The Greengrocer and His TV: The Culture of Communism after the 1968 Prague Spring

Article excerpt

Paulina Bren. The Greengrocer and His TV: The Culture of Communism After the 1968 Prague Spring. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010. 250 pp. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $24.95, paper.

In this book, Paulina Bren moves beyond the traditional historical and anthropological Cold War subjects of party purges, dissident struggles, and village social and economic life to examine how normalization in post- Prague Spring Czechoslovakia was actually achieved as a cultural practice. The result is a fascinating look into late-communist Czech television, a little-explored subject that actually poignantly reveals the extent to which a totalitarian state attempted to control as much of the everyday aspects of culture connecting the individual to society as possible. While the West watched the dissidents, Czechs were watching state-run TV.

While Bren' s title references Havel's famous icon of passive political duty and individual complacency, television provided the every m an "greengrocer" with the consolation of consuming a comforting state- sponsored narrative while sitting with his family in a cramped urban flat. Through Czech dramatic serials of the 1970s, such as Major Zeman or The Youngest of the H amr Dynasty, Bren shows us how the regime managed the contentious past of the Prague Spring by meticulously repositioning the historical and political status of both reformers and common citizens. For example, through the popular genre of the television detective story, Bren details how Major Zeman' s character represented the grounded individual, who struggles with a less personal, at times hysterical society in need of a script for getting back to normal. These everyday heroes and heroines, from the female shop clerk in The Woman Behind the Counter to the group of doctors from A Hospital on the Edge of T own, must contend with both morally bereft civic deviants and the challenges of reformulating a commitment to state socialism.

Bren 's analysis reveals the ingeniousness behind the state's efforts to solve the difficult question of how to encourage conformity in the wake of political unrest. …