Loughborough University
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Loughborough University

Screening Socialism

Modernity and TV

State socialist regimes were perhaps slow to recognise the importance of television as a means for disseminating their world view. However, as the potential of the medium became apparent in the 1950s, socialist leaderships began to take more notice of the medium. In a cultural Cold War where rivalry between the two camps was premised on competing visions of the good life, television became a battleground – a fact shown starkly during the so-called kitchen debate between Khrushchev and Nixon’s in 1959, where Nixon’s claim that the US was ahead of the Soviet Union in colour television technology was angrily rebutted by the Soviet leader. Television offered one of the means by which socialist regimes told their citizens they were entering the modern age. Like fridges, cars, and private apartments, the arrival of television showed that socialist regimes were capable of bringing advanced technology to the masses. Over the course of the 1960s, vast television towers were erected in Moscow and Berlin, symbolising the importance attached to television by socialist regimes, but also acting as a marker of socialist progress. At the same time, TV sets were becoming more and more widely available in shops across the region, and increasingly featured as an important element of modern consumer culture. 

TV entertainment can be seen as an integral part of the effort to establish a socialist modernity. Socialist elites were initially reluctant to accept entertainment as a legitimate and valuable ingredient of TV programming, but they gradually accepted that socialist citizens had “the right to relax in front of the television after a day’s work”, as the Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev reportedly said in the early 1970s. As a result, socialist broadcasters grew increasingly adept at producing entertainment programmes that attracted high audience ratings, ranging from the East German TV show Ein Kessel Buntes (A Kettle of Fun) to Soviet TV quizzes A nu-ka, devushki! [Let’s Go, Girls!] and its male equivalent A nu-ka, parni! [Let’s Go, Guys!].   


PHOTO: TV towers often functioned as symbols of modernity, offering material demonstration of the state’s ability to master modern technology. TV tower in Berlin, East Germany, 1970. Source: Fortepan/ ID 93575, LHM.



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