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Modern Media, Modern Audiences: Mass Media and Social Engineering in the 1930s Swedish Welfare State
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Cinema Studies.
2002 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The dissertation straddles the interface of mass media, social engineering and advertising in 1930s Stockholm. Its twofold objective is firstly to outline their cultural output, targeting predominantly feminine audiences. Discussions oscillate between intertextual and contextual levels, and elucidate the spaces providing the respective settings for these media. Advertising is claimed to establish spatiotemporal spheres where the everyday meets with the semi-fictional framework of films or tie-in contests, which are thereby expanded in multifarious ways. The study also argues that newsreels visualize history overlooked in canonized history writing, by providing documentary and navigatory instruments in urban milieus now lost.

Secondly, the study encircles two sets of discourses underpinning the mass media of the nascent welfare state, the former encompassing advertising, hygiene and eugenics. The latter is a prismatic construction of the public – highlighted as citizens, consumers and patients. Exhibitions and non-fiction films often encouraged spectators to compare their life projects, medical profiles and lifestyles with those of object lessons or newsreels, channeling imperatives into them by elevating their everyday experiences and concerns to issues of national importance. The methodology is partly drawn from early film and visual culture theory, partly from feminist early film scholarship on filmgoing and the problematic of feminine mobility in consumerist culture. Contrary to the conceptualization of feminine flânerie as contained by patriarchal capitalism, the dissertation holds that a gender-coded framework does not nullify the value of women’s mobility, or reduce it to capitalist goals. A wider understanding of consumerist spaces and venues entails treating them as spheres simultaneously harboring commercially homogenizing and polysemic capacities.

Chapter 1

highlights the Stockholm Exhibition 1930, presenting the grounds as a literal and conceptual panorama of architectonics, objects and issues. In contrast to several analyses of its reception, this concerns the modes of spectating adopted or rejected by audiences and critics, and the sensory and bodily implications of disorientation or discomfort brought about by glass architecture. The film Brokiga Blad is regarded as an instance of film-mediated reception, involving a gaze precipitated by a mixture of awe and rural skepsis towards functionalism.

Chapter 2

presents case studies of media with the welfare effort and the eugenics program as a backdrop. The exhibition "Mor och Barn" specifically targeted female visitors, who were called on to reflect on their part in the nation’s dwindling birth rates. This and other media events concretized the eugenic ideology’s vision of a healthier human type, and provided training grounds for opening up the private sphere to scrutiny, and the spectators themselves to civic soul-searching and introspection.

Chapter 3

accounts for marketing policies, elucidating the interrelationship of exhibitions, films, contests and discourses on advertising. To reconstructs filmic arenas offering readers a peak at their local stars, or to learn screen dance, a few periodicals and film-related ephemera are presented.

Chapter 4

first discusses buildings offering women architectonic, cinematic, and commodity-trapped attractions. The second part is devoted to the moral outrage expressed by social reformists, worried by the perceived expansion and fusion of degenerating urban pleasures. They believed that the lifestyles of Hollywood films would jeopardize young women’s sexual virtue by, putting "ideas" into their heads. Nevertheless, indications are given that some girls were in fact attracted to the commodity values of urbanity, to the point of transgressing sexual norms to attain a desired lifestyle.

Chapter 5

focuses upon the movement Hälsa genom Nakenkultur (HgN) and its alternative to urban popular culture: nudism. If the imagery carried the strongest rhetorical force for spreading the nudist credo, the exposure of nakedness was a delicate matter. To contain the potentially expansiveness of sexual connotations, the dissertation argues, nudity was screened with acculturating codes, and a repertoire of legitimizing poses, gestures and activities.

Chapter 6

discusses exhibitions launched as lobbying tools for putting the Vacations Act into operation, and the formulation of the issue as a social, economic and cultural problem. Visual culture theory is the framework for teasing out the educational aspects of displays and tableaux. From its overall topography down to vehicles, tents and books, "Fritiden" is likened to a Heideggerian toolbox, providing a connection between eye and hand, necessary for achieving an embodied understanding of the vacation and its attributes.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Aura Förlag , 2002. , 254 p.
Keyword [sv]
Visuell kultur, urbanitet, kvinnor, mediehistoria, reception, välfärdsstaten
National Category
Studies on Film
Research subject
Cinema Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-10356ISBN: 91-628-5507-7OAI: diva2:176875
Public defence
2002-12-21, Föreläsningssalen, Filmhuset, Borgvägen 5, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2007-12-29 Created: 2007-12-29 Last updated: 2009-12-10Bibliographically approved

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Habel, Ylva
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