Facebook's "Adorno Changed My Life"
by Georg Boch, Director
Icarus Films, Brooklyn, NY, 2011
DVD, 28 mins. col.
Distributor’s website: http://www.icarusfilms.com.
Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University
"All that is solid melts into air." Theodor Adorno didn't say that, Karl Marx did. But it came to mind as I watched this inconsequential, fluffy film.
Several men––noticeably, no women––in the Facebook group “Adorno Changed My Life” contribute their thoughts, insights, and gripes. The speakers are enthusiastic, especially about Minima Moralia, with the enthusiasm others may show for Dianetics: the Modern Science of Mental Health, or about novels The Fountainhead, The Turner Diaries, the Twilight books, or religious texts. Director Georg Boch solicited videos and Skype conversations from members of the group. In one case, a guy set up his camcorder outdoors on a grim, wintry northern European day. Two speakers are German, one is Turkish, one (who we see at the beginning but never again) is Chinese. The most thoughtful and articulate is located in Austin, Texas and talks as if he's a grad student or junior faculty at University of Texas; I'd have preferred 20 minutes from this guy to the film's silly smorgasbord.
I was hoping for some fresh insights on critical theory from these contemporary readers, global but conversing electronically, but no such luck. Critical theory sprung from the work of Adorno and others at the Institute of Social Research, often called the Frankfurt School, in 1930s Germany, and in the countries the influential members settled when the Nazis closed it. Adorno was influenced by his colleague Walter Benjamin yet denied him funds at a critical time in his research. For several years Adorno lived in exile in Southern California where he wrote on music and its use in movies as well as other aspects of popular culture about whose influence on contemporary society he was pessimistic. After WWII he returned to Germany and a university teaching career. Weeks before he died (of a broken heart?), his classes were interrupted by both revolutionary counter-lecturers and bare-breasted female admirers. Chill, Prof baby, it's the Age of Aquarius!
None of this information is mentioned, nor does any overview of Adorno's work and ideas appear on this disc (it could have been a good extra, in some form, to accompany the short film). Teddy bear collector Dennis Redmond facilely compares Adorno's oeuvre to the digital commons without details. Nobody really has much to say on Adorno's work, beyond a shrug, "Theodor Adorno is of no great help when it comes to jobs or employment."
David Jenneman begins his book on Adorno's years in the US with a quote from the philosopher's Minima Moralia, "To say 'we' and mean 'I' is one of the most recondite insults." Perhaps this offers insights on Facebook groups and the affect-less affirmation of its "Like" button. There probably is more about Facebook than Adorno here, and there could be a tantalyzing interrogation of both social media and the philosopher, but it never gels. In Minima Moralia, Adorno writes, "In many people it is already an impertinence to say 'I'", so what of the virtual self? Art historian (the bear toy connoisseur) Travis English uploads his face into a Facebook app that searches its database for a doppelganger, or approximation. One supposes that this illustrates that point, or another one somewhere, by Adorno on media. If so, English doesn't share it, doesn't make the connection.
Facebook's "Adorno Changed My Life" has been shown at the 2012 Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Films, the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival and the 2011 Zagrebdox International Documentary Film Festival. It's marred by the bad visual design of one long passage of white subtitles beneath a German speaker are illegibly displayed upon fallen snow. Why didn't they switch to black text there?
The film is slight, though still too long by about 5 of its 28 minutes, and its final speaker really doesn't impart too much knowledge or even information as the film fizzles out inconclusively. Still, parts of it might be a good thing to show a university class before they embark on reading Theodor Adorno I order to stimulate discussion afterwards. In fact, I think I'll send my copy of Facebook's "Adorno Changed My Life" by inter-campus mail to a Philosophy Professor, for I'd get nothing out of watching it again.