Study Guide

Walter Benjamin - The Frankfurt School a.k.a. Institute for Social Research

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The Frankfurt School a.k.a. Institute for Social Research

These are just a bunch of crazy kids trying to resolve the problems of their mixed-up world through Marxism. An intellectual bunch, this crowd doesn't share a whole lot of chuckles—what with being up against fascists and all. The Frankfurt School isn't just about the working class problem and the mess that is the Communist Party. No—this is some high-falutin' stuff. They are drawn to the ideological, academic dilemmas of neo-Marxist thought, often bandying about the ideas of Marx and Kant and engaging in cross-disciplinary discussions of social control, social theory, and the evils of capitalism. Study hall, anyone?

Max Horkheimer


Don't let his name fool you. This guy is as serious as a heart attack when it comes to a good debate. He wants nothing to do with the working class, which may seem odd for a card-carrying Marxist, but he simply cannot imagine these people really affecting the kind of change he is calling for. Max is a real theory-head and has a tendency to keep discussions in the abstract realm.

Herbert Marcuse

Media Expert 

Talk about a man with early insights. It's almost like this guy has a freakin' crystal ball. His bailiwick was Marxist Media Theory, and boy did he nail it. He had the long view of the seductions and misinformation machine of modern media—and we're not talking about the campaign of propaganda for sugar cereals that dominates Saturday morning cartoons.

Marcuse put communication in the crosshairs, declaring, "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 […] The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood […] Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behaviour" (source). So we are talking about some serious mind melding. He really keeps the School up to speed on all of the ways the people are being mesmerized by the man.

Walter Benjamin


Benjamin isn't one of the founders; he is what you might call a "loose affiliate." Of course his essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" gives him significant cred in the group—what with its penetrating insights into the powers of new media to enact revolutionary social change. He has a slightly more positive outlook on the whole media thing, because where Marcuse sees new media as a mind-numbing industry, he kind of thinks that film and photography hold promise for freeing the viewer to form opinions outside of the mystifications of traditional art and aesthetics.

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