Mediamatic Magazine vol 4 # 1+2 Lex Wouterloot 1 Jan 1989

Cultural Studies

special issue: European Identities, Vol. 3 No. 2 ,
JOHN FISKE (ed) Routledge, London, May 1989.
ISSN 0950-2386, English text.


Cultural Studies -

Since the turbulent rise of the New Left and gauchiste student riots, socialism has become the keyword for a literary movement. A diffidence with consumerism made the future professionals initiate a quest for an ethical consumer morality which resulted in the discovery of the original ideals of communism. An ascetic political practice of walking and reading flourished in the media era. Those who took their theoretical praxis seriously soon noticed that a regression in political analysis could not be combined w ith the staggering quantities of study material available in contemporary bookshops. No doctrinaire survival could find protection in the political ecology of the media society.

The latest issue of Cultural Studies airs complaints about the current overproduction of the publishing industry. This symptom of annoyance applies especially to those publications with which the hard-pressed consumer wastes his odd free moments. It is an expression of intellectual discontent with social relations when dialectics are surplanted by semiotics and the class struggle must make wav for the cultural guerilla of the imagination.

Cultural Studies presents us three times a year with the opportunity of discovering contemporary leftist analyses of everyday surrealism. To some extent all the authors who publish in Cultural Studies were inspired by the paradigm that grew out of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) in Birmingham in the 1970s. The name of Raymond Williams is frequently mentioned as being one of the intellectual godfathers of cultural politicologv. What initially was simply a British trend has gradually developed into a multinational intellectual movement with followers in North-West Europe, the US and Australia. Hence the debates do not simply employ the jargon of the British New Left but reflect the theoretical heritage of German Critical theory and the tradition of French structuralism.

Cultural Studies specifically does not allow its columns to be filled by theory. Rather considering theoretical issues is combined with the concrete study of cultural processes and, in particular, of popular culture.

A diversity of approach is achieved by leaving the compiling of successive issues to participant editorial teams in Australia, the US and Europe. This trilateralism ensures a constantly shifting accent particularly in the theoretical frameworks within which analyses are presented and discussions take place. This time the European editorial team has published a special issue about European identities. The subjects discussed bear witness to a multiplicity which embues the idea of identity with a challenging vagueness. Simon Frith has written an entertaining autobiographical sketch about the ascent of Euro-pop. A more serious approach to a ver\r different aspect of European culture typifies Marie Gillespie’s ethnological report about audiovisual culture amongst South-Asian families. Although it at first seems to lack any connection with this issue’s theme, Duncan Webster’s article about press coverage of the Hungerford Massacre in England is one of the most interesting items in this issue. (Oti 19th August 1987 Michael Ryan shot sixteen people and then turned one off his many guns on to himself) The media will quick to establish a link between this unprecedented outburst of violence and the Rambo films. In Whodunnit? America did Webster offers a rhetorical analysis of the use of the concept of Rambo in the reporting of the bloodbath. Although Ryan did not resemble Rambo, did not dress like Rambo and probably did not own a video recorder nor even watched much TV, a discursive construct created by the journalists led to a public discussion about the effects of film violence resulting in moral panic in which the americanization of the British media w'as blamed for the dramatic events in Hungerford.

Rhetoric and rumour are the basic elements of europhoria with which the formation of a pan-European space of accumulation is linked. The socialists have also accepted the challenge of 1992 and judging from their political propaganda it would seem that the European integration is the large chance for the realization of working class ideals. An analysis of the backgrounds of this process of scaling up cannot be omitted from a magazine that emphasizes the political relevance of its articles. Kevin Robins examines the horizons that loom up behind the economic re-direction and European nationalism.

Robins’ article, entided Reimagined Communities? European Images Spaces, Beyond Fordism contains a geographical analysis of the economic and political restructuring which is at present taking place. He draw's attention to a transition from a regime of accumulation and a mode of regulation (with w’hich the names of Ford and Keynes are associated) to a regime of flexible accumulation. These new relations are characterized by the rising importance of local industrial districts and zones which are developing within the process of globalization. However, Robins rejects a vision that this would entail a new centrality of local economics. He is searching for perspectives that will enable this new spatial matrix of accumulation to develop what he calls new meaningful communities and actual identities. For this he ascribes local media an essential role and hence an analysis of the post-Fordian media system is vital to his considerations. He identifies two somewhat conflicting movements in the media industry. On the one hand the new media industry is characterized by the formation of global communication empires that integrate production, distribution and broadcasting. On the other hand this monopolizing is somewhat countered because the mega-media corporations are increasingly employing external producers w'ho in turn stimulate local media centres.

He has invested his hopes in the local media in terms of the engineering of a meaningful public sphere. Robins feels that the content of post-modern culture, which frequently is all too quickly associated with a post-Fordist regime, has not yet been established. Hence Robins’ option is relatively vague. On the one hand he rejects Baudrillard’s hyper-realist universe, on the other hand he distances himself from the abstract universalism that forms the basis of the rationalization process. Robins argues for a strategy of critical regionalism; urbanization in a new industrial zone-based context would, together with the local media, create the conditions for successful territorial processes for social construction.

However, I doubt that new societies can be built out of critical regionalism within a neo-liberal w orld order on the basis of neighbourliness and local media. The material circumstances w'hich made the nation’s imagined community into a political community were the arrangements refered to with the concept of the welfare state. The w orking class movement is synonimous with the need to achieve these aims. However, a flexible economic structuring with only the minimum of collective provisions would create an amorphous mass where physical proximity and electronic information would at the most evoke a sense of imaginary solidarity.

A new geographical order takes form alongside the post-Ford regime. With this regionalization non-logical political relations are created between the inhabitants of the new conglomerates. There is no basis for the supposition that proximity also leads to direct social contact: the new citizens are more likely to meet each other as fellow drivers than as neighbours. From a geographical perspective the flexible matrix of the home look like a community, from a dromological perspective it is nothing more than a cluster of lanes of traffic, where the only public space is the highw-ay.

It is also doubtftil w'hether the local media will function as a binding force amongst the concentrations of regional amorphous masses. The question is whether the local media will actually survive if the national stations (public broadcasting systems) fall foul of the deregulation offensive. The example of Italy with its open broadcasting system for local media proves that commercialization in no way leads to new forums for public debate.

It has already been shown that the deregulation of the media has caused election campaigns to degenerate into pure showbiz. Lacking any distinction between politics and commerce by means of the institutionalization of a public broadcasting system, the local media arc unable to create new' meaningful communities, rather they spaw’n a casualised, segmented and precarious electorate.

Furthermore, in my opinion it’s something of a mistake to assume that environment and proximities should be social entities on which referential identities could be based.
Actual social identities could be completely different than the visions considered for progressive political utopias. At present referential identities are built from the concrete experiences of surfing, parachuting and hang-gliding. When thinking of new forms of collective subjectivity’ it is important to remember the charismatic religious movements, of w hich New Age is an important exponent. What is remarkable about these particularisms is that their domain falls outside the reach of the electronic media. The forming of new social bonds with a deregularized society is completely dissociated from the electronic circuit. Anyone who considers the leisure politics of violent teenage gangs and other secret networks, realizes that many of the new regionalists have absolutely no need to become a part of the local media’s forum for public discourse. And whaIT remains unseen cannot be criticized,there is no community just fear.

When thinking of the post-modernist culture of the economically united Europe the question arises as to what function political jargon fulfills when the words European identity are used with increasing frequency. The breakdown of the public sphere in which market liberalization occurs creates a social context in which the game of politics is played according to completely new rules. Pragmatism and propaganda will go hand in hand. What is now refered to as Europhoria will soon simply be known as European nationalism. That is why the relation between supernationalism and current identities is an excellent object for Cultural Studies.