The concepts of “free time and leisure time” and the terms of “hobbies and interests” have become irreplaceable and essential parts of our daily lives and found a permanent place in our dialogues recently.
Based upon the notion of free time, Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno, who is a German philosopher, sociologist, psychologist, musicologist, and a leading member of The Institute for Social Research or Frankfurt School which is established at The University of Frankfurt, brings a new perspective to our understanding of the terms such as free time, freedom, boredom, etc. from his anti-capitalist worldview through his widely accepted essay, “Free Time” essentially.
He also criticizes the perception of free time that capitalism or any dominant power structures of societies regulate and manage obviously. Influenced most notably by Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche, Adorno is one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century.
At the very beginning of his essay, Adorno clarifies the difference between the notions of free time and leisure time by emphasizing that the expression of free time or spare time has emerged recently and the term of leisure time, (Muβe) which means an unrestricted, comfortable way of life, is the precursor of them.
However, he claims that “Free time is shackled to its opposite” (pg.187) and points out that it is not a fact as many people tend to interpret it and adds that it relies on the social conditions which influence the lives of people in general. He also believes that free time is close to its opposite and becoming a parody of itself and furthermore, he holds that this unfreedom begins to annex the phenomenon of free time and unfree people who are not aware of the situation and their unfreedom.
He helps people understand the reality that free time is not a time which we cannot control and regulate with our determination and that’s why his considerations upon the approaching of free time demonstrate that Adorno aims to deconstruct the common beliefs associated with this concept.
He keeps explaining his ideas by telling an experience from his life. He is startled by the question of what kind of hobbies he has and says that he has no hobby nevertheless he is not kind of a workaholic. He continues, activities such as making music, listening to music or reading, seriously are the significant part of his life and he does not call them hobbies as the others do.
Additionally, Adorno advocates that his work cannot be separated from the area of free time even if there is a strict division between the terms of occupation and free time and sees himself as a privileged man due to the fact that he has an opportunity not only to enjoy his job but also deal with his intentions of his own as well.
Holding this idea, it seems that Adorno believes that middle-class people neither are fortunate to have a job that is parallel to their interests or spare time activities nor do they have the consciousness to experience life outside work.
Adorno goes on his essay with the issue that profit-oriented social life and asserts that some leisure time activities such as tourism and camping are now organized in order to make a profit fundamentally. Later, he brings a new ideology concerned with hobbies and adds: “Organized freedom is compulsory. Woe betide you if you have no hobby, no pastime; then you are a swot or an oldtimer, an eccentric, and you will fall prey to ridicule in a society which foists upon you what your free time should be” (pg.190).
He makes us come up against the idea which subjugates us that we should have different hobbies as social creatures and only in this way we may improve ourselves and our relationships with others. Such compulsion is created by ourselves unconsciously. Adorno, moreover, claims that the leisure industry benefits from the emerging need of “getting out” and successfully creates a need for purchasing the equipment for camping by utilizing the demand of people towards “free time”.
One more time, we realize that the desire for freedom unwittingly leads to the unfreedom of people or in other words, the created illusion of freedom that emerges in our minds, always grows into the reason for our unfreedom.
Adorno also mentions free time as vacuous and thinks that Hegel would call it abstract. He goes on with the example of suntan and holds that for the sake of a bronzed skin, many people are exposed to sunshine even though it is not enjoyable at all and even harmful for both our skin and mind.
Calling it a fetish, Adorno struggles to demonstrate that our free time activities again become part of social controls and gives that instance so as to prove his thesis. When people return from their holidays without getting bronzed well, they have to face this question inevitably: ‘Haven’t you been on holiday?’ If we have a suntan, we do not have to hear this curious question because the answer is quite evident.
Besides the free time activities in which we try to take a place, unfortunately, we also have the obligation of sharing or proving the experiences with others. Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms, having a significant place and widely used in the modern world, are the most remarkable indicators of this endeavor and thereby unfreedom. We are not free in our decisions and our free time activities are determined by society and industry again.
Adorno continues his essay with the theory of boredom. He highlights that Schopenhauer developed this theory at his early age and in his perspective, people either suffer from their unfulfilled desires and blind will, or they become bored when their desires satisfied immediately. Through the idea, he presents the term of Fremdbestimmtheit (external determination) and its evident role over the free time of people.
“Boredom is a function of life which is lived under the compulsion to work, and under the strict division of labor. It need not be so. Whenever behavior in spare time is truly autonomous, determined by free people for themselves, boredom rarely figures; it need not figure in activities which cater merely for the desire for pleasure, any more than it does in those free-time activities which are reasonable and meaningful in themselves” (pg.192).
Adorno makes clear that heteronomy is an important aspect of boredom. “Boredom is the reflection of objective dullness” (pg.192), he, in addition, supports his views with this assumption. Therefore, when an individual becomes autonomous and behaves with his/her free will, boredom appears scarcely. And if people are not able to make their own decisions about their free time apart from the work, their lives inescapably turn into an endless routine and it brings about boredom to humans eventually.
Also in our modern world, boredom is a crucial outcome of our lifestyles. Because of the recent developments in technology, and the innovations that alter the way of our life gradually, the choices we are supposed to make consciously, start to get out of our decision mechanism. For this issue, the most appropriate example may be the advertisements of building constructors which have gained prominence on the mass media recently. As a result of the developments of building trade, and the dependence on this sector economically, free time has grown into an industry expectedly.
This industry covenants not only a home to live in but also a life that includes a number of free time areas such as fitness centers, swimming pools, cafes and restaurants, and parks. Everything one might desire is presented for people who take the opportunity to reside in such a living space. Through the successful advertisements, the consumers are convinced that they really need this lifestyle, they should participate in the same activities which majority carry out, even if they do not have to and that’s why they are provided to spend their free time in accordance with this predetermination.
Consequently, the control of spare time and activities are seized by the industry or in other words, the capitalist system. For his reason, we unwillingly or unconsciously waste our spare time in the organized free time and hence we are imprisoned by ceaseless boredom.
‘Do it yourself’ is the modern way of spare time activity which more than 30 years ago, Adorno defined as ‘pseudo-activity’. He goes on to describe the term and advocates that “Pseudo-activity is misguided spontaneity” (pg.194), and believes that many people are not complainant about being distracted by temporary and illusory activities to which the system imposes.
Therefore, we can clearly say that pseudo activity is a behavior that takes place in the condition of heteronomy and organized by the industry essentially. And not surprisingly, people who are not autonomous in their activity, cannot create a product or exhibit behavior in which there is not social interference.
Depending upon his interpretations dealing with the concept of free time, Adorno indicates that free time is not opposed to labor essentially. Living in the system in which the employment means much more than money, free time merely becomes an illusion or a deception. He, towards the end of the essay, clarifies the relationship between free time and the culture industry and states the assumption in which the culture industry is to be an ultimate power controlling both conscious and unconscious of the consumers.
Nonetheless, he shares his doubt about this belief and notes that the culture industry has not totally dominated the consumer consciousness. He supports his approach with the example of the wedding of Princess Beatrix of Holland with the junior German diplomat Claus von Amsberg. He points out that the wedding was broadcast by the mass media and consumed by the people in their free time.
However, in spite of the endeavor to draw the public’s attention to this event, the reaction of the audience was unexpected. With the empirical social research, one can understand that the society’s attitude towards the ‘unique experience’ (einmalig), was not more than an enjoyment contrary to the expectations.
In conclusion, Adorno states that the culture industry presents organized freedom for people and it is accepted by the consumers willingly and claims that the integration between free time and consciousness has not come true yet. And he has the opinion that if social contradictions do not diminish, free time and consciousness never integrate. He finally holds that maturity (Mündigkeit) may be the means to reach not “free time” but “freedom”.
To conclude, first of all, we should say that Adorno’s “Free Time” is far beyond his time and a very significant essay to evaluate the lifestyles of the modern world effectively. He defines the phenomenon of free time and its relationship with the notions such as leisure time, boredom, labor etc. mainly. It is obviously understood that we are the victim of free time and thereby the capitalist system.
Through the created needs, desires, and demands, we are successfully dominated by the culture industry. As technology has developed, consumerism has increased radically and the prosperity of societies has risen, free time has become an irreplaceable part of our lives. And as the free time industry has started to control our choices, decisions, needs, and desires, we have had the compulsion of taking place in this culture unconsciously.
Now, we treat it as if we have to participate in language courses or dance courses, take up new hobbies, go on holidays and enjoy all the time because we are to keep up with this unfreedom. We, unfortunately, have lost our freedom in the free time regulations supplied by the industry and dominant structure. In short, we are not free and autonomous to determine our behaviors or activities moreover, we live in the delusion of freedom as Adorno aims to demonstrate in his essay.
 Theodor W. Adorno, The Culture Industry – Selected Essays on Mass Culture, Free Time, Routledge, 2001
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