by Richard Maxwell
Cut, no. 40, March 1996, pp. 89-95
For the last twenty years or so, Europe's club of sovereign nations experienced a profound restructuring of its membership and conventions. From the bottom upwards, within ruling nation-states, eruptions of small nations revived traditions and antagonisms. In some recent cases, these national movements pushed hard to enter as the youngest states in the club. They sought to dismantle the map of Europe that the great powers of East and West had imagined after two world wars. In other cases, small nations asserted sufficient pressure to achieve legitimacy for self-governance and self-representation within ruling nations, though they appear to have settled for a limited sovereignty just short of statehood. Still others, caught in the diasporic flows from former colonies and dependent economies, are dislodged from national homelands and struggle to maintain their collective identity along the axes of language and tradition.
From the top downwards, transnational corporations, with essential support from practically every European state, have erected a grid of commercial, informational and legal institutions to heighten the efficiencies of capital flows, accumulation, and management. The European Union is the name of this regional economic bloc, but more than that, it is also a command to all the new and potential (and older) members within the club of sovereigns to respect the supranational legitimacy of this place called Europe. Added to the command to perform "The European Union!" are a set of disciplinary routines — like the economic and monetary union (EMU) and the exchange rate mechanism (ERM) — which are designed to ensure the synchronization from above of national economic policies. As Eric Hobsbawm argues (1990: 191), it is such supranational restructuring that will, in the course of this fin de siècle, coordinate and incorporate the mosaic of national revivals, and it will eventually elide nationalism's historical significance.
This process of social transformation is creating new conditions that will alter the character of European broadcasting. After holding onto the territorial purview of radio and television for most of the twentieth century, European states lost ground to both infranational and supranational media practices, as well as to new international political institutions. For example, within the older nation-states of Europe, the experiences of Welsh, Basque, or Catalan television enterprises mark a new kind of nationalist expression. And nations emerging in Eastern Europe, some having already joined the club of sovereign states, are just beginning to redefine the national character of their broadcasting systems.
At the same time, supranational policy statements, like the EC directive Television Without Frontiers, try to secure subjective boundaries around European identity in opposition to other macrosubjects like Asia and America — the latter being the most prominent bogey in commercial culture wars, as the recent GATT accords testify. In addition, citizen's speech/ expression rights have become more and more an international affair in Europe, as a whirlwind of national deregulation erodes traditional political safeguards. As a result, determining cultural freedoms becomes increasingly a providence of such institutions as the European Court of Human Rights and the Convention on Transfrontier Television Broadcasting of the Council of Europe.
New socio-economic conditions give rise to new questions concerning television's role in producing and redefining identity. Europe today is a product of competing interpretations over its value as a social entity. Top-down versions of Europe collide daily with bottom-up visions and practices. Many institutions have been the focal point of this confrontation over Europe's "where and what," but few delimit the debate as well as television. For a couple of decades now, international communications researchers have put together conferences, written papers, and published essays on changes in European media and telecommunications. Among the issues topping the research agenda were liberalization, transnationalism, new technologies, and the crisis of public service systems. Key problems studied in this research include political communication, democratization, economic busts and restructuring, and the social effects of all of these.
Running parallel to these endeavors, scholars proposed cultural studies as an equally important agenda aimed at understanding ideology, the power of discourse, and the alignment of these with durable sentiments of collective identity. Studies of race and racism multiplied, seeking new ways of understanding social conflict and solidarity anchored to cultural identity. Sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies furnished new, interdisciplinary procedures for media research in order to test theories of power, ideology, and identity. And of these, ethnography and participant observation provided welcome insights into the operations of power and resistance at the local level. Eventually, mass communication and cultural identity provided two of the — if not the — main intersecting lines of inquiry about European media.
It is in this context of empirical and theoretical developments that the British Film Institute published the 1993 monograph entitled, National Identity and Europe: The Television Revolution. As edited by Phillip Drummond, Richard Paterson, and Janet Willis, this volume presents ten highly readable essays in three separate sections. The sections roughly match the issues of cultural difference and identity, supranational relations in trade and law, and the emerging TV systems in the former Soviet bloc. The book aims to come to terms with a definition of Europe and "European-ness" through analyses of television and image markets. What unites these essays is a strong commitment to bring the subject areas of nation and national identity to bear on the changing relations among citizenship, communicative democracy, and power in Europe. None of the essays do this by themselves, except perhaps for the background piece by Richard Paterson who introduces the book. As we will see, this problem is not an easy one to overcome.
Nevertheless, this book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of global communication. It was the first book of its kind attempting to furnish an account in which nation and the collective attachments to national identity are treated as decisive elements in building democratic communications in Europe (more recently Farrel Corcoran and Paschal Preston have put together a collection called Communication and Democracy in the New Europe). Drummond, Paterson, and Willis have selected and arranged the essays in a way that moves confidently from regional and local to national and international media issues, taking us from bottom-up to top-down discussions of identity mobilization without hesitation.
National Identity and Europe extends analysis beyond lofty theoretical debates and lifeless modular thinking to examine on-the-ground problems of collective identity, political economy, and democratic communications. It is at once a very theoretical collection and one that demonstrates method by doing. Moreover, few books hold in equally high regard such diverse subjects as Welsh teenagers and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade; young Punjabi TV viewers in London and Romanian television in revolution; patriarchal Slovene talk shows and citizens' rights in Ireland, Germany, and France. It's not that these subjects are ever associated directly by individual authors; it's that they are all respected by the editors of the book as equally important parts of a complex European identity. That is significant.
In the first section, Alison Griffiths explores viewer pleasures with the Welshness of a popular soap opera in her essay, "Pobol y Cwm: The Construction of National and Cultural Identity in a Welsh-Language Soap Opera." She explains how the soap opera, Pobol y Cwm, constructs a presence for Welsh national identity around the foreignness of a character, who is doomed by his past to be forever the English-other and by his desire (or business) to be part of the local community. Conscious play with the dialectal differences between northern and southern Welsh combines with the theme of learning Welsh as a second language to put the vernacular at the center of the Pobol y Cwm's delight in national difference. Identity is also marked by other elements drawn from a repertoire of national symbols that includes climate, countryside, and rugby. Griffiths' description of the textual play with felt-nationalism recalls the U.S. series Northern Exposure, especially the contrast of the good neighborliness inherent in the rural folk with the imperiousness of the urban-outsider. Griffiths also takes us into the homes of young viewers to examine how their generation negotiates their lived experience with that of the soap, combining a small ethnographic study with an analysis of the ideological work of the national text. A careful and sympathetic interviewer, Griffiths finds that the young audience took great pleasure and pride in the distinctive quality of Welshness and Welsh issues dominating the textual ideologies of the soap. She concludes, therefore, that a
Like Griffiths, Marie Gillespie, in her "Soap Viewing: Gossip and Rumour Amongst Punjabi Youth in Southall," uses an ethnographic procedure to analyze a post-colonial viewing context in which Punjabi youth watch an Australian soap opera in Southall, West London. Gillespie finds that the collision of cultures furnishes a "playfully combative experience" (p.26), which gives the young viewers a kind of bilingual pleasure in moving between "soap talk" and "real talk." She demonstrates how this takes form in a family viewing situation where one of the disagreements has to do with kids trying to convince their parents that soaps aren't to be read literally — a bottom-up lesson on the realist codes at work in television fiction. The kind of "real talk" that Gillespie focuses on is gossip-turned-rumor. She presents a brief but cogent analysis of the cultural uses of gossip and rumor among Punjabi viewers. She concludes with a captivating proposition based on the application of formalist concepts to her analysis of soaps and gossip. The act of piecing bits of "real talk" gossip into the narrative form of rumor is similar in practice to the way young viewers piece together characters perspectives in order to make sense of the soap opera's world. Soap characters caught up in the rumor mill also help make narrative sense, of course, and cliffhangers invite speculative talk of possible narratives linking "characters and their relationships" (p. 42). Gillespie surmises that in this postcolonial viewing context, it is the narrative form of soaps, rather than identification with the felt likeness of character, which anchors identity to national culture.
Breda Luthar's "Identity Management and Popular Representational Forms" takes a more pessimistic position in relation to the way television mobilizes, or manages, identity. Luthar examines the problem of Slovene nationalism expressed on a popular game show by focusing upon the ideological work of celebrity. Luthar argues that positive collective disposition to the nation is furnished as the game show host suppresses subjective divisions of class and region with a nationalist discourse. "Nationalism erodes the old structures from which" identity was drawn (occupation, locale, etc.) and provides in its place "a life space which is effective if still outside control." Nationalism helps people to forget (as Renan said) and then fills the absence with meanings drawn from its own symbolic repertoire of, in this case, Sloveneness. The result is that
The host of the game show is well known to TV viewers. He's a celebrity embodying the continuity of collective memory and the authority to reshape that memory within the national present. The host's ideological work is illustrated by the example of his tendency to interrupt and correct the speech of participants. The act of disciplining participants (and, one assumes, viewers as well) to the literary language of the national culture reflects, in Luthar's terms, an "ethos of obedience" to that culture. It's this ethos of obedience that manages the alignment of individual identification with that of national duty and order. Luthar argues that the inheritance of an older "proletarian habitus" forms the basis of this flattening of identification. For Luthar, a "proletarian habitus" is the "we-group" (as opposed to a them-group) consciousness awakened from working class experience. Such a "habitus" furnishes a classification system for cultural values in which individual taste and individuality lack prominence.
Thus the game show superimposes a neoconservative Slovene nationalism onto a "proletarian national habitus," leading to a profound absence of the dialects, accents, and sentiments of the local which, in turn, denies participants access to their individual experience and, Luthar adds, to their "natural behavior," whatever that is.
The book shifts gears with Vincent Porter's, "Broadcasting Pluralism and the Freedom of Expression in France, Germany, and Ireland." This essay clearly lays out the practical problems faced by national citizenries subjected to the European Union's doctrines of expressive freedom. Re-regulation of national policies is creating a Europe-wide situation similar to the one endured in the U.S., where broadcaster's freedom to communicate and sell airtime replaces the informational freedom of citizens. The legislative codes of pluralism propagated by European broadcast regulation does little to widen the broadcaster's scope of expression, says Porter, especially in the area of investigative journalism. Porter argues that two normative impulses define pluralism in European TV policy: external pluralism to encourage more TV channels in general, and internal pluralism to ensure many diverse viewpoints on each TV channel.
Regulation based on external pluralism promotes the multiplication of distribution channels, increasing the economic pressure for broadcasters to fill up the program schedule. At the same time, rules based on internal pluralism entail stricter political vigilance of what is programmed. As general costs tend to increase with bloated schedules, risk-taking diminishes and, with it, so does internal pluralism. These market-oriented policies, then, exacerbate inherent structural weaknesses of a commercial system. And they also force up the cost of production for public broadcasters and public affairs programming in general. In almost all cases, the costs of investigative journalism have outpaced public subsidy and private investment, damaging broadcasters' ability to serve as resources for crucial public debate.
Broadcasters must still provide a range of viewpoints, according to internal pluralism, even if that is made increasingly impossible. Hence public information provision devolves almost entirely to political elites, who provide a cheap though vested source of information to broadcasters. In the name of internal pluralism, the bigger political parties (inevitably Christian Democrat or Social Democrat) end up with greater control over the content of programming, while they continue to loosen controls over the corporate sector in the name of external pluralism. "The new pluralism," in short, has squeezed out most non-commercial, nongovernmental voices. For their part, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights have ruled that individual speech cannot be privileged over corporate speech, making the double bind complete by stipulating that only national governments (and therefore the largest political parties) can decide which corporations will be licensed to broadcast. All power to the parties and the corporations reduces the broadcast rights of citizens to one: the right to receive (not transmit) broadcasts of information and ideas. And, of course, even this right will be abridged when economic interests of broadcasters or the strategic interests of the main political parties set agendas for broadcasts (pp. 68-69).
The state and corporate front to control media environments is nothing new, according to Stig Hjarvard, who sees it as an extension on a pan-European scale of the old national conservative resistance to a critical public sphere. As Hjarvard argues in "Pan-European Television News: Towards a European Political Public Sphere?" the push for supranational legislation and institutions only heightened an enduring problem in public service systems: namely, how best to ensure citizen access to the political public sphere through national mass media. In taking this problematic to the supranational level, Hjarvard shows how Pan-European broadcasters have inherited old obstacles — in part already outlined by Porter — which can seriously harm progressive policies of media democratization. Hjarvard makes the sobering argument that supranational media space actually opened up in Europe long before there was any talk of "television without frontiers," rejecting the idea that there is some naturalistic evolution from national to international broadcasting, with satellites as the sufficient condition of growth.
Hjarvard instead shows how the cold war impulse generated a de facto international TV structure from the 1950s to the present. Nevertheless, the main task of the present period, he says, is to describe and prescribe effective political organizations that would make a reality out of the still inchoate European electronic public sphere. Hjarvard argues that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is the only viable candidate, since it enjoys some legitimacy as a defender of public service principles. And unlike national organizations, which are simply ill-suited, the EBU has a record of playing on the global stage. Hjarvard furnishes evidence to show, like Porter, that political powers and market forces combine to limit in practice the ideal of a European public sphere; an ideal that says that communications should simultaneously respect national difference while expanding the space of public participation in transnational politics and decision-making.
This middle section of the book ends with Toby Miller's "National Policy and the Traded Image." We are now confronted by supra-European relations and the role of superpower domination in the international economy. Miller takes us to that very messy place called the GATT, or General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and shows how this moveable braintrust of transnational corporations is perhaps the most important center of operations for European cultural policy today (more precisely, cultural industry policy). Recent outcomes in the GATT accord have proven Miller right, as the already powerful French attempt to save their audiovisual and information-based industries from the onslaught of the even more powerful U.S. industries. With the explosion in the 1980s of trade in services, national regulation of media and information industries faced a veritable juggernaut of global deregulation. At the helm of the juggernaut was the U.S. government whose protectionist attitude toward U.S.-based transnational corporations was couched in an Americanist claim of unassailable entitlement to free trade. Miller confronts this historical irony in the context of the cultural impact of the traded image on national cultural communities and finds as many holes in the nationalist rhetoric as in the free trade propaganda. Instead, Miller synthesizes and criticizes attempts to rethink global culture in the work of Immanuel Wallerstein and of those Miller calls the "sacerdotal celebrants of subcultural resistance" (unnamed). According to Miller, both offer useful starting points, if from somewhat opposed positions. Miller says in summary that the terms of debate are still in a formative moment, full of many paradoxes and contradictions that muddy analyses of global communications.
The final section of the book examines events in Eastern Europe, beginning with the essay by Pavel Campeanu, "Romanian Television: From Image to History." Campeanu argues that the proliferation of antennae designed to receive foreign broadcasts became one of the most important political events to presage the end of the Ceausescu regime. Campeanu sees the reception on such a grand scale of international information sources as a mass act of disobedience.
As Campeanu tells it, only after the audience reacted to television repression with a television rebellion — challenging xenophobic laws and the state's monopoly over audience attention — did the state broadcasters feel heroic enough to join the resistance. During the upheaval of December 1989, Romanian TV, along with the foreign sources, broadcast images of the revolution. In response, state security forces attacked the offices of state TV which, to defend itself, broadcast an "appeal to the audience to rescue the television centre and its staff." A few hours later
Sergei Muratov, in "Television and Glasnost: Television and Power," takes up the issue where democratic transition begins. He shows how the many paradoxes of transition can be played out in and around the central presence of state television. This was still Gorbachev's perestroika, where the problematic democratization of the Soviet Union's television system was best illustrated by a striking contrast between new live-programs — which opened up the screen to audience participation — and the censorious and tendentious reporting of state violence in Lithuania. Muratov shows that democracy can not easily be codified by simply splitting programming along an imposed line of official versus alternative viewpoints. The future of democracy and communication freedom, concludes Muratov, lies in the audiences, who are slowly coming to realize that they are "not simply an object but the subject of broadcasting" (pp. 122-123).
Despite this populism, the book takes a curious turn to an insider's view of Soviet TV. Eduard Sagalayev writes of his experience as the head of the news service on Soviet TV in his essay, "News on Soviet Television: Breakthrough to Independence." He reiterates Muratov's account of a television system determined to superimpose the image of a strong Soviet State over the daily realities of its disintegration. Sagalayev recounts the aims of the TSN, the Television News Service, that he helped found. He says by opening up news production to the greatest number of independent foreign and domestic sources, TSN provided more than a fresh perspective on the world as its news became antagonistic to the official reports. Eventually, political elites closed in on TSN and "modified" it. Sagalayev gives a very reasonable account why private TV, that is non-state TV, should be so appealing in circumstances where the public authorities were fated to be small-minded bureaucrats obscenely beholden to state patronage. Sagalayev, like Muratov, wrote before the break-up of the Soviet Union; he understandably lacked evidence that a free market system would limit freedom of expression within a private company. For that reason perhaps, Sagalayev concludes by telling of his dream to start joint-stock companies and independent consortia in order to achieve, as he says, "genuine independence."
Finally, Daphne Skillen gives us her "Afterword: Television in Russia and the CIS since the Coup." This is Yeltsin's time, a time when this "reformer" held political control over Russian TV, the second national TV channel, making Yeltsin's opposition to the status quo more visible. Russian TV and other sources were shut down during the attempted coup of August 1991, leaving on air only the central state channel at the military-occupied Ostankino Center. Similar to the Romanian broadcasters before them, the reporters and editors at the central state TV nevertheless chose to show a mix of glimpses and full views of resistance against the doomed coup, despite orders from the top management. The Moscow White House became the focus of symbolic struggle and Yeltsin the symbolic hero. With the dismantlement of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Commonwealth, the central broadcaster's brief was rewritten. Skillen can only speculate, but an aura of centralism and political control still plagued the Ostankino Center at the time she wrote "that if politics doesn't kill television, the market will" (p.1 36), reflecting also the negative impact that new market forces were already having.
One of the most difficult tasks of reviewing this diverse collection is coming up with workable suggestions that link the institutional analyses with accounts of the local play of solidarity, identity, and revolt. Top-down and bottom-up interpretations of collective experience and identity are hard to imagine united, except in competition with each other. There are some pretty clear reasons for this difficulty. Among the approaches represented in this volume are theoretical obstacles, implicit methodological quarrels, and idiomatic incoherence. The reader can perhaps imagine Dr. Porter befriending Welsh or Punjabi teenagers in order to determine their delight or identification with the institutional importance of investigative journalism in European television. Of course, such an interdisciplinary scene today might seem to many like something Alice could have encountered in Wonderland. Nevertheless, I'd like to conclude this review by considering possible bridges in and between the essays of National Identity and Europe: The Television Revolution.
It would be interesting (not to say more dialectical) to find structural connections between Welsh or Punjabi viewing pleasures and the wider legal, political, and economic relationships obtaining in European communications. Griffiths and Gillespie cannot be faulted for failing in this regard — their premises were elsewhere. But I wonder how their analyses could be extended beyond the local and the particular without doing damage to their stated aims. Griffiths speculates that new technologies and deregulation may have adverse effects on the distinctly national character of Welsh language TV. This is directed at the question of the impact of transnational processes on nationalist TV. It does not query the function or fate of nationalist practices within transnational processes. Marie Gillespie promised to examine the wider context of integration of diasporic nationalities in Britain, though she couldn't make the connection plain. The sense she gives is that Punjabi viewers stay Punjabi despite non-Punjabi TV, Britain be damned. While Gillespie doesn't address the problem of identity mobilization for a ruling nation, she does indirectly show that TV content cannot easily integrate the ruling nation's symbols of identity into the lives of all peoples within a nation. The culturalist impulse in the essays, though revealing of the richness of ordinary life, approaches local media uses and global media operations as if these were exterior to one another; making it inevitable that the authors find weak cultural ties binding neighborhoods to nation-states and these to the supranational union of European states.
Both essays suggest, however unintentionally, that surveillance of difference is the sine qua non of European TV's reorganization of unity out of diverse national identities. The surveillance of cultural difference is worth analyzing in more depth to locate decisive structural relationships, as opposed to mutually exclusive interactions, between local media audiences and the wider European media environment. Viewing contexts can be conceptualized dialectically as part of the power structure of European informational economies dominated by transnational corporations through global grids of telecommunications, marketing, and advertising. We know, for instance, that consumer research stretches from Lapland to Crete, and we know that this institution makes difference and identity into salable informational goods. Marketers aim to sell information about local taste cultures to the transnational advertisers, making the ordering of national desire one of the goals of TV programs and global sales efforts. Market research is a practice that thrives on resistance, or weak cultural ties, between local cultures and global merchants. It wouldn't exist but for the structure that brings into conflict the values of local and global forces. This raises a crucial point about how nation-identified pleasures support or oppose the reorganization of imperialism in the age of globalization.
In the 1980s, the Basque and Catalan regional governments in Spain established their own television systems, but unlike the Welsh they bypassed central government controls to seek support from transnational firms (in international hardware and program markets). Small-nation nationalist television in Spain emerged hand-in-hand with the globalization of broadcast laws and industries. In fact, deregulation of (admittedly weak) traditional safeguards protecting Spanish cultural industries found one of its strongest supporters in the regionalist movements. Transnational media firms now dominate the Spanish television industry, and indigenous production is totally dependent on foreign largesse and corporate communications. Why didn't small-nation nationalism, per se, oppose the imperialism of transnational corporations in this episode of Iberian history?
Nationalist interests alone are not enough of a challenge to imperialism, as Aijaz Ahmad (1992) pointed out in his famous polemic with Jameson. Without the structural interests of the working class at heart, the objective force of nationalism is too limited to be an effective opponent of imperialism (though tragically it can devastate local populations). The Welsh historian Gwyn A. Williams makes the point this way:
The premise, then, that cultural imperialism might suffer from weak articulations (what used to be called relative autonomy) between local cultures and global capitalism proves false. If we are concerned with the persistence of Welsh, Basque, Catalan, or other local viewing pleasures, we must also be on the lookout for the presence of a political consciousness that opposes imperialism in all forms.
Class analysis offers one way to account for and interpret the structural connections between national identity and the supranational formation of a European television environment. The essays by Porter, Hjarvard, and Miller point to the force of class interests that motivate entitlement claims to make universal laws and conventions under which Europeans will be asked to live. Punjabi youth, or TV viewers generally, can appeal to European courts for greater representation in media and politics; this is the "global village" where "global rules" protect "global rights." The key issue, of course, is that the rules are being made by big, rich political parties who differ little in class orientation from the big, grotesquely capitalized, transnational corporations whose rights are favored by the rules. This issue is news that needs to be reported, but, as Porter shows, it is precisely the news rarely reported by broadcasters who are dependent on commercial or political patronage. The operations of political economy, whether of the media or more broadly of capitalism, always appear far away from local spheres of political action, that is, until the connections are made. Perhaps that explains why independent investigative journalism is privileged by Porter and Hjarvard as the democratic connector of global processes to local action. The rationale for this demand is clear, but this approach privileges free investigative journalism at the expense of other forms of communication, which are as necessary and dear to democracy as uncensored reporting.
The "European" story needs telling, and there are many forms in which it can be told. In this book, as in the field of communication and cultural analysis generally, the disciplinary divide between textual-ethnographic and institutional research seems to impose a wedge between work on fun-stuff and serious-stuff. Nor is it helpful to suggest that the information-focus is simply elitist while the entertainment-focus is not, as anybody reading analyses of film and TV in these pages will know when they get stumped by an exclusionary, specialist jargon. The point is that critical and normative analyses of democratic communications cannot afford to stop at journalism. Independent investigative journalism is an important test case for understanding the fate of expressive freedom throughout Europe generally, and what happens to broadcast journalism is a sure marker of more general trends, as we know all too well in the U.S.
Still, transnational restructuring has important implications throughout the national spaces of cultural expression, and transborder legal powers affect the independent sectors of non-journalistic, audiovisual production too. As the Basque and Catalan example illustrates, without the working class's structural interests at heart, nationalist and supranationalist regulation work in harmony to diminish citizen freedoms in the area of so-called entertainment production as well. As the essays in the middle section of National Identity and Europe suggest, the institutional provisions for pan-European freedom of expression are already under threat of capture by the nation-crats and Euro-crats from the large political parties and by the specialist management teams of transnational media firms. This is a problem that all media professionals, activists, film and videomakers, will want to confront wherever they live in Europe.
Finally, the essays on the role of the media in Eastern Europe present a kind of "shoot-em-up" trope for the subject that unites all the essays in this volume: the television revolution of the book's title. This trope of revolutionary anarchy was common two years after the dismantlement of the Soviet Union, just after this collection of essays was issued in the fall of 1993. Yeltsin had successfully managed another coup (was it his second or third coup?), and again, the Ostankino Center became the focus of political passions gone berserk. On TV, Yeltsin's Moscow stood in for the "Commonwealth," free markets stood in for the democratic future, and the government which stood for an anachronistic past was shot out of parliament. The democratically elected parliament, the opposition to Yeltsin that comprised a significant portion of national and regional leaders, never gained access to television. And all through the episode, international viewers could safely watch this shoot-em-up on CNN as democracy beating anarchy. The popular and professional communicators' inertia against state television, described in the last section of National Identity and Europe, had finally spilled over into more than symbolic reaction against the transitional state itself, a possibility left unexamined by the last three essays. It's unfortunate that the future impact of private ownership, along with a more dialectical view of the longterm problems of political transition, were beyond the purview of these accounts.
It's easier to imagine overcoming the divisions of issues and of approaches contained in this book than it is doing actual on-the-ground research on European media. This book defines the problems of "Europe" and "European identity" as an aggregation of so many particular instances of local or national contact with supranational law, TV programs, trade, and so on. We are left to wonder if it is possible, or even desired, for a universalizing institution — legal, program-producing, regulatory, etc. — to order the lives of European subjects within the boundaries of a supranational identity. There is one unsettling categorical division implicit in this book as well. Political identity gets anchored to a battle over the interpretation of rights while cultural identity is tied to soap operas and traditional forms of expression. In addition, individual psychology, collective action, and symbolic repertoires are treated as equally good points of departure for understanding identity. There's no reckoning with the question of thresholds and qualities of social communication that succeed in inviting individual or group identification with others in imagined communities of a nation or a European Union.
Richard Paterson introduces this book with a helpful essay in which he points to some answers for this conundrum, though it must be said that he points most forcefully to the fact that we know too little about this mixed bag of problems to furnish any sure-fire conclusions. As he puts it, these
The next task for international communications research, then, is to find a way to assemble the competing arguments about transnational media and national identity into a coherent framework — the question is how. I have suggested that an approach based on class analysis of structural inequality in imperialism offers one way to make bridges without losing either culturalist or institutionalist directions and desires. But then again, the times may call for books like this one, where readers confront contradictions and paradoxes of social transition; where television, like nationalism, can one day be at the center of revolution and the next be used to dress up and conceal the revived imperialism of transnational rulers.
Ahmad, Aijaz, (1987) "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otheness and the 'National Allegory.'" Social Text, 16 (Fall): 30-25.
— — — (1992) In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literature. London: Verso.
Corcoran, Farrel and Paschal Preston, editors, (1994) Communication and Democracy in the New Europe. Hampton Press Inc./ International Association for Mass Communication Research.
Hobsbawm, Eric, J. (1990) Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Williams, Gwyn A. (1982) The Welsh and Their History. London: Croom Helm.