Television Archives and the Making of Collective Memory: Nazism and World War II in Three Television Blockbusters of German Public Television
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Television archives play a vital role in the day-to-day business of the television industry. They help television makers identify footage and ideas for the programs of tomorrow. Consequently, the archives are organized to support the production process, and any other function is secondary to that objective. At the same time, by default not design, television archives contain the cultural legacy of the twentieth century and play a key role in the infrastructure of modern memory. On the one hand, they house the blockbuster television events and hit series that are recycled so frequently that they seem to be permanently established in the public sphere. Reruns of Law and Order, the best Hitler footage, or coverage of the life and death of Princess Di are omnipresent on our cable systems and hardly get a day’s rest between broadcasts. On the other hand, television archives contain hidden treasures that have rarely or never been seen by the public eye: programs not deemed at for prime time audiences that were broadcast in the wee hours of the morning or that for legal or political reasons have never been aired at all. Since cultural preservation and research are not the primary functions of television archives, some of these marginal holdings are regularly destroyed and our cultural memory diminished in the process.1 In principle, selective use is characteristic for the holdings of any archive or library. However, as a result of limited access and great potential reach, the selective use of television archives has far-reaching social and cultural consequences. The images and stories stored as tapes and digital ales might shape the perceptions of millions of viewers, or their existence—and possible impending destruction —might only be known to a few archivists. The difference between fame and obscurity is determined by a small group of television administrators who decide on the station’s lineup. They try to get the most mileage out of the network’s treasured possession of broadcasting rights without alienating audiences, political supervisors, and business partners. They determine how the contents of the archive, which rebect all current licenses and contracts , are deployed to attract the largest number of viewers at minimal expense. Since television is our most important medium of historical rebection, the popular and obscure visions of the past contained in the archives illustrate beautifully the difference between actual and potential collective memories . As an Egyptologist, Jan Assmann was probably not thinking of television when he arst made this differentiation . He argues that cultural memories occur in the mode of potentiality when representations of the past are stored in archives, libraries, and museums and occur in the mode of actuality when these representations are adopted in new social and historical contexts. Assmann also points out that in the transition from potential to actual cultural memories (and vice versa), representations change their intensity, social depth, and meaning.2 His remarks capture the dynamics of the making and unmaking of collective memory in the age of electronic media, although with television, unlike in the case of more traditional media, the transition from potential to actual collective memories can literally take place overnight. 368 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Television Archives and the Making of Collective Memory Nazism and World War II in Three Television Blockbusters of German Public Television Wulf Kansteiner ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ The following case study analyzes cultural memories of the Nazi period produced by West German television during the era of the public television monopoly. From 1954 to the late 1980s German audiences had to make do arst with one and then, since 1963, with two national public television networks. Commercial competitors were licensed in 1984, but it took several years before they reached a substantial audience and before the public service monopoly had been effectively transformed into a dual television system. The administrators and producers of the public service networks ARD and ZDF, closely supervised by the Federal Republic’s political elite, pursued very active politics of memory. In patriarchal fashion they distributed politically correct interpretations of the Nazi period for the beneat of a population that was considered in need of reeducation by its own political leadership as well as its foreign partners. Between 1963 and 1993 the ZDF alone aired over twelve hundred programs about the Nazi past, totaling over eight thousand minutes of airtime.3 Rather than taking on that overwhelming number of programs, we will have a closer look at a select few shows that the television makers of the ZDF considered particularly suitable for general consumption...