According to Vilém Flusser, all revolutions are technological revolutions. Revolution is reshaping, restructuring, transformation, upheaval, reversal, innovation, and above all, die Wende (“a turning point”; also, East Germany’s transition to democracy). But what is television? What does the mass medium broadcast? What direction do the masses take when they take their directions from the mass media?
In 1990, in connection with the work on my essay film 1989 – The Revolution on Television – The Real Power of TV (1991), I took part in The Media Are with Us!, a symposium in Budapest. There I heard Flusser say that “whatever happened there [in Bucharest], may, in the future, be interpreted as a turning point” (“Television Image and Political Space in the Light of the Romanian Revolution,” in: “We Shall Survive in the Memory of Others,” 2010, p. 16).
What happened in Romania around Christmas 1989 was presented on the screens of the world as a “revolution on television.” Popularized by the Western mass media, this “docudrama” had already been running all year on the news: starting with the peaceful reshaping of the state apparatus in Poland with the cooperation of the Solidarity trade union, followed by daily episodes of East German refugee dramas in Hungary and what was then Czechoslovakia, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall, right up to the unrest in Romania, and concluding with the toppling and execution of the ruling couple, Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu.
On television, the (U-)turn taken by the Eastern Bloc states in 1989 took place in linear, causal contexts: the audiovisual representation – as Flusser might say – of a historical consciousness shaped by writing. But, as he wrote, “[…] [A televised] image transforms the world into a scene. Like in a theatre, scene. […] And [televised] image is the possibility for me to step out from the world and see it from outside [televisually, from a distance]. […] So they are mediations. They mean the world. But by meaning the world, they also hide it.” (ibid., pp. 16–17).
So the revolution shown on television was the Wende that could be seen from afar. This upheaval in the distance aroused the suspicion that in reality a mask made out of “videograms of a revolution” (also the name of a 1992 film by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica) was hiding a coup on television.
Original article by Gusztáv Hámos