Television fiction: saviour of Europe.

An investigation into the potential of television fiction
to provide the idea of ‘Europe as unity in diversity’
with substance and meaning


Thomas Schippers


Student number: 9938192

First Supervisor: Prof. Dr. S. de Leeuw
Second Supervisor: Dr. A.W.T. van der Velden
University: Faculty of Arts of Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Date: September 2004

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This MA thesis focuses on the cultural and social impact of television, the potential of the medium in general, and more specifically, of television fiction from a European perspective. I therefore intend to investigate the way in which the European identity crisis could be solved from a cultural approach, focusing on the audiovisual media.

More specifically: to what extent does TV fiction contribute to the success of a (multi)cultural and integrated Europe as ‘unity in diversity’? In order to answer this question, I have subdivided my research into three main parts: the theory in Chapter I, the practice in Chapter II and finally, the encounter of both in Chapter III.

The socially motivated communication of stories via the most influential medium of this time gives substance to similarity and difference, gives meaning to the world around us, and thus reveals who we are and who ‘the others’ are. The transfer of inner experiences, made experienceable through television narrative, offers the audience the opportunity to compare their personal experiences with those portrayed in the television fiction. This process results in the formation and affirmation of groups, so that an evenly balanced individual and collective self-image can arise. 

            The involvement of the European Union (EU) in the television sector has always stemmed primarily from, and has been considered to be legitimate on the grounds of, economic motivations. As a result, the MEDIA Programme is primarily concerned with economic criteria; cultural objectives are of subordinate importance. Moreover, by far the most attention, as well as the greatest part of the public funds of the European resources for the audiovisual sector, go to the cinematographic industry. The slight interest of the EU in television stems from three main causes: the typically national character of the television sector, the mainly popular, as opposed to artistic, nature of television productions and the commercial opportunities of the medium.

However, it is very difficult to reconcile this indifference of the EU with its acknowledgement of the enormous cultural interest of the national public broadcasting groups, as laid down in for example the Protocol on the system of public broadcasting in the Member States which forms part of the Treaty of Amsterdam. This lack of interest is consistent with the EU’s position in relation to public and private aspects: ever since its foundation, the EU has underestimated the importance of cultural integration, whereas it has invariably overestimated the importance of the economic unification. As a result, the majority of European citizens experience no single emotional involvement with the EU, and refuse to vote. Therefore the EU loses its support and legitimacy, and now sees itself forced to increase its consideration for the citizen. The European political intention to create a European Citizenship and a Common Cultural Space shows a growing cultural awareness.

European politics endeavours to combine two notions which exclude each other by definition: the preservation of cultural diversity and the promotion of intercultural integration. The first process is hindered by the economic, juridical and technological unification of Europe.  The second is opposed firstly by the traditional, internal separation of Europe, which, moreover, is protected by the EU itself with its principle of subsidiarity, and secondly by the loss, due to globalisation, of European characteristics, and consequently of ‘the other’ which Europe has always used to define itself. Moreover, the increasing amount of formerly public matters which the EU trusts the free market with leads to a further loss of human dignity within the present and future European society. The EU has failed to establish a public sphere, which is a fundamental requirement of European citizenship, as a result of which the European political vision of the future, "Europe as unity in diversity", has remained an empty conception.

Television fiction is able to represent this vision of the future and provide it with meaning: broadcasting faithful, national television fiction naturalizes the idea of European cultural diversity, whilst broadcasting television fiction with a content aimed at Europe affirms the European community and ‘makes it normal’. Both kinds of television fiction are able to create mediated collectives on both a national and European level, which each European citizen can voluntarily join, oppose or adopt an impartial attitude towards. This presumes a European cultural memory: on the account of similar memories, shared experiences may appear familiar and as such can result in the formation of groups. The increasing medialisation of the world, and the opportunity for television fiction to help people come to terms with old (traumatic) memories and to form new ones, enhance the possibility of transnational remembrances.  The formation of collectives across the national frontiers within Europe is thus one of television fiction’s most powerful abilities.

The European juridical framework doesn’t hinder such a more intensive use of television fiction and the European apparatus, read: the MEDIA Programme, just has to mitigate its criteria for television fiction subsidization. A more fundamental problem for a stronger presence of television fiction within the European society concerns the exaggerated interest of the EU in private issues, and the attended abstinence, denial even, of public tasks. That is even more incomprehensible considering that, in Treaty of Maastricht, the EU itself indicated its willingness to develop a European citizenship: which implicates by definition a European public space!  Now that the economic monetary union has been realised, and a growing number of Europeans are losing their interest and faith in the EU, the moment has come for the EU to take its cultural responsibility seriously.

            I therefore propose the foundation by the EU of a European public broadcasting organisation. Such an institution, which would serve as a European market square, could play an important role in the awakening process of European consciousness. The reception of each other’s stories in the form of television fiction gives insight into the ways in which meaning is given to life, in all its aspects, within Europe, to what extend there is talk of similarities and uniqueness and, most importantly, in which the unity and differences concretely manifest themselves. Only in this way will the European population be able to learn from each others’ life experiences, shake off its fear of the unknown and elaborate upon the political ideal of the future: ‘Europe as unity in diversity’. In this way, European citizens will find in their fellow Europeans an inexhaustible source for self-expression and –realisation and the EU in its turn, will gain in support and legitimacy: Europe will belong to its citizens again.








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