GDR Media as a Barrier for Commercial Culture

TitleGDR Media as a Barrier for Commercial Culture
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Meyen, M.
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Munich, Department of Communication and Media Research
Section or WGMediated Communication, Public Opinion and Society Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodeMCPW2c
Slot Code (Keyword)MCPW2c
Time of Session11:00-12:30
RoomC123
Session TitleCommunication, Consumer Culture, and Cold War Politics
Submission ID5615
Abstract

Using the example of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the present study asks for consumer culture’s influence behind the Iron Curtain. How far did the U.S. arm reach? What did people in Eastern Europe know about the lures of the West and how did they deal with that information? To answer these questions, the German case is a perfect subject for analysis for two reasons. First, there was neither a language barrier nor a cultural one. The postwar division of Germany did not prevent East Germans from witnessing the growing presence of U.S. commercial culture in West Germany. The border between the two states remained open until 1961, and the construction of the Berlin Wall had only a limited effect on East Germans’ exposure to Western consumer products. Eighty-five percent of all East Germans had access to West German TV programs. Many of them received regular shipments of mail-order catalogues from relatives in the West, and GDR movie theaters offered a range of “progressive films” from the United States and other capitalist countries to an eager audience. However, the East German society remained very stable till the late 1980's. While from 1949 till 1961 three million people left the country mainly because of the ongoing commercial lure, there was not an opposition worth mentioning or any movement toward the West till the mid-1980s. Much of that stability, this paper argues, was due to a successful East German public relations program that involved clever media manipulations. East German newspapers and TV programs deliberately set out to discredit Western images and products while nourishing the illusion of an economic miracle made in the GDR. It was only in the mid-1980s, when travel restrictions were lifted, that East Germans were given an opportunity to judge the situation for themselves. The present paper is based on four main sources: a content analysis of major GDR newspapers (1950 to 1989), files on the steering of the media in the Federal Archives in Berlin, files on audience research conducted from the East German authorities in the very same archive, and, last but not least, an oral history study on media usage and everyday life with more than 100 interviewees.

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