British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Screening Socialism: TV and Everyday Life in Socialist Eastern Europe

These results raise intriguing questions about the relationship between television and the communist project, and the nature of television as such. The prevalence of public settings and narratives in domestic television series suggests that the cultural form of television, as known from the liberal democracies of the West, underwent some important modifications in the state socialist context. It would be worth investigating whether other intimate or personal aspects of television content mentioned in literature – its focus on non-verbal messages and personality, the illusion of intimacy between the TV personality and the spectator, and the temporal organisation of its programming – were likewise transformed, and appeared in a less personal form. This would suggest that we need to revise the perception of television as an inherently intimate medium, and acknowledge the existence of multiple forms of modern television cultures, anchored in competing visions of modern society.

The cast of the Yugoslav television series Theatre in the House, 1973. Photo courtesy of the Television Belgrade Programme Archive.

The cast of the Yugoslav television series Theatre in the House, 1973. Photo courtesy of the Television Belgrade Programme Archive.

Apart from being involved in the changing relationship between private and public spaces and practices, socialist television also played a role in shaping temporal routines and perceptions of time. In state socialist countries, regimes attempted to create a new sense of time, not only through constant mention of revolutionary progress, but also by overlaying the ‘bourgeois’ calendar, with its religious festivities such as Christmas and Easter, with a set of specifically socialist rituals and sacred dates. The project set out to understand the role of television both in commemorating these dates and also helping to popularise this sense of revolutionary time. Did socialist television succeed in synchronizing daily lives with the ongoing march towards the radiant communist future? What notions of time and narratives of the past and present did popular television programmes foster, and how were these affected by the wider social context?

Our preliminary results indicate that socialist television, perhaps more than any other socialist mass medium, became an integral element of daily, weekly and annual routines. Especially during festive occasions – such as the festivities associates with celebrating the secular movement of time (the New Year) or commemorating the glorious achievements of the past (e.g. the Day of the Republic in Yugoslavia, Victory Day in the Soviet Union) – the distinctly socialist rhythms of television time became very pronounced, functioning as reminders of the shared progress towards a communist future. As evident from our interviews, audiences eagerly participated in these activities, yet focused less on revolutionary progress towards the future and more on the comforting sense of continuity that these rituals provided. As one Russian interviewee born in 1962 said of New Year TV: ‘The family is still here; a year has passed. Nobody has … disappeared, died. Everything’s fine.’ This soothing sense of familiarity, attached to the daily, weekly and annual rhythms of television programming, seemed to undermine a sense of active participation in the communist project. Paradoxically, while synchronizing their daily life with the ongoing march towards a radiant communist future, television also enabled socialist citizens to disconnect from communist ideas.

Dr Sabina Mihelj

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