- German Television: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives ed. by Larson Powell and Robert Shandley
This book advertises itself as the first general English-language introduction to German television. And, indeed, there is not much on German television that is accessible to the non-German-reading scholar of the medium as of 2017. Outside of topically narrower studies by Jane Shattuc (1995), Wulf Kansteiner (2006), and James Schwoch (2009), as well as Pop Culture Germany! (Catherine C. Fraser and Dierk O. Hoffman, 2006), one has to search far and wide for individual English-language articles on specific televisual texts and Germany-specific television developments in encyclopedias and global television readers (e.g. Lisa Parks and Shanti Kumar, Planet TV: A Global Television Reader, 2003). This alone makes German Television an essential and very welcome path-breaker in the burgeoning interdisciplinary research area between film and media studies, popular culture, communications, and German cultural studies.
In ten chapters and an introduction by Larson Powell and Robert Shandley, the book connects some of the main authors working on German television in English- and German-speaking contexts today to talk about medium history, theory, and technology (Wolfgang Hagen, Larson Powell), economic and political histories and practices (Rüdiger Steinmetz, Lothar Mikos), East and West German television landscapes (Thomas Beutelschmidt, Evan Torner), and the important auteur connection between film and television (Brad Prager, Stefanie Harris). The volume ends with two genre chapters on event television (Paul [End Page 406] Cooke) and Tatort, the longest running police procedural on German television (Bärbel Göbel-Stolz).
While each chapter is eminently readable and interesting to the invested reader, a book broadly titled German Television should really integrate the history of technology with the sociohistorical, especially when the television we know today first came into being during the Third Reich. Rüdiger Steinmetz's later well-rounded chapter on media politics and history would have made more sense as the first chapter of this book, because he understands his charge to be introducing the interested reader to the specifics of East and West German television, from the different state networks' media-ethical education charters, to their federal geopolitical and political structure, to financing and programming from the 1950s to early 2000s. Instead, the reader is first confronted with Wolfgang Hagen's philosophical reading of television as the "Third Image," and while he explores the technological prehistory of modern television and its relation to epistemology from 1777 onward, he sets his sights on the 1939 world exhibition in New York, when RCA revealed "the first comprehensive electronic television system" (17), to discuss why digital television has epistemologically not moved beyond that caesura. One has to ask, especially when the author rightly emphasizes that "[c]ulture as the memory of society would not exist without the contingency of the medial" (20) and that "[t]elevision is a technology that integrates a new knowledge about the fundamental constructedness of the world [...] by overlaying it with [...] an old knowledge about the natural continuity of reality" (31): is it an accident that the Nazis experimented with live television coverage and reception in arranged viewing rooms during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin—or that there exists in the television archives reality-style coverage of the Olympic village and its inhabitants? What drives a fascistically inspired modernity to want to use the still unreliable technology of television to project its race-based and gendered epistemology of the world as an international village of everyday Übermenschen in real time, as it was happening, even at the cost of a distorted image on tiny screens? Why not include a chapter along the lines of Corey Ross's Media and the Making of Modern Germany (2008)? As it stands, the book fails to analyze the launch of television in the context of the birth of the televised/televisual nation.
The second article, by Powell, jumps right into the Frankfurt school's high/ low culture debate that affected the medium of television more than film or print. His...