Transnational Television History: A Comparative Approach

Transnational Television History: A Comparative Approach

Transnational Television History: A Comparative Approach

Transnational Television History: A Comparative Approach

Synopsis

Although television has developed into a major agent of the transnational and global flow of information and entertainment, television historiography and scholarship largely remains a national endeavour, partly due to the fact that television has been understood as a tool for the creation of national identity. But the breaking of the quasi-monopoly of public service broadcasters all over Europe in the 1980s has changed the television landscape, and cross-border television channels - with the help of satellite and the Internet - have catapulted the relatively closed television nations into the universe of globalized media channels.

At least, this is the picture painted by the popular meta-narratives of European television history. Transnational Television History asks us to re-evaluate the function of television as a medium of nation-building in its formative years and to reassess the historical narrative that insists that European television only became transnational with the emergence of more commercial services and new technologies from the 1980s. It also questions some common assumptions in television historiography by offering some alternative perspectives on the complex processes of transnational circulation of television technology, professionals, programmes and aesthetics.

This book was originally published as a special issue of Media History.

Excerpt

‘Going transnational’ is in. While some interpret this latest ‘turn’ in the intricate path of historiography as a challenge to older historiographic traditions like world or international history, others see it as a new paradigm, superseding the national perspective as the founding frame of reference for a ‘modern’ scientific production of history. In any case the vivid discussion of what transnational history is, or should be, witnesses an ongoing interest in and recognition of the importance of the historical phenomena and processes that lie beyond the explanatory framework of the nation-state. One of the most interesting phenomena in this discussion is not the careful handling of the term as the latest buzzword of the scientific circus by most historians (which might have to do with the ‘déformation professionelle’ to historicize the seemingly new and revolutionary), but the manifest theoretical engagement of historians in this debate. History as an academic discipline has often been accused of being hostile to abstract theoretical speculations and most of the latest turns in historiography can clearly be identified as belated theoretical importations from other disciplines. The debate on transnational history is exceptional in this respect, as the theoretical reflections pre-date – at least to a large degree – the practice of historical research and writing. As the Korean historian Young-sun Hong, Associate Professor of German History at the State University of New York, stated in her essay on the challenge of transnational history, ‘the call for the transnationalization of national histories has been eagerly taken up by many in the past few years, but done successfully by very few’ (3).

What was meant as a hint to the large community of historians applies even more to the small field of television history. The strong tie of media historiography with the national project has its origins, as Jean K. Chalaby has rightly formulated, in the fact that ‘no other media institution was more central to the modernist intent of engineering a national identity’ (1). This intrinsic quality of television as a national institution has tempted most historians of television to analyse the medium using a more or less strict national perspective. The search for the nation in television formats, programmes, institutions or legislation has produced a variety of excellent historical scholarship, reinforcing Benedict Anderson’s thesis of the constitutive role of the media in the creation of ‘imagined communities’. Despite the heterogeneous institutional varieties of today’s television all over the world, one can identify a surprising homogeneity when it comes to the functional similarities of television as an agent of modernization and nation-building – at least during the ‘golden age of capitalism’ in which television developed into the ‘leading medium’ of the mass media ensemble. But the breaking of the quasi-monopoly of public service broadcasters all over Europe in the 1980s changed the television landscape, and cross-border television channels – with the help of satellite and the internet – have catapulted the relatively closed television nations into the universe of globalized media channels.

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