us all."

'General Electric Theater left the air in 1962 in a welter of controversy surrounding the U.S. Justice Department's anti-trust investigation of MCA and the Screen Actors Guild talent waivers granted to MCA -Revue. The hint of scandal discounted Reagan's value as company spokesman and program host. As SAG president in the 1950s Reagan had, after all, signed the waivers, and later benefited from the arrangement as a General Electric Theater program producer himself. The suggestion of impropriety fueled Reagan's increasingly anti-government demeanor on tour, and his insistence upon producing and starring in episodes combating Communist subversion in the final season of General Electric Theater.'

Curtis Faville said...

My two favorite scenes from the movie Titanic are the approaching prow of the huge iceberg in the night fog, and then the sinking ship, its stern tilted up vertically, just beginning to slide straight down into the drink.

Horrifying, and riveting visions.

That was real chivalry--the men staying on board while the women filled up the life-boats.