Premediation in the Eurozone Crisis

The seemingly never-ending Eurozone crisis made it into the news again this week with various media commentators arguing that the “Grexit” was (maybe) finally here. After all, the current Greek government seems yet again struggling to meet its “obligations” towards its European lenders, mainly represented by the ECB. A crisis meeting has already been announced, but it remains to be seen whether it will produce a real breakthrough. The month of April, so it seems, will decide over Greece’s future  in- or outside the Eurozone. Déjà vu anyone?

The same had been said about January 2015, when the majority of Greeks resisted to the prevailing austerity drive by voting for radical left Syriza. In fact, similar claims about an end to Greece’s membership in the single currency union, if not even to the Euro’s continued existence as such, were made whenever the acting Greek government had to report to their international creditors over the past four years (see here, here, here, and here).

A potential “Grexit”, its probable impact, and an eventual collapse of the Eurozone have been repeatedly discussed by a variety of political commentators as well as economists – and for many it has long lost its “shock effect”. Not that anything has really changed in regards to the fundamental, potentially dramatic -and probably traumatic- consequences it would have for the single currency union and the political framework of the EU altogether.

However, it has become “the new normal” (Grusin 2010, citing brilliant comic artist Art Spiegelman) to live in an economic climate of constant crisis, fear for the future, depression, lack of innovation (not only in an economic but also political respect!) etc., just as Western societies have somehow accommodated themselves with a constant fear of religious terror since 9/11 (ibid). Against this background it is not really surprising that more optimistic assessments of the Eurozone’s future appear rather unconvincing to many.

What’s interesting here from an analytical perspective on the EU crisis debate in the media is that almost any thinkable outcome of the crisis has been brought up in the transnational public sphere – and new analyses, evaluations, as well as prognoses are added on an almost daily basis. These seem to differ only slightly in their general narratives, which can be broadly separated into two categories: stories about the end of the Euro and stories about its eventual survival and/or success. However different both are in their general prognoses for Europe’s future, they seem to fulfil a similar function: they are attempts to reduce the level of surprise and to provide orientation for future actions.

Indeed, it seems that there hardly is a scenario that has not been thought through yet and the spectrum of expectable outcomes for the crisis were brought down to a handful of possibilities. Economists, political commentators, journalists and other public communicators are central drivers of this process since they, willingly or unwillingly, pre-fabricate “potential futures” through media communication (pre-mediated). These are repeated over and over again with small updates (re-mediated).

Premediation and the Eurozone Crisis – a Very brief Overview

Richard Grusin, Professor of English at Wayne State University, describes this process as ‘premediation’ (2010: 38), a logic ‘in which the future has always been pre-mediated‘ (ibid, original italics). According to him, in today’s highly mediatised society public communicators engaged in a style of discourse that moved away from the past and present to a mode of communication that placed increasing emphasis on “what could happen next (and what could come after that)”. Different scenarios and their outcomes are played through in public discourse by e.g. journalists, government representatives, experts etc. so that no eventual outcome comes truly unexpected.

Think of the different scenarios that exist for the outcome of austerity politics in the European context: while leading German politicians argue that fiscal discipline will lead to an economically stable, prosperous future, dissident voices claim that the same could actually increase the suffering caused by economic hardship across struggling Eurozone countries.

However, premeditation should not be confused with prediction, since premeditation served not for finding an ideal “result” to a specific development:

Unlike prediction, premeditation is not about getting the future right. In fact it is precisely the proliferation of competing and often contradictory future scenarios that enables premediation to prevent the experience of a traumatic future by generating and maintaining a low level of anxiety as a kind of affective prophylactic. Premediation is not like a weather forecast, which aims to predict correctly the weather for tomorrow, or the weekend or the week ahead. To premediate the weather would be to try imagine all of the possible scenarios that might conceivably arise so that the weather could never come as a surprise (ibid).

Grusin uses the US media landscape after 9/11 and during the War on Terror as his primary empirical example to describe the mechanisms of premeditation but his observations are transferable to other crises and conflicts, including the current Eurozone crisis. The political implications and the entailed clash of different future scenarios ingrained in framing processes, which dominate public communication, are of particular relevance for understanding the transnational public discourse in Europe:

To think of premeditation as characterizing the media regime of post-9/11 America is therefore to be concerned not with the truth or falsity of specific future scenarios but with widespread proliferation of premediated futures. Premediation entails the generation of possible future scenarios or possibilities which may come true or which may not, but which work in any event to guide action (or shape public sentiment) in the present. These scenarios are perpetuated both by governmental actors and by the formal and informal media […] (ibid: 47)

Premediation can serve as an instrument for framing a particular problem in a very specific way in order to achieve concrete political goals; claiming to know how the future will turn out often comes with precise agendas for how to organise current social, economic, and political orders. Seen from this perspective, the transnational public sphere currently takes the shape of a conflict-loaded communication sphere in which polarising scenarios compete with each other; this turns the crisis into a contest about the future as much as about the present.

There are plenty of examples, which include the debates on austerity/anti-austerity, integration and sovereignty, isolation and solidarity, Eurobonds, the financial transaction tax, bailout programmes, structural reforms etc. Once the future has been pre-mediated, it is instantly fed into the constant flow of remediation, i.e. the pattern of repetition in public discourse which creates an atmosphere of constant insecurity and anxiety that seems to characterise  the “new normal” for many people in Europe.

References

Grusin, R. (2010): Premedation. Affect and Mediality after 9/11, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

MeCCSA 2011 Review – The First Official Conference Paper

It has been a while since I have posted the last article – so  many things happened in the meantime, that I am hardly able to keep pace with all these interesting developments and events in and around the media (especially as regard Wikileaks but I will focus this in another post; however, there is a very interesting article in the current issue of the New Statesman I can recommend). There was just to much to do, for instance preparing my conference paper for this year’s Media, Communication, and Cultural Studies Association Conference (MeCCSA) at Salford, Greater Manchester. I just returned from this very interesting, informatory trip to Northern England and will provide here a summarization of my experiences and impressions. Let me begin with some information on MeCCSA: It is an international organisation for academics in media-, communication-, and cultural studies with a keen interest in stimulating intellectual exchange across all relevant disciplines. However, “international” only to a certain extent as it is mainly based in the UK. Its main aim is to promote the diversification of influences on as well the professionalization of research in the relevant field of subjects. Since 2000 it holds an annual conference, each year at another of Britain’s universities. Former places of event included for instance the London School of Economics, University of Cardiff, University of Leeds etc. etc. MeCSSA 2011 was hosted by Salford University’s department for Communication, Culture, and Media, which organized a warm welcoming to and professional course of the conference in the very appealing Lowry, a huge, postmodern theatre builiding at the Salford quays – right beside the BBC studios and MediaCity UK. This year, around 140 researchers presented their current or recently finished projects on topics ranging from digital culture, media and democracy, visual- and film arts, gaming, media education, media discourses, journalism – you name it. Many of the contributors have a long professional career in academics, and I knew quite a few names from publications I had read during my studies (e.g. Stuart Price). I listened to delegates from New York, Toronto, London, Copenhagen so on and so forth. Interestingly, I was the only contributor from Germany…I think here is a clear lack of communication between the German and the international academic discourse on the respective issues detectable. In fact, I think I was the only one without a Ph.D and who had not published any article or a monograph (yet), too. Hence it was a great opportunity to get in touch with some bigger and smaller “grandeurs” of this specific academic branch. Besides, I gathered some impressions from other research projects and their perspectives on relevant issues. I thereby primary attended panels which dealt with topics of my personal academic interest, such as political communication, democracy and media etc. Especially the delegates from Cardiff University, Goldsmiths, London Metropolitan, and East Anglia provided some really interesting papers. During my panel, I was allowed to present the results of my MA research project on political communication online during last year’s general election. My audience was rather small but consisted of genuine experts in this area of research – luckily, they liked what I showed them and I was able to establish important contacts with possible supervisors for my Ph.D. After my presentation and the subsequent discussion, which provided further stimuli for future research, I took the chance to visit the Imperial War Museum North – after all I’m a student of history, with particular interest in the events of the 20th century of which war is an inherent part. Here I got a glimpse on the commodification of British and world military history. But that will be the topic of another post. Altogether, it was a very interesting and pleasant experience – I will definitely apply for next year’s conference again. I can only recommend to those of you, who see their future in academics, to do so as well! It is a great chance for professional exchange and to make some interesting connections. It is also a very satisfying experience to receive positive feedback and recognition for your own research. Next MeCCSA will be held at the University of Bedfordshire.

TED Talk on Anonymity in Cyberspace

A current videoclip on the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) focuses the “case for anonymity online”. Interlocutor  Christopher “moot” Poole, founder of 4chan – an online imageboard subsisting from the contributions of its anonymous users – explains thereby the structure and customs of the subculture he created. Watch the video here:

From the perspective of a new media practitioner, Poole talks about the potential and power of anonymity as well as the limits and prices to pay for it. Quite interesting in regards of the digitalized information society and the way it denizens can present (or not present) themselves in new and different public spheres.

England vs. Germany – Reactivation of Old Stereotypes

England and Germany have a very special relationship – especially from a cultural and historical point of view. However, it seems that particularly England or the UK, respectively, retains certain stereotypes, myths, and legend about the alleged traditional competitor. They are not always dominating every discourse in the UK involving Germans but become relatively often visible. Sports events like a football match – the classic arena for both nations during peace time – show how fast misconceptions of contemporary Germany are reactivated. Though one of the most advanced Western European societies, she is frequently depicted as an anachronistic, crude mixture of a prussain-militaristic Kaiserreich and a Nazi-Dicatorship. Especially the so-called yellow press nurtures these decontextualised stereotypes with sensational headlines. Daily Mail, The Sun etc. are thereby constantly ignoring the multi-ethic composition of the German team , for instance.

A cursorily glance at the discourse shows, however, that the reactivation of stereotypes is a rather unilateral issue, limited to the UK. It seems that most of the Germans do not really care about what some of their insular neighbors might think about them. To the contrary, the almost satirical exaggerations cause a certain amusement in Germany. Find some of the most interesting British press reaction to the outcome of yesterday’s game here on the Guradian’s website.

Ethics, Journalists, and the Use of New Media

Media producers of all branches or genres, respectively, increase their efforts to use the Internet and the various forms of social media as both a new communication channel and a source for research. Contemporary journalistic work not using new media became almost unthinkable – certain forms like “citizen journalism” or online news (all genres) would not even exist. A modern and successful news/media producer must be aware of the opportunities  but also limits of the world wide web.

Though the digitalised environment of today’s information societies creates and demands different, new modes of  news/knowledge production as well as distribution, there have to be certain guidelines and rules, basing on traditional perceptions of this ‘media craft’ – at least according to some professionals. Especially ethics, which always have been a often heatedly discussed issue in journalism, seem thereby to be an important topic in online media production discourses, too. How to handle social network media sources? How to treat statements made on blogposts, comments or in fora? How to sustain fairness – and guarantee ‘accuracy’, ‘truth’ (or at least ‘objectivity’ – if this is even possible) online? Though some of the basics behind those questions are long known points of contention (especially on ‘truth’ and ‘neutrality’), the Internet confronts the critical observer with various new and complex problems in this context. Especially concerning the alleged freedom of information, property rights, and privacy issues.

To find an interesting example for such ethical guidelines, please visit Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Here, media professionals postulate rules for using and treating online sources – and try to approach crucial questions like the ones mentioned above. It shows how those who are directly involved in the production process of online content attempt to meet the challenges of a changed information economy.

Thanks to my colleague Tomi, who passed me the link – visit her blog here.