Muting Israeli Democracy
HOW MEDIA AND CULTURAL POLICY UNDERMINE FREE EXPRESSION
By AMIT M. SCHEJTER
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS
Copyright © 2009 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.
Chapter One Culture
FEATURES AND INSTITUTIONS
In order to identify the dominant elements of Israeli culture in the legal landscape in which the electronic media operate, I describe my understanding of the meaning of the term "culture" in this chapter. I discuss how myth and ritual, the building blocks of culture, are subordinated to serve a dominant group in society as they are transformed into their rational and institutional format in the form of ideology and ceremony, which help establish collective memory and identity. The infusion of ideology and ceremony into the legally prescribed media fare is one of the mechanisms by which dominance of a particular interpretation of culture is preserved and by which democracy is muted.
The Building Blocks of a Culture
Culture can be defined as both the story people tell themselves about themselves and the mental-intellectual connection among a group of people that makes their lives possible (Geertz 1973, 448). It is both the whole way of life and its common meanings as well as the arts and learning (Williams 1989, 4). A culture is a set of beliefs and assumptions developed by a given group in order to cope with the external process of adaptation and the internal process of integration (Inglehart 1990, 4). It is "the stock of knowledge from which participants in communication supply themselves with interpretations as they come to an understanding about something in the world" (Habermas 1984–1987b, 138). And because culture serves as the basis for understanding social reality, the development of a national culture is essentially the outcome of a power struggle. Carey (1992) describes culture as a process of "the making of meaning ... of wording the world together" (57) that involves struggle and conflict. He points to two social arenas in which this conflict plays out (although he acknowledges that the process "suffuses social space") and that he identifies as "particularly important": the mass media and the educational system. Lasswell (1948), Wright (1960), and McQuail (1987) argue that one of the functions of mass media in society is the process of transmitting culture, or "socialization." McQuail refers to socialization as "continuity" and sees it as a process by which generations communicate what they perceive as important within the culture to the young.
This approach also involves analyzing communication in terms of power. Because the meanings expressed through myth and ritual are subjective, power plays an important role in the creation of an individual's perception of culture. According to Keesing (1974, quoted in Aronoff 1983), culture not only refers to the belief system of the individual and what he or she believes about his or her world but also to what he or she theorizes about the beliefs of others, beliefs that may contribute to an individual's image of the state of public opinion and to his or her reasons for expressing ideas opposed to it (Noelle-Neuman 1974). The symbolic forms of myth and ritual serve as the building blocks of culture and help the individual determine what these beliefs are (Aronoff 1983, 4).
Theoretical descriptions of this power struggle differ. Gramsci's theory of hegemony argues that the study of the cultural product provides evidence that it represents an unconscious ideological bias favoring the ruling class, a result of the subordination of the subconscious of the working class (McQuail 1987). Hegemony is a condition that Gramsci perceives to be separate from actual visible political power. Because it lies in the subconscious, it determines what is truly the ruling class. The ruling class's control of government is a consequence of the legitimacy to rule that is achieved by reaching a hegemonic status (Forgacs 1988, 422–424). Hutchinson offers a different analysis in his theory of cultural nationalism, which he defines as a movement to recreate a distinctive national civilization (Hutchinson 1987, 16). According to Hutchinson, cultural nationalism is independent of political nationalism and can be seen as a bottom-up effort to revive what binds a nation together. This process originates from the people as individuals instead of from what the state defines as social order. Cultural nationalism has a different goal than political nationalism: It seeks the moral regeneration of the national community rather than the achievement of an autonomous state. Historical memory serves to define the national community. Cultural nationalism arises from a crisis of identity and function, is embraced by secular intellectuals and the intelligentsia, and is generated by the formation of the modern state. (It may also inspire an assault on that very same state.)
Regardless of whether the Israeli experience is a top-down hegemonic process or a bottom-up creation of cultural nationalism, it clearly is an example of the institutionalization of culture, a process that derives its content from both rational and nonrational cultural resources. Aronoff (1983) identifies the prominent nonrational cultural resources as myth and ritual, while he identifies ideology and secularized forms of civil ceremony as culture's rational components (7). Myth and ideology are a culture's reservoir of symbols; ritual, civil ceremonies, and memory are the tangible formats through which a society maintains these symbols. Communications are the avenue over which these symbols travel.
According to Connerton, myth is a collective symbolic text that constitutes a reservoir of meanings that can be used in different structures and contexts (Connerton 1989, 53–56). Myth provides members of a culture with a fundamental model of society that gives practical meaning to values and beliefs. It is a taken-for-granted aspect of everyday life (Bennet 1983). The use of myth, according to Habermas (1984–1987a, 46), provides a "gigantic mirror-effect, where the reciprocal image of man and the world is reflected"; as a result, "everything can be explained using a symbolic order." Like myth, ideology is a symbolic representation, and like myth, ideology can be understood within the contexts of defined groups. However, unlike myth, which seems to "emerge," ideology is a symbol system that is created for a purpose and embraced by only some of the members of the culture. At the same time, ideology is also history-bound and can be understood only by studying the historical events of the time when it was created (Althusser 1969).
If myth is a "gigantic mirror," ideology is the terrain on which people become conscious of their social position. Ideology is a function of the relation of an utterance to its social context (Eagleton 1991). It can be used, therefore, as a tool (Gramsci 1988) that serves a specific group in society. If it is a class-based society, ideology serves the ruling class, but in a classless society, it serves everyone (Althusser 1969, 235). Althusser argues that because it exists in every society, ideology can be equated with the unconscious as a phenomenon that exists but cannot be physically identified. Althusserian thinking, therefore, supports a theory of society and culture in which no understanding of social reality and experiences is "real" because these understandings are always seen through prisms that exist in the unconscious (Hall 1986). On the other hand, Giddens (1979) argues that there is no such thing as ideology, only ideological aspects of symbolic systems; any type of "idea-system" may be ideological (187). To examine ideology, in his eyes, is to look at how "structures of signification are mobilized to legitimate the social interests of hegemonic groups" (188). He identifies a "peculiarly universal" trait of such groups: maintaining the existing order of domination. Giddens identifies ideological forms that are used to establish domination: the representation of sectional interests as universal ones, the denial or transmutation of contradictions, and the naturalization of the present or the preservation of the status quo (193–195).
Ritual, which should be differentiated from myth, is a technique, a behavioral routine through which symbols are applied to everyday life (Bennet 1983). Myths are associated with ritual, just as beliefs are associated with action (Silverstone 1988). A ritual is an enactment of a myth. Rituals establish and display the social principles embodied in the myth, and participation in ritual can be perceived as embracing a particular interpretation of the myth. Ritual plays a role in invoking social memory. Through ritual, the participant's attention is drawn to objects of thought and feeling of special significance (Connerton 1989, 44). Although ritual can be identified in a particular time and place, especially when it appears in the form of a ceremony, it is not limited in its effect to the ritual occasion. The ritual itself has significance beyond the information being transmitted in its process. Kertzer (1983) identifies five roles that ritual serves in the political process: meeting the need of political organizations to exist by using symbols, providing legitimacy to the social order, providing diverse segments of society with a sense of solidarity with and loyalty to the political system, inspiring people to action, and fostering a particular cognitive view of the world. Change within a political system comes about when ritual fails to prevent questioning and criticism of ideology (Hegland 1983).
Myth, ideology, ritual, and civil ceremony all contribute to the creation of a social identity, "a 'production' that is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within representation" (Hall 1990, 222). The creation of identity—the process through which an individual searches for a unity of existence—depends on the existence of communication.
Communicative action, the purposive action through which culture is created, facilitates the formation of personal identities (Habermas 1984–1987b, 138). It also facilitates the creation of group identities. This process leads to the formation of one of two "cultural identities." One identity implies the existence of a shared culture among people with a shared history and ancestry and reflects that "commonness" through stable, unchanging, and continuous frames of reference and meaning. The other identity is in the process of becoming "one" (rather than the process of being one). In this second instance, "meaning continues to unfold beyond the arbitrary closure that makes it possible" (Hall 1990, 223–230).
Memory is one of the basic tools used to track the formation of identity. Since it is physically impossible to acquire tangible qualities of the unity of oneself, memory, an idea one can share only with oneself, is what creates the uniqueness of an individual. While it is impossible for a person to become part of another individual and share his or her memory, it is possible for a person to join a group and acquire its common memory in order to reflect his or her group identity. In this sense, the difference between personal identity formation and group identity formation lies in the indefinable number of participants capable of willfully acquiring an existing identity.
Just as memory knits together an individual's identity over his or her lifetime, an imagined form of memory, what we could call social memory, preserves the unity of group identity. Controlling a society's memory is a process largely conditioned around the hierarchy of power (Connerton 1989). A society's perception of the past affects how it lives in the present; the interpretation and meaning given to current events depend upon how knowledge of the past is constructed. For both individuals and societies, present factors influence recollections of the past, and past factors influence experience of the present (4–6). Connerton, however, also observes that images of the past have a legitimizing effect and may serve as the basis for legitimizing the present social order. Connerton's presupposition is that shared memory by the social actors underlies any social order. A society's images of the past and recollected knowledge of the past become the subject that forms its myths. Thus culture-building is an ongoing process. Myth becomes ideologized through ceremony, which in turn contributes to social memory that produces new ideological mythic artifacts for public consumption. The media play a central role in this process.
The Role of Policies Regarding Media and Culture in Building a National Culture
While "the specific contours and outlines of [collective] memory are open to interpretation ... that we are forming through the media a common recollection of [an] era seems self-evident" (Nerone and Wartella 1989, 85). Maurice Halbwachs first introduced the concept of collective memory in 1925 (Hoskins 2004). As Katz and Wedell (1977) have observed, the promotion of national integration—that is, creating a sense of belonging to a new nation-state (171)—was among the incentives for introducing electronic media in developing countries. Studying social memory can become, therefore, an exploration of the social impact of communication technologies (Kansteiner 2002, 179). The primary means for providing a collective identity is to create a "shared" past through narrative (Olick and Robbins 1998). How a group's history is represented, contend Liu and Hilton (2005), is central to the construction of the group's identity, norms, and values; the representation of its history provides the group with a sense of what it has been in the past and what it should aspire to be in the future (537). Anderson (2000) rejects the consensus among both historians and media critics that television is an unsuitable medium for constructing history and argues that American television, at least, has "virtually since its inception sustained an extremely active and nuanced engagement in the construction of history" (15). The role television and film play in constructing history (and the contributions of these media to social memory) has been documented, among other places, in Hong Kong (Ma 1998), China (Farquhar and Berry 2004), Japan (Fujitani 1992), and Israel (Peri 2001).
Dayan and Katz (1992) demonstrate how this process takes place (although indirectly) when discussing the role of media events in the creation of history. Media events, as they define them, are grand-scale interruptions of everyday life, when all media focus on a single event they have not organized that serves some need for a ceremony to mark an event. In their list of such events, which include Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, and the annual broadcasting of the International Bible Quiz on Israeli television, civil ceremony, the "rational" expression of cultural activity, comes to life via television production. These pre-planned events of "civil ceremony" have become possible only since the introduction of broadcasting. Dayan and Katz observe that "media events" mark holidays of "civil religion" and perform functions similar to those of religious holidays, noting that "media events are electronic monuments" (207, 211).
Merelman (1991) argues that popular culture, which he defines as a "consciously contrived, deliberately produced media form" (36), is the elaborator of democracy's cultural dimensions and the means by which the transmission of cultural models is made possible from the political elite to the generally passive public. Popular culture reproduces the individual/group, the static/dynamic, and the egalitarian/hierarchical elements of liberalism and links them in an attractive narrative format. He sees popular culture as a creator of a "system of discourse" that provides diverse groups in society with a sense of how they relate to other groups and helps them adapt to the demands other groups present. It also defines which forms of political conflict are acceptable. Indeed, scholars view popular culture as an arena where the struggle for hegemony is played out (Gitlin 1980) because "in the twentieth century, the language of popular culture has displaced an older language of political analysis, and popular culture media have displaced political parties as the principal link between the people and the politicians who run their government" (Edsforth 1991, 21).
The role of policymakers in advancing a self-serving culture should not and cannot be diminished. While it is common to focus on the economic and business aspects of cultural policy (i.e., Heilbrun and Gray 1993; Throsby 1999; Footer and Graber 2000), cultural policies can and have been analyzed in the context of their functions of creating and promoting symbols. An example is Sassatelli's (2002) description of how certain European Union policies have contributed to the creation of an "imagined" European community.
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