A Critical Reading of the Mass Ornament from the Gender PerspectiveDerya Ülker
As an unconscious surface-level expression of the Fordist era, the mass ornament is a phenomenon that objectifies both its producer and consumer. By mechanizing the human through anonymization and asexualization, this propaganda instrument that serves the construction of one-dimensional man diminishes the subject's originality. The serial combinations of women produced by the culture and gender policy widely in Europe and the USA determine the status of the “new woman” in modern life while producing a social fantasy. The culture industry especially objectifies women and transfers control over them to men. This supervision also aims to determine the limits of the economy of desire and eroticism in society. Sociologist and cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer, in his Mass Ornament (1963), examines the Taylorist ballet, which became a worldwide aesthetic reflex at the end of the nineteenth century, fetishizing the ever-new without producing a new value with synchronized body movements. Kracauer, who explored the meanings of the aesthetic images produced by the society pointed to the culture industry by developing a critical perspective on mass culture by establishing the connection between working life and mass production and the structures in entertainment culture. This article offers a feminist reading on the concept of mass ornament by considering the modern culture of the 1920s from a gender perspective. It adds another layer to Kracauer’s critique of mass ornament and opens it up for discussion, emphasizing the transitivity between the aesthetic and the political.
Kitle Süsü Kavramı Üzerine Toplumsal Cinsiyet Perspektifinden Eleştirel Bir OkumaDerya Ülker
Fordist çağın yüzeysel bir dışavurumu olan kitle süsü, hem üreticisini hem de tüketicisini nesneleştiren bir fenomendir. Tek boyutlu insanın oluşumuna hizmet eden bu propaganda aracı, anonimleştirme ve cinsiyetsizleştirme yoluyla, insanı mekanize ederek öznenin özgünlüğünü yok eder. Yaygın olarak Avrupa ve ABD’deki kültür ve cinsiyet politikaları doğrultusunda üretilen seri kadın birleşimleri, toplumsal bir fanteziyi üretirken modern hayattaki yeni kadının statüsünü de belirler. Kültür endüstrisi özellikle kadınları nesneleştirir ve onların üzerindeki denetimi erkeklere devreder. Bu denetim, aynı zamanda toplumdaki arzu ekonomisinin ve erotizmin sınırlarının belirlenmesini amaçlar. Sosyolog ve kültürel eleştirmen Siegfried Kracauer, Kitle Süsü (1963) çalışmasında, on dokuzuncu yüzyılın sonunda dünya çapında bir estetik refleks haline gelmiş olan, senkronize beden hareketleriyle bir değer üretmeksizin hep-yeni olanı fetişleştiren Taylorist baleyi inceler. Toplumun ürettiği estetik imgelerin anlamlarına odaklanan Kracauer, çalışma hayatı ve seri üretim ile eğlence kültüründeki yapıların bağlantısını kurarak, kitle kültürüne eleştirel bir bakış açısı geliştirerek kültür endüstrisine işaret etmiştir. Bu makale, 1920’lerde modern kültür yapısını toplumsal cinsiyet açısından ele alarak kitle süsü kavramı üzerine feminist bir okuma sunuyor. Çalışma, Kracauer’in kitle süsü eleştirisine bir katman daha ekleyip onu tartışmaya açarak, estetik ve politik olan arasındaki geçişliliğe vurgu yapıyor.
This article examines the modern culture of the 1920s from a gender perspective, offering a feminist interpretation of the concept of mass ornament. It focuses on female movement choirs, which are also the topic of entertainment studies and comprise of female bodies standing side by side. The article adds another layer to Kracauer’s critique of mass ornament and opens it up for discussion, emphasizing the transitivity between the aesthetic and the political.
Sigfried Kracauer criticizes in Mass Ornament (1963) the Taylorist ballet, which fetishizes the all-new without producing a new value, creates a pure ornament by synchronous body movements, massifies its spectators, and mesmerizes them with mechanical movements. Mass ornament becomes a worldwide aesthetic reflex at the end of the nineteenth century. Here the product of the entertainment factory is not the bodies of individual women, but the combinations which contain the flow of the all-new within. Regular repetitions of the movement in these choirs reveal the technological rationalization of the 1920s with geometric compositions and interlocking similar units/parts of bodies.
Tiller Girls is one of the examples of mass ornament. This massive machine movement of human bodies is the reflection of the superficial expressions of the culture and aesthetics of that age. Kracauer, who explores the meaning of aesthetic images produced by society with a critical sociological method based on observing social practices, by linking the appearances in working life and the structures in entertainment, points to the concept of culture industry at an early stage. As an unconscious surface-level expression of the Fordist era, the mass ornament is a phenomenon that objectifies both its producer and consumer. The term “mass culture” refers to the individuals who watch it, and because mass images are only shown to themselves, the mass watches itself for no other reason. The issue of everything being for itself, as Marcuse claims, is one-dimensionality. Mass is a propaganda instrument for the formation of one-dimensional man since it is primarily displayed for its own sake. Anonymization and asexualization destroy the originality of the subject by mechanizing the human. The serial combinations of women produced by culture and gender policies determine the status of the “new woman” in modern life while producing a social fantasy. The “new woman” emerges as an image and at the same time as a product of the culture industry. The culture industry objectifies all individuals in the mass, particularly women compared to men, and hands their control over to men. The monitoring of the female body in the mass ornament seeks to define the borders of eroticism as well as the economy of desire in society. Since the advent of modernism, authentic culture has been identified with men, while mass culture has been linked with women. Women were regarded as the “other” but with the Industrial Revolution and cultural modernization, their exclusion from culture took on new significance. The mass ornament emerged in politics and entertainment culture at the same time. In public space and political life, the mass ornament consists of bodies that are genderless, anonymous, and homogeneous. However, the mass ornament in entertainment life generally consists of combinations of female bodies.
The mass ornament consists of thousands of androgynous, gender-neutralized, or sexually controlled bodies according to Kracauer. Contrary to Kracauer’s claim, Joan Ockman argues that it is not gender-neutralized; erotic elements are still hidden and implied in the content of the shows. The mass ornament is an indicator of both the objectification of women who are the “others” of the male-nominated modern culture and the industrialization of gender by controlling it. As a matter of fact, the sexual liberation movement that rises in Weimar is a response to these practices and grows as a reaction to the fantasies, which are imposed by the culture industry. The movement affects the art of the era and gender codes during the Weimar period.
Kracauer underlines deep social realities by considering together two different disciplines: Taylorism, which is a mode of reproduction, and mass ornament, which is a way of representation. Taylorization is the paradox of the subject who is trying to reach infinity but instead loses its identity, the feeling of existence, and becomes alienated. People should first notice the social reality underneath the superficial phenomenon to build their identity and to reconnect the human body with nature, starting with observing daily life and social practices. In this respect, the deconstructive, semiotic, and critical method that Kracauer applied in the 1920s offers a broad perspective that can be used even today in the feminist analysis of the representations.