USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Systems of Cultural Mass Production

Spectators from around the world gather constantly to observe a phenomenon unique to the human settlement that has been objectified as the city skyline. Many of the spectators may be drawn to image of the skyline due to the immensity of the scale. Others may be drawn to the phenomenon as an acknowledgment of man’s ability to control, and create his surrounding environment. However, the power of the skyline has been tamed and domesticated. The spirituality of the city skyline has been simplified to a collection of copied symbols and pasted onto countless mugs, t-shirts and posters.  Furthermore, the inevitable system of commodification of the city skyline may be observed in countless of the world’s many cultural artifacts. The system of cultural commodification and production may be indiscriminately ruthless, but within the system emerges intelligence and power.

Culture has become a production industry of massive scale, which has permeated every modern society around the world. The industry functions just like any other globalized industry of mass production. Fashion, art, and design have all been copied and produced at high volume, and now the average man may derive enjoyment for the same cultural product around the globe at a reasonable price. Shopping districts of the world’s great cities: Tokyo, London, Paris, Shanghai, all have been infiltrated by the same international fashion brands. The same movies will be consumed around the world by an international base of spectators. The world’s cities may have unique symbols, but ultimately all of the skylines consist of an undulating silhouette of steel, glass, and concrete. Behind all of these observations the economic forces have commoditized culture for mass consumption.

The system of cultural production has impacts far beyond just clothes or movies. It impacts our immediate built environment.  Hand picking from a collection of personal observation, I would bring light to the example of Dafan Village. The southern Chinese village emerged from a homogeneous collection of Chinese industrial settlements as the actual production center of culture in the form of paintings. While the production of culture may often be shrouded within the obscurity of production, this example becomes clear as the actual physical production of a cultural product. Society’s notion of painting as tied to a specific cultural moment of time and place is in clear juxtaposition with the act of recreating the art on a Chinese factory floor. As Adorno writes in The Culture Industry, the consumer has demanded the reproduction of cultural commodities, even though they realize they are imitations. However this example is intriguing because, out of the initial act of cultural production Dafan has in fact produced its own unique culture. Dafan’s culture is tied not to the creation of new art, but instead glorification of the act of cultural reproduction itself. As a result of the creation of Dafan’s culture came a means of wealth for the artists, and eventually economy led to the commodification of the village’s culture in the form of urban gentrification. As seen with many instance of cultural production Dafan has been regenerated not as a site of production, but as an epicenter of consumption. Consequently, as often seen with systems of mass production a gap has again emerged between the consumption and production of culture in Dafan.


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The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu