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Coordinated by Gheorghe STOICA

 The Romanian Office of Studies and Polls.  A Survey from 1969 and Its Present Significations

Alexandru MATEI

University of South-East Europe Lumina

 

 

Abstract: The study deals with the activity carried on within the Office of Studies and Polls of the Romanian Radiotelevision during Communism and, at the same time, with the relation between the Office and the official propaganda. The Office was inaugurated in 1967 and was managed by the Marxist historian and sociologist Pavel Câmpeanu. The surveys conducted by its members were perceived as a form of mediation between the Romanian Television and its audience that still evinced, at that time, the (relative) freedom of speech of the TV-viewers, in general. At the beginning of the 1970s, however, the political pressure and the wooden discourse of the Communist propaganda took over audio - visual media. The importance of the surveys and of their results rests on the conveyance of the social echo that the pro - Ceauşescu propaganda had. Nonetheless, they reveal that, in terms of popularity, the social visibility of the Romanian Television was broadened thanks to TV shows that provided entertainment, and not to those which pursued ideology. This paper focuses on an analysis undertaken by the members of the Office of Studies and Polls in 1969, concerning the public opinion about the schedules of the radio and television broadcasts.

Keywords: The Romanian Office of Studies and Polls, Romanian television, political communist propaganda, social values, mass culture.

           

On 21st January 1968, Programul de radio şi televiziune [The Television and Radio Programme] magazine announced the emergence of an “organism destined to study the opinion of the audience about radio broadcast and television shows”[1]. This system had already been set up in 1967, but only after introducing Channel 2 in May 1968, it started to run fully for television, also. The director of this Office of Studies and Polls of the Romanian Radiotelevision was Pavel Câmpeanu[2], historian and sociologist, a genuine Marxist, close to Gheorghiu-Dej’s political group. He published a study about television that remains, even today, the Romanian reference work in the realm of television culture: Oamenii şi televiziunea [People and Television][3]. The study mostly rests on the results of the surveys conducted by the Office and, at the same time, to substantial texts written in world languages that Pavel Câmpeanu had read in books translated in Romanian under the auspices of the same Office and spread for internal use. Câmpeanu’s book had never been republished, the information on the efforts made by the members of the Office has Televiziunea hardly been shown up, the most recent reference to it appearing in a chapter from Adrian Cioroianu’s book[4] Pe umerii lui Marx. O introducere în istoria comunismului românesc [On Marx’s Shoulders. An Introduction to the History of Romanian Communism]. Close to the end of the year, on December 8th, on the last page of RadioTV journal, one could read an anonymous anniversary article about the foundation of the Office:

           

            “Soon, a year will have passed from the inauguration of the Office of Studies and Polls of the Romanian Radiotelevision. The aim of this organism is to assure a continuous flow of scientifically based information dealing with the response of the audience to the radio and television programmes. [...] By 1969, this form of the relation between Radiotelevision and its wide public will have strengthened and broadened. One of the strategies to which the Office intends to resort is the establishment of some permanent boards – one for radio, the other for television – that ought to be consulted each month by mail about certain aspects of the programmes and of their reception. […] Millions of radio listeners and TV-viewers from all over the country share with the Radiotelevision the same interest: the programmes to be more entertaining, more interesting, and more useful, to comply with the legitimate exigencies of the audience to a greater extent. This is the common cause that our Office will serve more efficiently as its actions will meet a deeper understanding and a more active support from those whose contribution we are requesting”.[5]

Needless to say that the expectations framed in this article were going to be hastily dissolved by the impingement of the Ceauşescu couple on the cultural activity, and the attributions of the Office as the main source of the strategic decisions concerning the conceiving and the broadcast of television programmes will be demeaned[6]. However, at the beginning of the 1970s, the political injunctions had already had priority.

The observations made by Radu Cosaşu in a television review from 1967 – I will speak about it at length in the second part of this study –, according to which television entertainment could not be taken seriously, since the TV-viewer was a person who “wore slippers and nightgown” and watched TV in his/ her own bedroom, were reflected, as a matter of fact, by the quickly-developing activity of the Office of Studies and Polls after 1968. The leading activities coordinated by the Office were: the quantitative and qualitative surveys about radio and television programmes and also about the reception of those programmes in their chronological and thematic complexity, the translation of an international bibliography dwelling on audio-visual media, the maintenance of the interaction between the audience and the institution – in short, an effort to think and analyse media in order to provide better social assimilation of the information system that Television launches after 1945. To the contemporary reader, the usefulness of this activity is less evident, given the supremacy of the commercial television, first of all due to the – compelled – inaccessibility of the studies concerned with ideological manipulation exerted upon the spreading of information. Nonetheless, the results of the activities of this office bear indisputable documentary importance, because they are utterly tied to the period when pro - Ceauşescu propaganda still had a real social echo. Thus, those Telejurnale (Newscasts), subjected to inquiries, that depicted Nicolae Ceauşescu in the core of international political events received the most substantial ratings in the early 1970s. But the essential information offered by these studies today is the following: the most watched TV shows, around which weaves the social visibility of television, are telefictions, varieties, entertainment magazines, sportscasts and social investigations, and never the shows that displayed an ideological thesis, the outcome of the directions and of the strategies used by the political and cultural institutions of PCR[7] in order to appropriate television. Therefore, I will focus on one analysis, undertaken by the Office of Studies and Polls at the beginning of its activity, during the same capital year in the history of the Romanian Television – 1969. The first paragraph of the survey, called Publicul despre orele de transmisie ale principalelor emisiuni de radio şi de televiziune [The Opinion of the Audience about the Broadcast Schedule of the Main Radio and Television Programmes] begins with this sentence: “Between 5th and 12th October this year, the Office undertook the greatest survey ever.” In the survey, 2000 people from thirteen locations took part, seven of the areas urban and the other six rural[8]. About one hundred operators conducted 7000 interviews with the participants. The aim of this survey was to evaluate the public opinion about the schedules of the radio and television broadcastings and to gather suggestions about possible adjustments. I will deal only with television programmes (the list below reckons fifteen), without bringing into discussion all the parameters of the survey. After unveiling, somehow predictably, the increasing appetite for suggestions of the urban audience (more and more demanding, more and more involved, assuming a more profound social conscience), the authors of the survey provided the list of the shows most often subjected to the proposals of the audience, relevant for the change of the broadcast schedule. This classification allows us, as well, to identify the most popular shows, because one is interested to know at what time a show airs only if one is interested in the show itself. We can also find this statement among the conclusions of the survey. Here is the list of the ten television programmes subordinated to the requests of the audience:

Teleenciclopedia (TeleEncyclopaedia)

Evening at the theatre

Reflector (Spotlight)

Telejurnal (The Newscast, the “night” edition)

Varieties (light music)

Foreign languages lessons

Series (“feuilleton novel”)

Telejurnal (The Newscast, the main edition)

Telecinemateca (The TV Classics, art movie)

Între metronom şi cronometru (Between metronome and chronometer,
Competition TV show)[9]

All information provided by the Office acknowledges the emergence of an “individual culture” in the realm of television. Pavel Câmpeanu emphasizes this collocation in a résumé made on the occasion of a professional reunion at Montreal (21st - 30th June 1969), dedicated to the reflection on the relation between the means of communication and society.[10]

The retrospective examination of the activity of this agency leads to a twofold conclusion. On the one hand, its existence became a major instrument of orientation and normalization of the media institution represented by the Romanian Television at a historic moment when – exceptionally – Ceauşescu’s Communist regime had taken the form of a quasi-natural life framework for a society on its way to economic growth. From this perspective, maybe exaggerating a little, we can speak of an “ideological no man’s land”[11] in which the discourse of a feeble consumer society could have conveyed and then replaced anytime the dull and ascetic discourse of the Communist regime. On the other hand, its activity proved to be, even since its birth, more and more ineffective within a social reality that had to be led in a direction opposite to the one which would have brought the triumph of the “individual cultures”[12]. It turns out that the gradual failure of the Romanian Television as public service is nothing else than a local version of the failure of the Enlightenment project referring to the Western cultural and training institutions, visible in the case of the press and, why not, in the case of the education system in general. It is more than likely that, after the Enlightenment idea of television had perished, the education system had had to face a change of paradigm so as to survive in a world where the totalitarian humanism had died.

Actually, it is easy to realize today the almost total failure of Television, in its attempt to achieve its initial slogan: to inform, to educate, to entertain. The information ultimately melted in the strive for audience which turned it into “infotainment”, education ceased representing the purpose of television programmes everywhere, not only in Romania[13], popular entertainment took all types of TV shows by storm, while high culture was traversing marginal spaces. Television was directly and immediately affected by the process called by Theodor Adorno “neutralization”[14], so as to describe the decay of any political and civilizing ambition of mass culture. It seems that this process was, and still is, inevitable, at the risk of facing any intellectual conscience with the impossibility of “salvation”, other than the individual one.

In the programmes of the Romanian Television at the end of the ‘60s transpires a final attempt – on the occasion of the first signs of the decline of “Gutenberg” paradigm – of the European cultural policy to put into practice the civilizing project of Enlightenment, quite a driving force for the investment of the “new man”, whose totalitarian versions represent nothing more than the obsolete and degraded avatars. The wish for “development”, present in the modern man’s conscience, or the wish for “subjectivation”, if we like, has been, however, articulated in different contexts in the West and East of Europe. In the West, television as public service has been gradually replaced by entertainment television, rather disinterested in “real” politics, as the process of “neutralization” affected social life. Supported by a post - romantic, dichotomous ideology, Eastern television – and especially the Romanian television – had to develop by following a process of ideological seclusion, on the edge and more and more outside the European and the Occidental historical reality from the end of the 20th century. Therefore, it is not censorship the only one that determined the failure of television; the structure of the 1960s - 1970s TV programmes couldn’t remain unchanged, no matter which was the political regime of the country. The structure would have been imprinted by the hegemony of entertainment (hence, by neutralization through dissolution) if it hadn’t become the enclave of the obsessional imaginary of the Ceauşescu couple. The TV-viewers’ social referents and their representation had been nearly completely removed. Most of the Eastern European televisions drew out, throughout the obsessing ‘80s, the agony of the state-owned “public service broadcasting” programmes.

Theoretically, it can be considered that the programmes of the Romanian Television put into practice, around the ‘70s, one of Arnold Gehlen’s ideas, quoted by Habermas in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1985). Habermas places Gehlen on the “postmodernists’” side, criticizing them for their scepticism. He also criticizes the idea that nowadays, at the end of the 20th century, the Enlightenment has seemingly been brought to nought and only the consequences of its project are still visible: for instance, technological development only runs its course, in the sense of an impulse multiplied by inertia, without taking into account the initial reason.[15] As we move away from the ideological half-perplexity of the late ‘60s, this idea appears to be an excellent interpretation of the televisual representations. While the living standard lowers, little by little, during the second half of the ‘70s and Nicolae Ceauşescu’s compulsive perseverance intensifies and stifles the individual’s freedom as a private being, the “humanist” discourse that television should have promoted – an abstract discourse, extremely rational and hence unnatural – ignores its source, its origin. Even though this type of discourse feigns enthusiasm better, it quickly losses its freshness.

At the risk of receiving the reproaches that the traumatized memory has the right to bring to anybody in the name of the absolute dimension specific to any trauma, we must notice symmetry in the everyday conduct in relation to television between 1980 and 2012: there were and there are, even now, people who refuse to watch TV. Their reasons differ, but the mentality stays the same: they do not watch TV anymore since television, as a mass cultural institution, failed to accomplish its educative mission, either because of its ideological submission or commercial debauchery. Lately, a clever TV star, who made her first appearance on PRO TV[16] in the 1990s – Gianina Corondan –, stated in an article that, disappointed in television in general, gave up television. But she accepted the invitation to present a show, in December 2011, on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of TVR. This is what we call a “neutralizing” gesture: I don’t watch TV, I don’t like the television programmes broadcast in Romania, but I am going to present a TV show, for money. Whereas in the 1980s we are witnessing a tense “lack of interest” in the programmes of the Romanian public television, the indifference towards television is total today: we satisfy our most elementary needs in front of TV, we relieve our tiredness, but little do we care about the “meaning of television”.    

1. SOCIAL VALUES PROMOTED BY TELEVISION IN THE LATE

‘60s

Before Ceauşescu ascertained the “backwardness” of Romanian television, but some years afterwards, as well, the structure of the TV programmes could only prove that he was right. Devised to be watched at home, at one’s leisure, with family and friends, television shows failed to forge a political consciousness; they rather contributed to the sharpening of the viewers’ critical thinking. Sooner or later, TV viewers were going to realize that they had been deceived. Only after accepting the convention, Ceauşescu could believe again, but cautiously, in television. Saving that on very few occasions was television willing to exhibit its convention – this happens neither in the case of a tabloid television nowadays, nor in the case of a political tribune, as TVR was going to be. The 1960s are the years when, maybe more than ever in its history, the Romanian television reaffirms its convention, with humour and a sort of attachment to the curious look of the newly-appeared TV viewer. Television can be a school of scepticism – as Antoine Compagnon used to say about “literary theory”. Pointing to its frivolity, television conjures it and only then can it raise claims of seriousness. But television can be a symbolic school of enthusiasm only by gestures of violence.

The year 1968 remains annus mirabilis of the regime, with several political events essential for the consolidation of the regime in the country, but also of its image in the Occident. Firstly, the Plenary Assembly of the Communist Party from 23rd to 25th April, wherein the recent past of the party is “reviewed”, for the elimination of the competitors to the position occupied by Ceauşescu. Especially Alexandru Drăghici, former Minister of the Interior, is accused of serious derogations from the principles of equity and justice promoted by PCR and is practically removed from the managing political structures. On the other hand, former party members, convicted and executed during Dej’s regime are rehabilitated. This political act actually marks the point of resuming from zero the Communist regime in Romania and the deletion from the cultural memory of the period during which Nicolae Ceauşescu was not running the party and the country. The key collocation of his discourse, having consequences also on the policy of television programs, is the “principles of the collective direction and labor” that needed to be instituted at all the levels of public life in Romania, contrary to what had apparently happened before 1965. This collocation expresses the supremacy of the party on the personality of one of its members. Among the echoes of this meeting held at the Radiotelevision, on a general meeting of the Organization of the Radiotelevision Party Bureau, on May 6th, I quote: “We are all aware of the fact that, after the Ninth Congress, the management of our party has made from the consultation of the people, the vault key of its entire activity.”[17] It is the moment when television, for the last time before December 1989, rests with the “people”, who can now indict all the ones who monopolized power for their own benefit. One week later, TVR announces the creation of the second channel (TVR2) and, under the signature of the most prestigious vice president of its entire history, launches what we would call today rebranding; Cerbul de Aur (Golden Stag) festival had had its first edition two months before. In August, the earthquake will take place: the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the troops of the Warsaw Treaty, following which Romania had a singular position within the Pact, through Nicolae Ceauşescu’s voice (along with Yugoslavia, but more prompt and more radical than the one of Tito in the expression of the principle of national sovereignty within the Treaty). Braver than others, Ceauşescu has thus the opportunity to reintroduce discipline in a society on the path of ideological and cultural liberalization, to prevent a possible Soviet intervention. But maximizing the political position of a minor state will have consequences: the increase of vigilance in the internal politics, the return of personal authoritarianism (it is the year in which the forbiddance of the plurality of positions within the party and the State by the same person, voted on the Ninth Congress, is annulled) and the predilection for muster. These reactions will fast result, from the Tenth Congress in 1969 on, in Ceauşescu’s first authoritarian and totalitarian manifestations[18]. We can hence state that, since 1968, the policy of Ceauşescu’s regime will be a maximalist policy which will entrust media with an agenda whose main points will be:

(1) the multiplication and intensification of the references to the anniversary periods and moments in a political and cultural mythology dissociated from the Soviet one of the 1940s-1950s by two points: weakening of the Soviet cultural and political references, in parallel with the development of the cult of national history, where Communism appears as the vault of a national cathedral whose foundations would have been built 2050 years before, upon the creation  of the first Dacian State[19];

(2) the importance conferred upon young people in their capacity of members of a society of workers living in a collectivity animated by collective and national ideals. Ever since February 1971, Ceauşescu stated:

“As you well know, comrades, I am an admirer of the youth, I have been preoccupied with the youth for a long time, and I still am. I highly appreciate it, the youth’s aspirations, wishes, we must promote and help the youth, but I am for a conscious activity of the youth’s training and for not leaving it to chance”.[20]

After the mid-1970s, the second channel of the Romanian television will broadcast every year Revelionul tineretului (Youth’s New Year’s Eve). After 1975, the best television inquiries will bear the symbol “Y” from „youth”;

(3) the industrial and urban development accelerate, given Romania’s delays not only in relation to the West, but also in reference to most Eastern countries;

(4) between 1968 and 1973, the opening towards the Western culture will continue – by taking over, however, more and more elements of classicized European culture with a bourgeois background – with the reduction of contemporary mass culture imports.

We cannot overlook the chance that enabled the age of autonomy and expansion of Romanian television to correspond to a turning point in the evolution of Romanian society during Communism. Fulminant but shallow, television discourse was aimed at filling in a gap: the one between the impetuous and offensive Soviet Communism of the 1960s and the nationalist Communism of the 1980s. Between 1968 and 1973 we are thus witnessing a cultural opening in Romania that was nothing more than the outcome of a discursive void: paradoxically, in this space could burst manifold cultural directions, whose traces were brought to light in television programmes.

During 1966 and 1968, the Romanian television programs knitted a cultural discourse whose ideology rather reminded of a depoliticization of public life and of the correlative valorization of the individual self and cultural entertainment, to the detriment of collectivism and of the former cultural propaganda. Here is a brief review of those social objects that had become valuable because of their somehow frequent thematization through media discourse on content level and also through formal discursive reference:

 

 

2. THE VALORIZATION OF THE PRIVATE SELF-CULTURE

Radio TV magazine is nowadays one of the testimonies of a society based on moderate consumption, of a civil democracy where the State and its institutions start minding the individual and the material values that he cherishes and possesses. A television show[21], broadcast in 1968, revealed that, according to polls, 75% of the families which were about to move in new buildings considered bathroom to be the most important. Later that same year, an edition[22] of Reflector (Spotlight), called “Ah, publicitatea!” (“Oh, publicity!”), criticizes the lack of originality of the advertisements. For a couple of years, Pentru noi, femeile (For Us, the Women) will remain a lifestyle show focusing on the lives of housewives, without taking into account the “educative” principles commended by the new regime. In brief, ten minutes of ads aired daily even since October 18th 1966, at first, at 18.50 p.m., then, in 1968, in primetime, at 19.50 p.m. After 1969, advertisements won’t be as frequent as before. In 1972, between October 8th and 14th, will air only two segments of Publicitate (Publicity), on Tuesday and Saturday, and two editions of Avanpremieră (Preview) (what we call today “promo”). In 1967 airs a feature report headed Blocul A-13, proprietate personală (The Block A-13, Personal Propriety) (June 6th), while on November 9th, the show La ordinea zilei (On the Tapis) will submit to “public debate” the “harmonious union of personal interests with general ones” within Romanian society.

         3. THEPERSONALIZATION OF LANGUAGE

We have already seen how conformist the titles of television programs were. For instance, on March 25th 1967 the show Dosarul X (X File) is released, but its name quickly changes into Dosarul nr... (File no. …). Although it preserved its autonomy, the television discourse at the end of the 1960s was a long way off the achievements of the French television[23], as far as creativity is concerned: the ideological terror of the ‘50s led to a self-censorship that eased the political process of re-ideologizing the Romanian institutions during the ‘70s. The freedom of the programmers was limited to customizing, for example when it came to the presentation of a new show. The new formula of the Sunday TV magazine (Zig-Zag, directed by Dan Mihăescu and Titi Acs, replaces, at the end of April 1968, the old TV 111[24]) is presented as from May in an article entitled Certificat de naştere (Birth Certificate), written in the first person singular:

“Even though I haven’t been born yet, I want to be a remarkable show. So, let me introduce myself in advance:

Name: Zig

Surname: Zag

Birth date: April 28th 1968, 14.15 p.m.

I originate in the family of the entertaining TV shows broadcast on Sunday evenings and I would like to be very much alike them, in what they had the best. (...) I invite you to my anniversary, from 14.15 p.m. to 19.30 p.m.”[25]

This will be the most astute presentation of a TV show in RadioTV magazine throughout its whole existence, the climax of the freedom to use the most dangerous and coveted deictic offered by the Romanian language: I. But this is not the sole occurrence of the pronoun within the texts inserted in the magazine. On page 3 of the December 1st 1968 issue, Transfocator (Zoom) magazine asks: “Are you ready to say: YES?” The question is followed by a piece of dialogue between a judge and a couple that wants to divorce at 28, namely 22 years, a sort of preview of the show. Such an insight into the bowels of television programs, though narrow and singular, must be appreciated in the context of the closing that will come after it and also in the context of the conformism which dominates the central media discourse after 1989.

In 1968 as well, in a programme à la “Carte blanche à”, Eu...şi micul ecran (TV Screen and…I), an artist and his guests give life to a TV show. Like other shows, it will not last long. Both the frequent repetition of the first person singular in the texts published in the magazine and the prevalence of the portraits representing TV stars from the Romanian and European show biz – the premises of a „user-friendly” discourse, the one of the popular magazine shows nowadays – will cease when a new discursive direction gathers way after 1969 and asserts itself after 1973.

The “individualist” turn, taken by TVR while trying to keep the pace with the Occidental pattern[26], starts to dissolve after 1969. The TV magazine for women (Pentru noi, femeile – For us, the Women), whose feminist title evidences a clear assumption of identity, will be replaced in 1970 with Căminul (Home) (broadcast for the first time on June 14th 1970), in order to invest women with social capital and especially to tie them to a social order which subordinated the individual to a collectivity.

4. THE SEPARATION WITH THE SOVIET MASS CULTURE

According to the surveys conducted during the reading of the TV programs, it seems that there was a balance between the number of the Romanian shows and the foreign ones (movies, shows, documentaries, were blended). Thus, in 1966, in the 26th June – 2nd July week were broadcast six Romanian and eight foreign cultural shows. In 1967, between 10th and 16th December, eight Romanian movies and shows were aired, as compared to seven foreign movies and shows. Two of them were aired in socialist countries, three of them were European and the other three American, plus four international sportscasts. The political mark exists, but it has nothing offensive for someone who was familiar with the 1950s and was going to endure the 1980s.

5. CASE STUDY. Dialog la distanţă (Distance Dialogue)

As a proof especially of the detachment from the Soviet propaganda, right after Ceauşescu took over the political power, I am going to talk about the sole edition of the first game show, Dialog la distanţă (Distance Dialogue), that can still be found in the TVR Film Library. The competitors are two regions: Galaţi and Braşov. The ambiguous format of the show – folk and classical music performance, dance and choreography and also a general knowledge contest on national geography and history –, and moreover the reunion in one show of several different regions of the country, alternatively, gave to this show the utmost social importance, contributing at the same time to the national unity of the Romanian society[27]. The show, which lasted about two hours and a half, rejoined in fact two shows (each region used to organize its own show, approximately one hour long), both moderated from the television studio in Bucharest, where the presenters were. Each show was presented in its turn by a well-known Romanian personality. For instance, Ion Besoiu for Braşov, then an actor at the theatre in Sibiu[28]. Those regions that didn’t dispose of the technical resources necessary to set up a live broadcast were forced to move in the neighbouring regions[29]. Thus the show location offered to the representatives of Galaţi was Sala Palatului (The Palace Hall) in Bucharest, recently inaugurated[30]. The edition we are talking about had a board made up of three composers (Radu Şerban, Camelia Dăscălescu and Temistocle Popa). There were nine artistic trials, interrupted by a set of five questions and answers (à la Who knows, wins), limited to economic, historical, geographic, artistic and literary aspects specific to each Romanian region. Here are the sections:

$11.                    The most beautiful and authentic local folk dance (maximum 20 pairs).

$12.                    The best song and dance local ensemble made up of amateurs.

$13.                    “The Young Hoppers”, musicians who played classical musical instruments (lower age limit: 16 years).

$14.                    The best local folk singer (or popular artist).

$15.                    „Let’s Know our Regions”, five questions about “the constructive activity, national customs, cultural values and natural beauties characteristic of each region”[31] (the first part).

$16.                    The best opera or musical comedy singer.

$17.                    The best folk music singer.

$18.                    The best “light music” singer (song).

$19.                    „Let’s Know our Regions” (the second part).

10. The most beautiful folkloric tradition of the region or improvisation.

In the edition of the show that I have watched, one can sense the national inspiration of the introductory speech, but the contest still had some alluring moments: there were humoristic acts (for Braşov), the crowd was cheering the name of the region which they belonged to, and the challenges brought on stage true treasures of popular art. The “light music” singing competition was the most appreciated one by the urban audience[32]. What upset the TV-viewer of such a show – nowadays, however, we have the evidence of the same kind of uneasiness in television reviews – are the duration of the challenges and the uproar of the audience. Moreover, the answers of the competitors to the general knowledge questions were too long, way too detailed and expressed in a wooden language that betokened the terror which ended a few years earlier and which was inappropriate in the age of television[33].

The questions had to be read over again, because the sound system malfunctioned, and the competitors weren’t able to write them down entirely on the first reading. Eventually, the voting procedure had been borrowed from other TV shows, such as Eurovision (whose first edition was in the ‘50s): representatives of each and every region gave a loud-spoken mark, recorded on an electric panel; the marks were from 5 to 10, but the most frequent marks offered in this edition were 9 and 10. An admirable initiative of the organizers was to allow the members of each region to share gifts whose total price was limited to 1500 lei for each region: radio sets, wrist watches and now and then pick-ups. As far back as in 1967, along with the beginning of a new Distance Dialog season, the official comments on the show reveal – there was no surprise, as a matter of fact – the eternal obsession with the economy:

“The challenges stipulated in the new edition of the competition will involve a smaller number of participants, each region having the possibility to present teams of maximum 200 people, obtaining in this way a discount of almost 50% in comparison with the previous series of the show”.[34]

Although lifeless moments didn’t miss from the show – like from any other TV show in that period –, this is why it was worth covering more than 120 minutes of the show: here we are, with moil and toil, to the last challenge: a folk tradition or a spontaneous choreography, each of them presented by a distinct artistic ensemble. The end of the show was supposed to be magnificent. While the team from Braşov chooses to present an entertaining folk dance, the team members from Galaţi choose a Stalinist propagandistic choreography, with thematic dances and revolutionary choruses, staging the victory of socialism in Romania. It was precisely the kind of entertainment the Ceauşescu couple enjoyed the most after 1976. But, in 1967, the jury had drastically disapproved of this choice. Whereas after every round the difference between the number of points gained by every region never exceeded 5 points (after the first round, the score was: Braşov 158 – Galaţi 160), we are witnessing a definite derating of Galaţi: Braşov 159 – Galaţi 145, with marks of 7 for the interpretation of the Moldavian region.

It is enough for us to seize the jury’s disapproval in order to ascertain that what we used to call “the return of the aesthetic” in the literary field of that time, after the long Stalinist age, was not the product of an autonomous critical thinking directed against the opposite political tendency, but an official reaction towards an imperialism which could not be explicitly denounced. This sanction, delivered by the jury of a show supervised at its turn by the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party, represented in fact the official amendment of a political regime which, maintaining its 1948 ideological economic lines, sought a different cultural policy and internal legitimacy for these directions.

One last observation about Dialog la distanţă (Distance Dialogue): which was the target audience and what sort of cultural policy did it involve? The profile of the challenges was obviously folkloric: the aim was to inform the Romanian TV-viewers – the most numerous were from Bucharest – about the Romanian regions, with their beautiful people and landscapes. What missed from this show was the mark of the urban “mass” culture, in course of development, partially represented, since 1968, by “Cerbul de Aur” (“The Golden Stag”). The broadcast of the Romanian traditional culture didn’t peril the Communist regime. Instead, the promotion of the urban culture, of Western European and particularly American origin, implied the risk of a cosmopolite cultural tropism that the regime wanted to avoid. The encouraging of this kind of culture meant the opening towards an ideologically - coloured “exterior”, which was opposite, culturally and economically speaking, from the national ideology. Beyond the obvious closure of Ceauşescu’s regime in the ‘70s, we must stress the fact that Communism was not the sole responsible for the opposition between socialist Romania and Western Europe, but also the shift to commercial, to trivial, of the Western media that gave up the “high” cultural values that it used to embrace, in favour of wider audiences.

We must see in Ceauşescu’s personality cult, developed through anniversary shows performed on stadiums, through the multiplication of the “revolutionary” songs as the result of the contests organised by the Romanian Radiotelevision, through the literary club “Flacăra” (“The Flame”), which begins in 1973 and is broadcast on television to the end of the decay, and in the development without precedent of the performance sports (especially gymnastics), as well, the effort to build up and to accomplish the oxymoron an urban, national and nationalistic culture, a depositary of values opposite to those belonging to “urban” cosmopolitism: national unity, enthusiasm for collective labour and for the idea of collectivity, “revolutionary Romanticism”. It is the realm where television could only fail, because the regime did not understood at that time a thing that is extremely evident nowadays: if literature can be national, in the first place through the basic principles of the modern text reading, television is, first of all, cosmopolite, transnational, a bearer of cultural examples. The illusion of a national television couldn’t have lasted for too long: the 90s demonstrated it abundantly.


Bibliography

 

The National Archives of Romania.

The Archives of the Municipality of Bucharest.

The Romanian Film Library of TVR (Filmoteca TVR).

*** (2007). PCR şi intelectualii în primii ani ai regimului Ceauşescu (1965-1972), Arhivele Naţionale ale României, Bucureşti,

ADORNO, Theodor, Max HORKHEIMER , Dialectic of Enlightenment. Cultural Memory in the Present, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 2002.

CÂMPEANU, Pavel, Oamenii şi televiziunea. O privire sociologică asupra telespectatorului. Editura Meridiane, Bucureşti, 1979.

CIOROIANU, Adrian, Pe umerii lui Marx. O introducere în istoria comunismului românesc, Curtea Veche Publishing, Bucureşti, 2007.

CONSTANTINIU, Florin, O istorie a românilor, Fundaţia Culturală Română, Centrul de Studii Transilvane, Cluj-Napoca, 1998.

HOOG, Emmanuel, La Télé. Une histoire en direct, Gallimard, Paris, 2010.

POPESCU, Dumitru, Am fost şi cioplitor de himere, Editura Expres, Bucureşti, 1993.




[1] The title of the article is “Emisiunile şi publicul lor” [“Television shows and their audience”], RadioTV, no. 844, p. 3.

[2] Pavel Câmpeanu (1920-2003) was going to be in the 1980s one of Ceauşescu’s opponents. He emigrates in the USA and, in 2002, his name reappears on the Romanian book market, with an extremely critical biography of Ceauşescu (Ceauşescu, anii numărătorii inverse [Ceauşescu, the Years of the Countdown], Iaşi: Polirom). Beginning with the 1980s, he publishes in the USA several books written in English, most of them broaching the Romanian Communism.   

[3] The subtitle of Pavel Câmpeanu’s book is O privire sociologică asupra telespectatorului [A Sociological Insight into the Conduct of the TV-viewers, Meridiane, Bucureşti, 1979). The study contains data from the almost-coming-to-an-end decade. Obviously, none of the author’s predictions referring to the development of television in Romania didn’t fulfil until 1989. However, it must be said that this happened due to other reasons pertaining to television marketing in Post - Communism.

[4] Chapter 15, Bucureşti: Curtea Veche Publishing, 2007, the 2nd edition, pp. 443-466.

[5] RadioTV, no. 49, 1968, p. 16. The Office members: Pavel Câmpeanu (General Secretary), Damian Liviu, Buia Octavian, Popovici Jean, Baron Petre, Herşcovici Simon, Braşoveanu Maria. The Office is narrowed today to a bureau with two employees, retired sociologists, and victims of an institutional policy which despises the role of the (sociological) research in television.

[6] Discussions with television directors from back then reveal that nobody paid too much attention, not even at the very beginning, to the monthly or annual results published by the Office. The reason why this happened is that the Office had no political authority – the sole kind of authority which was accepted, and not only during Communism.

[7] The Romanian acronym for The Romanian Communist Party.

[8] The proportion doesn’t respect the demographic account of Romania in 1969. 

[9] The modest place occupied by telefictions is due to the fact that movies and TV series are generally broadcast at peak hours (the prime time lasts from 8 p.m. to 8.30 p.m.), hence the audience has no reasons to request that they aired at other time.

[10] The quotes and the information on the survey discussed in this study have been taken from the file “Legătura cu ascultătorii şi telespectatorii” [“The Relation with the Listeners and the TV – Viewers”], 1969, SRR Archives.   

[11] Florin CONSTANTINIU, “România între 1944 şi 1989” [“Romania between 1944 and 1989”], in O istorie a românilor [A History of the Romanians], Fundaţia Culturală Română, Centrul de Studii Transilvane, Cluj-Napoca, 1998, p. 341.

[12] The illusions of this triumph, hidden behind the attribute “individual”, are extremely recognizable nowadays within a capitalist system that promotes the exacerbation of raw desires and their satisfaction on pretext of encouraging the exercise of the “freedom of the will”.

[13] I refer to the project of educational television and to television as a cultural and intellectual “mentor”; “educative” shows last, of course, in the sphere of the public channels, but they don’t set the fashion in today’s television.  

[14] “Talking about culture has always been contrary to culture”. Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment. Cultural Memory in the Present, Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 2002; see chapter “The Cultural Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”.

[15] “A self-sufficiently advancing modernization of society has separated itself from the impulses of a cultural modernity, that has seemingly become obsolete in the meantime”, Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1987, p. 3, quoted in Rareş Moldovan, Simptomatologii, Editura Limes, Cluj, 2011. In this book, Rareş Moldovan makes an excellent history of the Western “theory”, based on the criterion of the relation between “philosophical” and “historical”, permanently modified in modernity. My analysis of “televisual culture” finds here the opportunity to discuss the “theoretical” signification of the Communism, from the perspective of the historical radicalism, particularly popular in Romania, even nowadays.

[16] The first place on the market, since its launching on 1st December 1995, on the account of the main commercial and prestige parameters: information, entertainment, peak hours, urban population (18 - 49 years old).  

[17]File 9, Party’s Committee of the 7th District, Radiotelevision, fund 50. page 36. Archives of the Municipality of Bucharest - AMB.

[18]See Dumitru Popescu’s book Am fost şi cioplitor de himere [I Was an Illusions Carver], Editura Expres, Bucureşti, 1993, p. 158.

[19]This anniversary was celebrated in 1980, and a movie was launched on this occasion, Burebista, directed by Gheorghe Vitanidis. Since 1974, television broadcast every year, upon Ceauşescu’s anniversary, a Romanian historical movie celebrating the character of the voivode which metonymically referred to his figure.

[20]Nicolae Ceauşescu’s speech from 10th February 1971, rendered in PCR şi intelectualii în primii ani ai regimului Ceauşescu (1965-1972) [PCR and the Intellectuals in the First Years of the Ceauşescu Regime (1965-1972)], Bucureşti, Arhivele Naţionale ale României, 2007, p. 294.

[21]Transfocator (Zoom), reg. no. S8086, Filmoteca TVR (TVR Film Library).

[22]From 19th January 1968, Filmoteca TVR.

[23] See the chapter “The eight art”, in Emmanuel HOOG, La Télé. Une histoire en direct, Gallimard, Paris, 2010.

[24] TV 111 is another interactive show that begins in 1966, whose title represents the phone number that the TV-viewers have to dial to ask to listen to songs interpreted by Romanian or foreign artists. The first producer of TV 111 was Valeriu Lazarov.

[25] RTV, no. 17 (858) 1968, p. 21. The show will last six months.

[26] With the following major difference: in the West, advertising aims at increasing the consumption of goods, while in Romania it is conceived as an annexational service, offered to puzzled citizens by state-owned enterprises. However, the rhetoric resemblance cannot be denied. It is necessary to notice that, in France, TV advertising appears as an argument in favor of the national economy only in 1968, after many hesitations (see Emmanuel HOOG, quoted work, pp. 50-51).

[27] Dialog la distanţă [Distance Dialogue], 26th February 1967, reg. no. T127/4, Filmoteca TVR.

[28] According to Ion Bucheru. Ion Besoiu was 30 years old about that time and this was the moment for him to enter showbiz. In Galaţi, the presenter was Mihai Florea.

[29] There were five regions out of sixteen in this situation: Argeş, Galaţi, Maramureş, Oltenia şi Suceava.

[30] In 1960.

[31] Quote from the file found in the Documentary Archive of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party (Subversion and Propaganda), 1948-1976, reg. no. 45/1966, ANR.

[32] This could be the reason the film which displayed this evidence is missing from the recording tape of the show.

[33] An answer uttered by a young lady with trembling voice about an industrial unit in Galaţi contained the following syntagm, that was going to come later to a climax on TV: “the rolling mill has been inaugurated…in the presence of the comrade Nicolae Ceauşescu”.   

[34] Note about watching the competition TV show Distance Dialogue, Direcţia de Presă şi Edituri a CC al PCR [The Press and Publishing Direction of the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party]. The author is Bujor Sion, future President of the Radio and Television Committee, director of the Press and Publishing Department. The total cost for 28 hours of broadcasting is estimated at 500.000 lei. “Cerbul de aur” (“The Golden Stag”) cost about 1.200.000 lei (for five days of broadcasting).