Ever since the EU was diagnosed with a so-called ‘democratic deficit’, it has attempted to close the gap between the European elite and its citizens. At first, its communication policies were directed at providing information and ‘educating’ the public about Europe. However, since the mid-2000s, the EU has committed itself (in theory at least) to the idea of a true European public sphere involving genuine dialogue with its citizens. Via its ‘Europe for Citizens Programme’ (EfCP), the EU now supports various external projects to stimulate this two-way relationship.
A case in point is ‘Debating Europe’, a website created by the organization Friends of Europe, which seeks to stimulate a direct conversation between European citizens and their supranational politicians by connecting them on their online platform. Several of its debates are funded by the EfCP and citizens can engage in these debates by sending in questions or posting comments. Debating Europe then takes these questions to certain ‘European leaders’ like MEPs, policy-makers, academic experts or NGOs to have them respond. However, does Debating Europe actually succeed in its objective of encouraging honest debate and bringing together European leaders and their citizens? How is the interactive process shaped by all these actors?
Although research on the European public sphere has come a long way since the original Habermasian understanding of the term, I argue that the interaction between all these different actors asks for an approach that integrates both bottom-up and top-down perspectives. Especially in current-day digital society, traditional media, political actors and citizens are all involved in the online “production, distribution, consumption and discussion of political content on issues of societal relevance.” By understanding the European public sphere as a network of online and offline meaning-making, it becomes possible to see the intersections between EU policies, transnational media discourses and citizens’ practices. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap between European Citizens & Brussels?”→
Ever since Donald Trump announced that he would run as the Republican Presidential candidate he has been a constant supplier of sensational media headlines. Never before in modern American history did a Presidential candidate attract so much controversy and had so little support from the establishment of his own party. With every shocking statement he has made so far – from calls to ban Muslim immigration to virulent misogynistic remarks – commentators predicted that it would be the end of his campaign. But for Trump it seems that nothing can harm him. He continues to generate support while liberal media are left fazed. His actions made the persona Trump into a constant subject of ridicule, almost a laughing stock. But laughing at Donald Trump distracts the attention from the deeper laying socio-economic issues influencing his supporters. As long as these are not heard or taken seriously, Donald Trump may just be a harbinger of things to come.
Recent polling has shown that is rather unlikely that Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States. The leaked video with Billy Bush came at the worst possible moment for his campaign. For weeks he tried to appear more reasonable and substantive in interviews and press conferences in order to gain support among white middle-class voters. But where some middle-class voters just might have started to believe he was not that bad, the video leaked and established Trump’s image as a misogynist once again. The result is that demographically Donald Trump just does not seem have enough support to win the Presidency. Besides having a lack of middle class votes, Trump also lacks support in other parts of the population. Whereas Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 won 6% of the African American votes, polls show that Donald Trump has around 3% support among African Americans. Although these percentages seem both shockingly insignificant one should only remember the Presidential elections of 2000 to see that in American Presidential elections the margins are often incredibly small. In recent years the Republican Party has also aimed for the Hispanic vote as Hispanics are overwhelmingly Catholic and could align themselves with the Republican views on abortion and gay marriage. However Trump has antagonized many Hispanics with his derogatory remarks on Mexicans and consequently thiselection they seem to favour Hillary Clinton over Trump.
While numbers may suggest that Donald Trump is running behind it seems that no one takes any reassurance from this. This election has never been about numbers or statistics because they have been against Trump from the very start. Jeb Bush and Marc Rubio were seen as the golden boys in the Republican Party but they were forced to withdraw their campaigns within months because Trump constantly exceeded every expectation. Donald Trump has gone beyond the statistics and numbers that always dominated the media coverage on the Presidential elections and has done so by mobilizing a group of voters that in recent years has been structurally underrepresented in the vote because they felt no candidate recognized their position. It is the ‘hidden group’ of working-class white Americans that suddenly rose to the surface as an important force during these elections. In areas that have been negatively affected by globalization and ‘trickle-down’ economics Trump is seen as the candidate who can turn America back into the manufacturing superpower it was before. With the newest round of the Clinton email scandal hurting her polling position, a Trump presidency is not impossible.
Popular liberal TV-shows like The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight have in the meanwhile started a media offensive against Trump and his supporters. Donald Trump is the perfect persona for ridicule and satire. His inconsistent speeches, outright racist and sexist statements, and his remarkable debating style have been the subject of satirical items that gathered millions of views on TV and YouTube. Also the supporters of Trump are often publicly scorned. There is an overload of videos where Trump supporters are exposed as violently racist and/or sexist. It is important in any free society that people can get mocked and that politics can be the subject of satire, but the current media coverage on Donald Trump uses a dangerous framework to depict him and his supporters. To see the successes in his campaign as a sudden eruption of collective stupidity and racism in American society overlooks the fact that his supporters “may not have it worse than some other demographic groups in America today, but they have fallen the furthest”. The racial and sexist dimension in the Trump campaign should never be overlooked, but neither should the fact that the white working class is the demographic group in America that lives in a worse economic situation than their parents did. Globalization and neoliberal economics have left certain areas in the United States riddled with unemployment, poverty, and a dangerous disgruntlement.
In recent years the main focus of the Democratic and Republican Party hasbeen to gain the middle class vote.The white working class voter is deemed to be aging and to be slowly becoming a relatively small demographic group. So in the Presidential campaigns the Republican Party focused more on the wealthy part of society with promising tax cuts, and the middle class families who were also promised a rise in purchasing power. The establishment of the Democratic Party, traditionally the party for the white working class, has shifted its main focus to social justice for minorities. Although Bernie Sanders did voice the discontent of the white working class, Hillary Clinton is seen as the epitome of middle-class liberalism with no regard for a struggling working class. It is no wonder then that the white working class voter did not feel represented in the establishment of both parties. Whereas usually this does mean that they would not vote, this year’s election is different. Donald Trump presented himself as an anti-establishment candidate who would completely change the partisan and bureaucratic government in Washington. His populist rhetoric and promise to ‘make America great again’ resonate in the areas where the white working class is still the largest voting group. For instance in the Rust Belt – a formerly heavily industrialized area in the Midwest – unemployment is structural after most industries left the area. Trump’s rhetoric to bring manufacturing back from China is hugely popular in these areas that ever since the Reagan presidency have only been in decline.
Framing Donald Trump’s campaign solely in terms of racism and sexism overlooks the fact that42% percent of the American electorate is nonetheless likely to vote for him.Ridiculing Trump and his supporters will only contribute to further polarization and antagonism between liberals and conservatives in the United States. It is disturbing enough in itself that a substantial demographic voter group only finds itself heard in a megalomaniac and populist candidate like Donald Trump. The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight’s success comes mostly from poking fun at channels like Fox News, but the audience of Fox News is not likely to be open to other views or other channels if they find themselves the subject of scorn there. It rather works to reinforce the polarized media landscape in the United States. It should be the task of liberal media to look deeper into people’s motivation to vote for Trump and to make their concerns more accepted in the discourse surrounding the elections. Also Hillary Clinton’s debate strategy of constantly reminding people of the controversies surround Trump is futile as long as the deeper socio-economic worries of the white working class are being ignored. A more inclusive discourse should begin with the media and politicians that propagate a liberal ideology.
If numbers and statistics can be trusted just this once in these elections, then Hillary Clinton will become the first female President of the United States. This will be a huge milestone for gender equality in United States, just as the 2008 election of Barack Obama was one for race equality. But it should not ignore the fact that Donald Trump has made it so far in the American elections. It should not be considered as a deviation from normalcy in politics or as a unique collective misjudgment. The success of Donald Trump has revealed the discontent of a ‘hidden group’ of voters who previously have been structurally ignored in American politics. The only way to prevent a normalization of populism in American politics is to be more open to the struggles of this group of voters. If they will be ignored again than Trump will prove to only be a harbinger for things to come in the American political arena.
In this article, I wish to demonstrate a comprehensive overview of how “Gangnam Style” reflects certain phenomena of Transculturalism. One thing I find most intriguing in music is precisely the ‘invisibility’ which gives immense space of imagination. I do agree that with visual aids, certain messages can be notably transported to an individual audience, but it may also undermine the musicality.
The YouTube 2012 super-hit “Gangnam Style” brings new perspectives of how transculturalism can be interpreted in the context of the modern pop music industry. To understand transculturalism in music, one must first differentiate different models of musical exchange. Ethnomusicologist Krister Malm summarised musical exchange into four categories, which musicians could be directly engaged with:
1. Cultural exchange: a phenomenon which allows newly emerging musical expressions during the process. This often occurs on a person-to-person level.
2. Cultural dominance: the process when a powerful society or group within a society imposes its values on another in a formally organised fashion.
3. Cultural imperialism: occurs as cultural dominance, often increased by the transfer of money and resources from the dominated to the dominating cultural group.
4. Transculturalism in music: a result of the growing transnational corporations and global marketing network in music industry. Transculturalism involves the merging of different elements from different kinds of music taking place in an industrial environment. Transcultural music is therefore an industrial product without roots in any specific ethnic group.
“Gangnam Style”, along with other pop music videos (MVs) available online, gives a valuable overview of the current development of the pop music industry in a transcultural context. What can we tell from “Gangnam Style” in the scope of Transculturalism in music? I note a few aspects which may serve as analytical perspectives:
1. Music for free. The conventional revenue of the music industry relies on music sales; the listening or viewing of MVs online at no cost, especially on YouTube, has proven that the phenomenon of sharing music through a mature social media worldwide has changed the shape of the music industry, where the music industry may eventually profit from the bottom-up popularity spread by individual internet users. (Further reading: Christopher Cayari, “The YouTube Effect: How YouTube Has Provided New Ways to Consume, Create, and Share Music”.)
2. Beyond Lyrics. With visual context, more than singing along, the audience may also ‘dance along’; the ‘horse dance’ for instance proves this by the immense quantity of “Gangnam Style” replicas on YouTube produced by individuals. The ‘horse dance’ may immediately correlate viewers into the context of “Gangnam Style”. Although dancing along with music in an unified gesture is not new in the history of pop music, (one obvious example would be the Village People’s “YMCA”), the main difference I note here is that the ‘horse dance’ has no direct connotation to the lyrics but, on the contrary, it associates with other visual contents in the music video. One may find Roland Barthes’s Semiology theory useful in decoding the meanings of signs; ‘horse dance’ could be taken as once example. At the beginning of the MV (at 0:18), PSY walks into a stable full of horses and start waving his wrists in crossed arms, making a direct connotation to horse riding. (Further reading: Paulo Emanuel Novais Guimarães, “What did Barthes mean by ‘semiotics’? How useful is his account for social theory and for accounts of ideology?”.)
3. Three-minute music. The common ABA or ABACA format of popular music can be well-observed in “Gangnam Style”. The 3:39 duration coincides with the common length of pop songs, or so called three-minute music. I note that the attention span of the audience is no longer limited to an audio media, but to a visual one as well. Academic research on the same issue has indicated the cause and effect relationship between the popularisation of pop music and its influence on teenagers’ attention spans, which is also around three minutes long.
4. Overcoming the language gap. “Gangnam Style” is composed mostly of Korean lyrics, with very little use of English. The role of the lyrics in the song is thus less prominent to the non-Korean audience yet, on the visual level, the body language (dance), together with the easy to remember melody, compensates the language gap. Similar examples of such a module, especially among non-English language pop songs which gained huge popularity worldwide, are:
“The Ketchup Song” (“Aserejé” in Spanish), 3:29, ABA form, also with similar hand movements and key phrase “Aserejé, ja deje tejebe tude jebere…”
“Dschinghis Khan”, 3:30, ABA form, similar hand movements (a different horse dance), and key phrases “Hu! Ha! Hu! Ha…” and “Dsching… Dsching… Dschinghis Khan! He, Reiter; ho, Leute; he, Reiter, immer weiter…”
“Macarena”, 3:50, ABA form, a repetitive set of body movements which coincides with the key phrase “Heeeeey Macarena!”
I identify here three key elements among the given examples which gained success worldwide: 1) easy to remember lyrics (key phrase) and melody, 2) simple and memorisable body language, 3) dance melody.
5. Gangnam Styles. Gangnam Style was quickly reinterpreted in many different languages and derivative works: from lip-dup to various translations and adaptations of the lyrics. Most videos are produced by ordinary internet users, although the quality of such videos varies, it is one noticeable trend that by re-creating and instantly sharing such derivative works, pop music videos no longer serve as a one-way communication channel in the context of social media: the involvement and reaction of audiences to certain MVs may give new perspectives of understanding the reception of pop culture in a wider scope. A pop song which gained success in one market could therefore be quickly transformed and gain success in others. German pop song “Dschinghis Khan”, for example, was translated into 10 different languages in Europe and Asia and gained worldwide success; which is more feasible when the copyright of a work is controlled by a big record company. (Further reading: Gill, Phillipa, Arlitt, Martin; Li, Zongpeng; Mahanti, Anirban, “YouTube Trafﬁc Characterization: A View From the Edge”.)
6. Music as a product vs. The star as a product. When an artist (or the music industry) finds more profit and opportunities in commercial settings, one may also argue that the artist (the star) is also a commercial product or, at least, a representation of certain products/brands (such as Madonna’s Pepsi commercial in 1989). This phenomenon is not entirely new in the pop music industry: long since Elvis Presley, record companies find it extremely profitable to cast singers in films, usually low-budget productions, and embed their music into the film. How such representation could eventually effect music production itself is another topic worth exploring.
When we talk about transculturalism in music, it is always tempting for composers, musicians, and music producers to look for new elements in other cultures. The presence of transculturalism is particularly noticeable in visual media; when MVs are mostly available in pop music nowadays, the effect of transculturalism is more understandable than in music without visual elements. How and why certain visual images were adopted in the “Gangnam Style” MV is, however, a different issue; for example, why the ‘horse dance’? It might be something to do with the horse racing culture in the Gangnam area, one of the richest districts of Seoul where people can afford such an extravagant hobby, but it is highly doubtful how far such an embedded meaning could be decoded by an audience without any background knowledge of the particular culture. Perhaps this brings a call of more awareness of indigenous culture in music, especially in the dimension of social media.
Despite the limited textual and musical analysis in this article, as I mainly focused on Transculturalism, I wish to demonstrate a comprehensive overview of how “Gangnam Style” reflects certain phenomena. One thing I find most intriguing in music is precisely the ‘invisibility’ which gives immense space of imagination. I do agree that with visual aids, certain messages can be notably transported to an individual audience, but it may also undermine the musicality. From “Gangnam Style”, I find a lot of similarity when I compare it to some earlier examples of MVs. If one believes that music is the common language of mankind, in modern times where music is getting more and more ‘visual’ and less merely ‘audio’, more reproducible and sharable, I ask: are we closer to ‘music as a common language’, or is it actually ‘music videos as a common language’?
 Krister Malm, “Music on the Move: Traditions and Mass Media,” Ethnomusicology 37,3 (1993): 340-343.
 Christopher Cayari, “The YouTube Effect: How YouTube Has Provided New Ways to Consume, Create, and Share Music”, International Journal of Education & the Arts, Volume 12 Number 6 (2011). http://www.ijea.org/v12n6/v12n6.pdf.
 Michael Z. Newman investigated the attention span of pop songs on teenagers in “New media, young audiences and discourses of attention: from Sesame Street to ‘snack culture'”, Media Culture Society 32 (2010): 581, available online: http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/32/4/581.
 Elvis Presley made 31 movies between 1956 to 1969, other notable singers in movie includes: The Beatles – ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964), David Bowie – ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (1976), Madonna – ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ (1985), Deborah Harry – ‘Hairspray’ (1988), Whitney Houston – ‘Bodyguard’ (1992). All these films featured singers’ song(s), and eventually boosted the sale of records.
Wong Tsz, Contributing Writer
Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.
The Euroculturer interviews Lora Markova, the winner of the 2012 ALBA (Annual Liesbeth Brouwer Award) Thesis Prize. We all saw her being awarded with the prize during the Gala dinner at the Intensive Programme in Bilbao this summer. We know that the award is a great asset for one’s academic future, not to mention a reward for all the tears shed while struggling with the Master’s thesis.
11 questions to answer…
Q1. Hello, Lora. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
– Hello, The Euroculturer! I come from Bulgaria and I completed MA Euroculture with an Erasmus Mundus Grant at Deusto University, Bilbao as my home university and Georg-August University, Göttingen as my host university between October 2010 and March 2012. During my third semester I conducted a research track at Pune University, India – a great opportunity for intercultural interaction, and theoretical and empirical studies. My research interests focus on (new) media arts, interactivity, modes of contemporary spectatorship and transmedia, transculturality and cross-cultural exchange of aesthetic codes and cultural repertoires.
Q2. What did you study for your Bachelor’s degree and where? Did your previous studies help you when you were writing your Master’s thesis? If so, in what way?
– I graduated with a BA in Animation Cinema and Visual Arts from the New Bulgarian University, Sofia with a Socrates/Erasmus exchange in Semiotics at the University of Torino, Italy. After this rather practical training in creative arts I shifted towards art theory and graduated with a MA in Media Culture and a MA in Arts Management from Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Within my studies I carried out internships at the Netherlands Media Art Institute (NIMk) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (ICN), also in Amsterdam, and a Blue-Book traineeship at the European Commission, Brussels. Living in different European cities and shifting cultural contexts triggered my interest to explore Europe as a cultural project. Thus, Euroculture was a unique opportunity to revisit my knowledge of arts and media in a European context and to enrich my research scope with intercultural communication perspectives. In this sense, my previous experience was helpful in writing my thesis, but gaining novel theoretical and methodological knowledge and ‘Eurocompetences’ was also central for my research.
Q3. What is the ‘Euroculture approach’ that the jury of ALBA thesis prize emphasise when grading a Master’s thesis? (It is written on the ALBA thesis prize webpage of the Euroculture website that a ‘Euroculture approach’ is important in order to be awarded the prize.) Could you give us one or two examples, in your opinion?
– I guess that the approach of a truly interdisciplinary programme as Euroculture involves conducting interdisciplinary research that reflects current European socio-political and cultural dynamics and deals with Europe as an entity always in an on-going process.
Q4. What does “approaching the related problems in an interdisciplinary manner” mean (as also seen on the webpage)? They said it’s important in order to be awarded the prize. What is an example of ‘interdisciplinary manner’? How do you think it applied in your thesis?
– I understand the interdisciplinary manner as approaching your research problem from multiple (theoretical) perspectives, overcoming disciplinary boundaries and establishing a ‘third space’ between academic fields. Within my thesis I explored transculturality (as a philosophical paradigm and a cultural praxis) in between cultural studies, film and media studies, art history, reception studies, sociology, human geography, post-colonial perspectives and psychology. What I find helpful in this direction is to study carefully the various texts and theories suggested by the Euroculture lecturers and to conduct in-depth research on your chosen topic.
Q5. Who sits on the jury of the prize?
– Academic staff from each of the European universities in the consortium, I believe.
Q6. Could you please tell us about your experience working with your two supervisors? Were they helpful? Professors are usually extremely busy, but how did you managed to get useful advices from them? Do you have any tips on this?
– Of course, it was very helpful receiving feedback from Dr. Asier Altuna and Dr. Lars Klein, as their remarks could indicate to what extent I had expressed and managed my research objectives and outcomes. Indeed, tutors are very busy, and thus it is necessary to be enthusiastic about your own research project, revise your text periodically and question your supervisors and yourself as to whether deeper insights can be achieved.
Q7. When you were writing your thesis, how did you deal with ups and downs in your mood?
– For me writing my thesis was quite an immersive experience and I devoted my time exclusively to it. In order to cope with procrastination I tried to exclude other activities. Still, after finishing each chapter I would take a day off for travelling and meeting friends so that I could create some space between the text and myself before proceeding further. What helped me in terms of time management was to think of writing my thesis as just writing three or four very good IP papers!
Q8. When did you know that you were going to be awarded the ALBA prize?
– Shortly before the award ceremony (during the Gala dinner of the IP), or three months after submitting my thesis.
Q9. Do students for whom English is not their native language have to get their Master’s thesis copy edited (or, at least, proof read) before they submit it? Did you?
– That sounds like a good idea! While writing, I shared and discussed the paper only with my supervisors, appointing specific time to edit each chapter before submitting it in order to minimize possible mistakes. Still, I guess it might be effective to use external help when dealing with such a volume of text.
Q10. What are the three most important things to keep in mind when writing a good thesis, do you think?
– First, it is necessary to choose a topic that you care deeply about. Thus, spending several months on your thesis can be satisfying and interesting for you. It is also helpful to start the research process early and to communicate your ideas to a broader audience (e.g. already during the Intensive Programme, conferences and workshops). For example, I presented one of my case studies at a Human(i)ties Perspectives conference in Hamburg University in 2011, which was an opportunity to gain impressions on the peer reception of my research. Moreover, writing on issues that you are passionate about will allow you to use and expand your thesis after graduation. Last month I participated in the Young Cultural Policy Researchers Forum within the ENCATC Annual Conference, Networked Culture, at Goldsmiths College in London which is another platform for knowledge exchange. I mention these events as potentially valuable opportunities for a greater range of Euroculture students.
Next, I would say try to use “Chekhov’s Gun”. As you probably know, the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov formulated the dramatic axiom claiming that if there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, the gun should be fired in a later act; otherwise it should not be displayed at all. In this sense, everything you mention in your thesis should be for a reason. Thus, it is helpful to delineate your scope by excluding certain topics and to keep some research questions for further studies.
Finally, it is important to be familiar with the ALBA criteria, as they signify academic excellence, and to consider which topic can be innovative in the context of the existing Euroculture titles. At the same time, I think one should not worry about any award while writing as it is beyond the knowledge of the students whose paper will be nominated. For instance, with regards to the high quality and diversity of approaches, I was able to imagine that at least five of my friends and former classmates could have qualified for the prize as well. Thus, I find it as relevant to establish your own standard – let’s say, write in a manner you would like to be published. Then, try to turn the whole process of working on your thesis into an intellectually rewarding experience and hopefully it will be ‘awarding’ as well.
Q11. What is your plan for the future?
– As a member of the Union of Bulgarian Artists I have been involved in several art and cultural projects in the last few months, and so my intention is to continue in this direction. I will keep you updated, and thank you, The Euroculturer, for inviting me to share my experiences as a Euroculturer.
Thank you very much for your answers, Lora. We wish you the best with everything you do!