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we rarely knew what we were talking about. but if you want it, here it is.
every monday: what it is, the web and beyond

    Seven parts over seven days.
    A REWIRED extravaganza!
    Inke Arns and Andreas Broeckmann "glance into the toolbox of everyday media."

    Small Media Normality for the East
    by Inke Arns and Andreas Broeckmann

    June 9th, 1997

    ...but it isn't a continuum of propoganda and subordination, but rather, an alternating between the giving and withdrawal of meaning that can create a space in which the thinking of the listener can move freely, and with it, understanding can come about.

    Heiner Goebbels: Prince and the Revolution

    Part 1: Autopoietic Europe

    I n our imagination, eastern Europe was always black and white. Traveling to East Germany or Poland meant suddenly leaving colorful western Europe and entering a movie from the forties or fifties. Later we simply couldn't remember having seen any color, not the green of the trees, nor the red of the brick buildings. When we went to the movies to see a film by Wajda, Kieslowski or Tarkowsky, the filmmaker's experiments with color only reinforced our image of the east as gray. Europe clearly had an ideologically motivated neurosis when it came to the perception of color.

    This particular brand of European Orientalism has now grown tired. Nearly ten years after the social upheaval in eastern Europe, these countries have ceased being part of an "eastern bloc". Each is stepping out of the shadow of the Soviet empire and taking on once again its own particular face in the international arena. Each is becoming recognizable as a participating unit of the European patchwork.

    While the European Union attempts to somehow defend the idea of a Fortress Europe and the negotiations with the central European countries for their admission into it reveal its own shortcomings, while NATO uses its plans for expansion to try to hold onto the front of the Cold War by pushing it eastward, while the arms of western Europe are constantly opening and closing, opening and closing to refugees and migrants, the network of business contacts and personal acquaintances branches outward, bringing the Europe of Europeans slowly but surely closer together. Small media such as letters, the fax, local radio and Internet mailing lists are contributing far more to mutual understanding than governmental objects of prestige such as the German-French television project ARTE or the exclusive efforts of the European Commission. In order to understand European differences and put them to productive use, swarms of little sentences, of little images are needed.

    Of course, genuine heroes do occasionally appear on the domestic screens. In the mid-eighties, a new pop star emerged on the global media scene: Gorby Superstar, a Soviet Secretary General who could walk, talk and laugh, a real guy, even if he was a Russian. After the senilocracy of the period of stagnation beginning in the mid-seventies, from 1985 on, Gorbachev set off on his travels, speaking to his own people about Glasnost and Perestroika, signaling his willingness to open up a dialogue with Reagan, presenting himself as a decent, charming sort of fellow to Thatcher, and almost penitently to the Pope, chatting with Kohl, building trust -- and all that in front of television cameras. Finally, here was a salesman who was as good as the western advertising agencies are at selling bad politics like cola and ice cream, who could play the modern propaganda machine better than NATO and the Communist Party combined.

    No wonder that for the other countries of the Warsaw Pact -- East Germany, for example -- Gorbachev was to become a factor of ideological insecurity, and therefore, a domestic political threat. In June 1987, three British rock groups played a concert at the Brandenburger Tor. They turned the speakers to the east where thousands of young people had gathered to listen to the concert. When the situation built to a confrontation with the East German security forces, they called out not only "Down with the Wall!" but also "Gorbachev, Gorbachev!" because they presumed he was on their side in this matter. Two years later, at the celebration for the fortieth anniversary of the German Democratic Republic, Gorbachev himself justified the presumption with the words he delivered to the gentlemen of the State Council of East Berlin. They'd come too late and would immediately be punished by life, the demonstrating masses and the television viewing public.

    The changes set off by the Gorbachev fan club occurred at a time when things seemed to have actually happened when a camera was present. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the second Gulf War, the coup in Russia or the televised revolution in Romania can be classified first and foremost as media events. Politics, national as well as international, is increasingly becoming merely a reaction to media events, to whatever is perceived by the media, and consequently, the public which forces its hand. Supposedly, President Clinton's advisors decided in 1992 that the war in Yugoslavia was not of U.S. national interest, and so, kept relevant information from the president. This changed when Clinton happened to see television reports about the siege of Sarajevo in a Tokyo hotel and insisted on U.S. intervention.

    Such influence of the media, and at the moment, particularly television, is, of course, not news. As early as the First World War, battles were fought or halted as a result of public opinion on the home front. And the photographers of the nineteenth century and Greek philosophers were also aware that media representation did not merely reflect, but rather, constructed reality. This is why it's difficult to determine how the famous Parisian reality crisis came about exactly in the eighties (Baudrillard, Virilio). One fortunate consequence of the Party's propaganda was that the media on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain was never perceived as the source of reality production, whereas in the west, this illusion was clung to fiercely. The techniques of dealing with media such as whispering, turning a deaf ear or reading between the lines are aspects of such useful central European virtues -- hesitancy, skepticism and irony.

    Throughout the Cold War, the public propaganda machines of the east and west told their great stories of the crime-ridden system of exploitation and of the Evil Empire. At the same time, the readers and watchers in the east were better prepared for what was to follow and what now not only effects the pseudo-east, namely, learning how to live, as the Agentur Bilwet put it, in the society of the debacle. The creative engagement with the impossible, the avoidance of the seemingly necessary, the refusal to identify oneself negatively with inevitable failure -- Motto: The reward of playing dumb is free time -- those are the survival tactics of the post-industrial society. The small narratives of this tradition most commonly told by the little independent propaganda machines, the pamphlet distributors and poster plasterers, the local pirate radio stations, student papers and the networks circulating forbidden books and records. This isn't so much a romanticized review as a glance into the toolbox of the everyday media.

    [Yes, we really are running one part of this seven part essay each day this week. See this for info on what to expect, translator's notes and the usual REWIRED editorial blabber. Also, a special supplement! A report from the nettime meeting in Ljubljana jibes nicely with this week's extravaganza.../dwh]

    To Part II