Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 9: Myth and Media


Prof. Dr. Eckart Voigts-Virchow gave the lecture, ‘Possessing the Past: the Myths of Heritage Filmmaking’. The talk was given the sub-title ‘Janespotting… and beyond’, which is also the title of Prof. Dr. Voigts-Virchow’s 2004 book on British heritage retrovision.

The definitions from Segal’s seminar texts were discussed, and terms such as story, belief and credo were connected to the concept of ‘Englishness’, illustrating how national identity can be perceived as something that functions as a vehicle for collective convictions. Many references to the recent play Jerusalem were made, as the idea of myth is a particularly pronounced aspect of this work. The central term ‘heritage’ was also defined, as something that is non-factual, or simply not history, but that links the past to the future or the present. The following quote by Leslie Wasson illustrates the correlation between myth and heritage well: A myth is a story that has a parallel structure linking the past to the present and suggesting directions for the future.

The concept of heritage was also analyzed, particularly concerning the heritage industry – films, novels, tourism, theme parks – and how it re-establishes the past as the property/possession of the present. The key characteristics of heritage films were discussed, as well as many other, similar genres, such as fictio-biographies, docu-soaps, docudramas and dramadocumentaries, mockumentaries and history sitcoms. In thic context, Paul Kingsnorth’s book Real England was mentioned, and I would like to share one quote that illustrates Prof. Dr. Voigts-Virchow’s conceptualization of the heritage industry particularly well;

But most of these old traditions when they were living, they came from the land and from people’s attachment to it. These days we don’t know where are, or what happens in our landscape.

Prof. Dr. Voigts-Virchow discussed how - if the purpose of history is defined as seeking knowledge about the past - heritage cannot be perceived as history. Rather, it must be characterized as a form of modern-day use of selected elements of the past. Hence, heritage generates a form of imaginary identity.

The question of the British empire, or nation was also mentioned – the ‘English, I mean British’ issue clearly reflects the tradition of English hegemony. There are also aspects of colonialism to consider; a strong imperialist traditions may imply a lack of national identity. The ‘empire identity’ might be a threat to national coherency.

After the lecture we finally had the chance to return to this topic (however briefly) and to touch upon the question of myths and stereotypes, which was very welcome. We mainly focused on Prof. Dr. Voigts-Virchow’s analysis of the German perception of ‘die feine englische Art’, where many of the typical English/British stereotypes were revisited; the importance of fair play and good manners, the prevalence of the stiff upper lip, sensibility and conservatism.


Dr. Sandra Nuy gave the lecture, ‘The Man with the Moustache. Deconstruction of the Führer Myth in Hitler Satires’, concerning possible interpretations of the comical or satirical depictions of Adolf Hitler in various media, the functions behind the use of humour in this context, and the relevance for the representation of the collective memory of the Third Reich. Dr. Nuy immediately attacked the most central questions; is it acceptable, or even allowed, to laugh about Hitler, and to make him an object of comedy? Her answers were two resounding ‘Yes!’-s, but emphasized that this by no means signalled the end of the lecture, for which her audience was naturally grateful.

Charlie Chaplin’s impersonations, such as that in The Great Dictator, where he plays a dual role were discussed, as well as the 1945 film To Be or Not to Be with Carole Lombard and Jack Benny, from which a few scenes were screened. The nature of laughter itself, and its effects are discussed openly in this movie and characterized as something that should by no means be underrated. Dr. Nuy mainly focused on how laughter is something that can help individuals to move beyond horrifying events and themes in the past, and how the use of humour may also help to eliminate tension. Several other examples were discussed, such as Quentin Tarantino’s approach to the Hitler myth in the recent film Inglorious Bastards, and how Hitler satire has spread to the Internet, as illustrated by the ‘Daily Hitler’ webpage, and 'Cats That Look Like Hitler'.

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