Friday, December 02, 2005
More Dostoevsky, less Wrestlemania!
In the 1970s Finland was mostly a monoculture where everyone pretty much watched the only existing two TV channels, listened to two radio channels of the state-owned Finnish Broadcasting Company (and one channel in Swedish language to boot), read about the same papers and magazines.
In the 1970s Finland there was an express concern about culture and education and a worry about the "mental junk food" of commercial entertainment taking over people's minds. Finnish TV was still heavily regulated by the "Programme Council" (ohjelmaneuvosto) with a special concern over TV violence, and for example, such TV shows as Space: 1999, Starsky & Hutch and Magnum, P.I. were targeted or banned altogether. (Also political concerns were high on ohjelmaneuvosto's agenda: anything that could be interpreted as "anti-Soviet" was to be condemned.)
These sort of patronising attitudes seem to belong to a bygone era now, and I am not longing back for the old days, with their overall heavy political demagogy and bleak black-and-white mental landscapes of the days of "Finlandization", when in comparison Western mass culture seemed more appealing and exciting, but obviously we have turned 360 degrees since those days in what comes to having only one "official" truth dominating general thinking.
In the 80s and 90s the earlier monolithic media hegemony started to crumble when commercial radio stations came along, with new TV channels (TV 3 ca. 1987, Nelonen (Channel 4) in 1997), and the whole yuppie-driven "city culture" (yes, Finns with their forest dweller and agrarian roots took this whole "urbanism" concept seriously).
Paradoxically, in spite of the seeming variety of choices we have these days, there are actually fewer of them with the current commercial overkill of 24/7 entertainment inferno: Hollywood blockbusters, reality TV, American "pro" wrestling (Shakespeare for blue collars?), strictly scheduled Top 40 playlists radio, celebrity cult and so on. The ratings are the king, and mostly anything on TV is viable as long as it sells, obviously. It seems old black-and-white movies or European classic films or most anything coming from outside the Anglo-American cultural area are not part of this scheme. Current radio station programming with their industry-driven playlists epitomises the similar deserting of variety in favour of commerce. Current "freedom of choice" boils down to the crucial question: Coke or Pepsi?
The late Finnish author Arto Salminen notoriously wanted back the "Brezhnevian" era of the 1970s in one of his interviews, with the return to the age of state-controlled protectionism over currently prevailing neoliberalism and worldwide "free trade". This comment was heavily criticised in Finnish media (which leans increasingly towards the right these days, the little pinko devil in me would like to add) where the stagnation of those days still remains in common memory, but perhaps the 1970s -- when the so called high-brow culture was still cultivated -- had some good aspects there too.