The Frankfurt School of 'critical theory' was regarded by orthodox Marxists as 'revisionist' partly because it criticised economism and crude materialism, and partly because of its eclecticism. In media theory it is important for offering the first Marxist attempt to theorize about the media (Gurevitch et al. 1982: 8). However, it provided no real way forward for the study of the mass media (Curran et al.1982: 23). The most notable theorists connected with the Frankfurt School were Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Max Horkheimer - all committed Marxists - who were associated with the Institute for Social Research, which was founded in Frankfurt in 1923 but shifted in 1933 to New York.
The Frankfurt School was influenced by predominantly conservative notions of 'mass society', though it gave this perspective a leftist slant (Bennett 1982: 42). The so-called 'father of the New Left', Herbert Marcuse, in One-Dimensional Man (1972), presented the media very pessimistically as an irresistible force:
For Marcuse, the mass media defined the terms in which we may think about the world (Bennett 1982: 44). The Frankfurt School in general was profoundly pessimistic about the mass media. As Janet Woollacott puts it, their work 'gives to the mass media and the culture industry a role of ideological dominance which destroys both bourgeois individualism and the revolutionary potential of the working class' (Woollacott 1982: 105).
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1972, cited in Bennett 1982: 31) coined the phrase 'the culture industry', referring to the collective operations of the media. The Frankfurt School's focus on ideology helped to undermine economism, but it was criticized by other Marxists for elitism and for Hegelian idealism (Bennett 1982: 47).