Northrop Frye’s Mass Man is Martin Heidegger’s Standing Reserve: Reflections on Mass Culture

By James Cunningham.

Published by The Technology Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper argues that cultural critic, Northrop Frye, shows mass culture to be the sort of analgesic modern capitalism designs to maintain contemporary individuals in their roles as what Martin Heidegger, calls “standing reserves.” To this end, the paper will first describe Heidegger’s view of modern technology and why its tendency to transform nature into a standing reserve must extend to human nature. Second, it will show how, for Frye, mass culture acts as a distraction for tired minds which has the ironic effect of diverting the attention of individuals from the fatiguing conditions under which they live. Third, the paper will conclude with a synthesis of the views of Frye and Heidegger designed to show how the most current developments in entertainment via the electronic media simply continue the tendency already identified by Frye in mass culture. That is, by creating the illusion of intimacy made easy, these developments serve to distract and therefore inure users of the new entertainment media to, what Heidegger characterizes as, their fatiguing condition as members of standing reserves. The paper will end with Frye’s view on the university as a source of resistance to the effects of mass culture.

Keywords: Heidegger, Frye, Standing Reserve, Mass Culture, Analgesic, Technology, Capitalist Organizations

The International Journal of Technology, Knowledge and Society, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.61-76. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.256MB).

Dr. James Cunningham

Instructor, Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

James Cunningham graduated from University of Toronto, in 1998, with a PhD in Philosophy of Education. Since January of 2000, he has been an instructor at Ryerson University, where he teaches more than 18 different courses in philosophy. While his interests are primarily in critical theory, Cunningham has also given numerous conference presentations on topics in Existentialism and Phenomenology. He has also presented on Media Ethics.


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