Veranstaltungen: Dokumentation

17.9.2003 | Von:
Klaus Keil

Panel: The Role of the Media in Forming a European Identity and Generating Public Debate

In "La fine della modernita" (1985) Vattimo outlines a philosophy for the 21st century, which must finally move away from the ideal of all-embracing reason and open up to "weak thought".

Introduction inspired by Gianni Vattimo

"Postmodernist" philosopher Gianni Vattimo is to provide inspiration for the planned discussion. We therefore begin by providing some details about him and the part he is playing in the intellectual initiative for developing Europe´s cultural identity.

In "La fine della modernita" (1985) Vattimo outlines a philosophy for the 21st century, which must finally move away from the ideal of all-embracing reason and open up to "weak thought". In June 2003 he joined a group of prominent international intellectuals in an attempt to spark public debate on forming a "European identity" in major national daily newspapers. Vattimo has advocated a more sovereign and self-confident Europe in the face of the United States´ "hegemonial unilateralism" along with Jacques Derrida, Adolf Muschg, Jürgen Habermas, the American left liberal Richard Rorty and others. Vattimo warned Süddeutsche Zeitung readers of the risks posed by Berlusconi as EU president. He maintained that the Italian prime minister lacks a "precise sociopolitical concept" and will compensate for this with a simple "commitment to a liberal market economy on the one hand and political loyalty to the United States on the other". However, he added that Berlusconi does not apply this liberal approach to his own country, where he in no way rejects control of the information, entertainment and advertising sectors.

First draft of speech: The Media as Ambassadors for Cultural Identity and Their Role in Shaping a European Community

Public and political response to the thoughts of American and European intellectuals in major newspapers has been somewhat muted to date. Unfortunately, debate on the issue is primarily taking place on feature pages only. The main criticism of one of their spokesmen, Jürgen Habermas, is that the European identity advocated is too abstract and not sufficiently defined politically. It is "purely negative, a mere reaction against the United States" (cf. Richard Herzinger, Tagesspiegel). German feuilletons surmise that at the end of the day the European Union, based on administrative powers and a single currency, is not "a suitable entity for projecting cultural import" (cf. Jürgen Kaube in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung).

With a conclusion like this, any politically motivated attempts to establish "Europe as a cultural identity" seem to be doomed. Although debate on the genesis of a "European community" combined with fostering a "cultural vision" seems to have petered out in the press, it is very much alive in discourse on European media and film promotion policy. The Internationale Medienwoche Berlin-Brandenburg, coorganized by the Filmboard, addressed European film and television promotion in the wake of the liberalization efforts of the WTO, under the general theme of Film Policy in Europe: Social Obligation and Economic Relevance". European Parliament delegates established points of contact with Adolf Muschg, who voiced the philosophical perspective.

The Swiss sage believes that Europe cannot stake an exclusive claim to characteristics such as greater sensitivity and empathy for the socially disadvantaged, a heightened sense of responsibility and a healthy scepticism of progress. He advocates the "power of diversity". "The core of old Europe is a rift which has become the foundation of a new Europe", he says. He adds that a European federation would offer "diversity in unity". This "diversity in unity" is genuinely linked to a "difference of perspective" and a lively "curiosity about the fascinating quirks of others".

In other words, a Europe which upholds the right to be different can promise constant cultural "surprises" and gainsay gloomy forecasts of cultural stagnation once and for all. And this is where the media can assume their special role as sculptors of European identity.

In recent years the European Union has acknowledged the twofold function of the media. On the one hand they represent technical innovation and global networks which embody boundless potential for communication. Both analogue and digital images can immediately be sent anywhere in the world.

On the other hand, the risk of "global uniformity" is also inherent in expanding communications technology. Transmitting audiovisual material via mass media has revealed three phenomena:

1. the unfaltering advance in technological standards; 2. the commercialization of audiovisual products in the interests of economic growth; 3. concentration and homogenization of the market and of the culture being merchandised.

The European Union responded to French intervention in the liberalization of GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) by including an "exception culturelle" in its constitution. The European Parliament´s resolution on GATS within the WTO states that "all necessary measures must be taken in the areas of culture and audiovisual media in order to safeguard and promote cultural diversity". This policy has been lauded as a major achievement. However, the EU must face the charge that it has adopted a protectionist measure.

A cultural policy which champions diversity should exploit the inherent double role of the media. It should therefore avoid employing a normative, preservationist definition of culture based on exclusion and negation.

The EU does not necessarily have to shield itself from the all-powerful American "cultural industry" in order to guarantee a European cultural community of shared values. The fact that audiovisual artefacts do not belong solely to the world of business nor exclusively to the world of culture is not so much a dilemma as an opportunity.

Special attention should be paid to much-heralded D-Cinema and to digital production, distribution and projection. Complex European programmes like Media+ provide a good basis for establishing intelligent independent European systems.

The French "cinéma d´auteur" and, 50 years later, Danish "dogma" films adopted new technical approaches to make cinema more flexible, creative and open. They convincingly refuted the stubborn prejudice that art and commerce could not mix. Cinéma d´auteur in France and Germany in the 1950s and 60s actually engendered national, regional and European film and media promotion agencies. The fact that Europe enjoys subsidized artistic freedom as a counterweight to Hollywood does not mean that we cannot admire American movies for their economic and creative professionalism and appreciate them as role models in many ways. Our focus should be much more on the practical side: that in the film industry at least, small and medium-sized producers dominate. This unique economic phenomenon is linked to a cultural aspect – the realization of small-scale, intensely personal stories with great emotional power. They prove that cultural diversity and identity do not exclude economic success but instead can provide it. The protagonists of European plots are rooted in their country or region. European filmmakers usually express very personal accounts of individuals coming to terms with their society.

Undoubtedly English-language movies and the all-pervasive American way of life have a tremendous competitive advantage on the international market. Nonetheless, Europe has also delivered box-office smashes like the East-West-German tale "Good Bye, Lenin!", highly successful Scandinavian productions and Pedro Almodóvar´s Spanish melodramas. Last year top U.S. industry magazine Variety even dedicated several pages to the European Film Awards and "all its strong contenders" (cf. Jan Schulz-Ojala, "Alle lieben Almodóvar", in the Tagesspiegel of Monday, 9 December 2002).

Consequently, not only the strong contenders in Europe´s movie history but particularly the creative movie and media makers of today must pervade European consciousness and help shape it. In addition, existing national and European support programmes must help nurture and improve the right economic conditions. Our institutions for the promotion of regional films have long acted as mediators between culture and business. Production competence and the marketability of a project are just as crucial as artistic standards. The German film industry has been engaged in intensive discussion on more effective marketing for many years. It wants to reach a broad public and raise awareness of the vitality of German cinema. This approach could easily be transferred to European level.

However, a cultural policy which views the media seriously must take hold at a much earlier stage. Schools should incorporate classes on audiovisual media such as film, television and the Internet in their lesson plans. Germany has taken initial steps at national level. But we should not simply produce a rigid filmmaking doctrine. The subject Film should be as integral a part of pupil timetables as Literature, Art, Computer Science or Internet. We should not simply consume new media but learn to understand them – to decode their language and interpret their contents. We can only expect people to adopt an enlightened and informed approach to culture if we create the right conditions.


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