East Germany's Culture Confronts American Pop Culture

By Olshausen, Michael | Contemporary Review, October 1996 | Go to article overview
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East Germany's Culture Confronts American Pop Culture


Olshausen, Michael, Contemporary Review


The sole basis for progress with social peace and relative calm in any society is a moderate, dynamic equilibrium among its competing claimants to power. In the commercial, political, social, and cultural realms, quests for such equilibria have been evident in all the former East Bloc states, except the former East Germany (the GDR), for some time now. At the heart of these societies' quests is a frank craving to transform a revolutionary experience into a normality-seeking experience.

In what amounts to an instinctive search for equilibria reflective of people's lives before, as well as after, 1989-90, followings and leaders, both often choleric, have connected in pursuit of mid-course corrections. The electoral victory of Poland's democratically-styled, in essence transmogrified, Communists is a non-malign example. The heightened efforts ' not so very long ago of Russian irredentists to recreate the former Soviet Union aimed at a swing of the pendulum of a more dramatic sort, at a nostalgia-driven, constitutional, if not outright military, reversal. Within the former East Bloc states, each of which claims to manifest, and does largely manifest, an over-arching cultural unity - the former GDR being the one paradoxical exception - home-grown equilibria remain, generally, metastable.

In response, the former West-Bloc states have set themselves the uneasy task of dampening and palliating what essentially are symptoms, namely these societal disequilibria. However, the motive force behind such disequilibria is nearly always a gut-level, widespread distaste for the yearning, actually for the mania - a conformity or an aping mania - for everything western, especially for anything American, permissible now in the east and exploited, too visibly and too often, to predatory excess. Pornography boutiques and Harvard-bred shock therapy have flaunted callous license and so have fomented antipathy.

At best, from an external position, changes of direction in search of societal equilibria can be politically and economically influenced - criticised, offered rewards, provided outlets for expression, chaperoned - but they cannot really be dictated to, not even when a desired, altered behaviour - tightening credit to state-owned enterprises, outside mediation of civil unrest - is recommended by organizations as influential as the IMF or the EU. It is, to be sure, obvious - at first to some, then, later, to many - that outsiders' most penetrating attempts to exert influence within a country often also engender defiant, internal opposition. The need, felt among external actors, for political adroitness is a response to this belated obviousness. It is impossible to straight-jacket East-European and Russian efforts to establish societal equilibria that accord with these countries' respective histories. Such exertions simply are too normal, and thus cannot be held within limits, however desirable these limits may seem, not at least by outside actors. Only conquest and followed by resettlement - which is, effectively, the American Black experience and resembles the experience of divided countries - would work, but that method is monstrously out of place in the contemporary, East-European context.

Only in eastern Germany can a kind of straight-jacketing be forced through. For the GDR does not exist at all any more, and, consequently, the west-saturated east no longer has an outside or an inside. There is no 'external actor,' and so here very much has been, and currently is being, prescribed. This is true above all in commercial and economic relations - vide the epidemic favouritism shown by the German Treuhand and its devastating after-effects, or the stringent repayment policies of the commercial banks and the concomitant waves of new-business bankruptcies. It is also true secondarily of all that which depends upon, and is connected to, such relations, namely country-wide social and political matters - vide the ongoing debate over sick-pay, part of the effort to rein in Germany's budget deficit.

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