The Songs of the Siren: Engineering National Time on Israeli Radio

Abstract

This article explores how Israeli radio stations regulate national time in accordance with Jewish–Zionist temporal regimes. Informed by an ethnographic study of popular music programming on national and regional radio stations it is shown how broadcasting schedules operate as a uniform pendulum alternating between everyday life and times of commemoration or emergency. Following examples of music broadcasting during Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers, the first Gulf War and terror attacks during the second Palestinian Intifadah the author explores a practice of “mood shifting” that is borrowed from the bureaucratic logic of commemoration rituals to times of war and terror attacks. The mood shift activates a commemorative mode that echoes sacred mnemonic devices of Jewish remembrance. Consequently, it is argued that times of emergency in Israeli culture are represented through and subordinated to sacred experience, substituting a political interpretation of terrorism with a mythic framework.

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"Radio." May 2009 via Danny Kaplan.

Editorial Overview

How have modern media transformed the expanse and meaning of ritual? How do these media rituals influence identity? Can the modern nation be understood as the product of collectivized ritual experience? In the February 2009 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Danny Kaplan explores how radio regulates collective time, and provides a new means for the engineering of national identification.

Many studies of nationalism in recent decades have focused upon the ritualized reading of print media in the creation of an “imagined community.” Building on Benedict Anderson's discussion of time and nationalism, in which mass media are framed as mechanisms for shaping common social imaginaries along the lines of national identity, Kaplan’s work highlights another omnipresent but often overlooked aspect of these national imaginaries- music radio. Despite its seemingly “universal, individualist, and at times rebellious ethos” (319), pop rock music’s capacity to shape moods makes this medium uniquely well suited for the subtle engineering of collective experience and national sentiment. In the case of Israel, Jewish national radio programming began in Palestine in 1936, and radio has played a central role in the subsequent development of national identity.

To better understand the conceptualization and implementation of musical mood enhancement by public agents, Kaplan undertook an ethnographic study of popular music programming on national and regional radio stations. Through interviews with Israeli music programmers, Kaplan demonstrates their role as interpreters and engineers of collective meanings in contemporary moments of national significance who foster a sense of national identity through both the selection and timing of songs. Drawing upon a common habitus, these disc jockeys show a marked uniformity in their choices. In times of commemoration, such as the Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers or Holocaust Memorial Day, programmers focus on a genre known as homeland songs, which produces a collective mood of commemoration and solemnity. In cases of a terror attack, programmers are left with the gruesome task of determining whether an attack constitutes an emergency- those deemed serious enough are met with a musical mood shift, which in turn produces a public mood shift into a state of emergency. Through their engineering of the public reaction to a violent event, broadcasters play a central role in determining the importance of this event in public consciousness as well as in affirming national identity through collective experience.

This ritualization has repercussions for interpretation of as well as responses to emergency events. Kaplan notes a close correspondence between the commemorative mode and the emergency mode as engineered on the radio- through this similarity, tragic events from centuries apart become linked, representing contemporary moments of emergency as sacred. Such incorporation of emergencies into mythic national narratives, Kaplan points out, deters from pursuing a political interpretation of events in terms of actors, cause, and effect, instead producing a desire for grand and drastic action- hence justifying otherwise unjustifiable collective action.

Kaplan’s article insightfully analyzes the role of mass media in the production and reproduction of national identity. Through the often overlooked aspect of radio music programming, he further highlights the collective emotions aroused through aural rituals. Finally, by demonstrating how ritualization on Israeli radio elevates contemporary emergency to the level of the mythic and the sacred, Kaplan’s work provides a unique perspective on the potential effects of ritualization upon politics.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published essays on the use of radio. These include, Brian Silverstein's “Disciplines of Presence in Modern Turkey: Discourse, Companionship, and the Mass Mediation of Islamic Practice” (2008); Laura Kunreuther's “Technologies of the Voice: FM Radio, Telephone, and the Nepali Diaspora in Kathmandu” (2006); and Nickola Pazderick's “Recovering True Selves in the Electro-Spiritual Field of Universal Love” (2004).

Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of other essays on Israel and the Middle East. See Lori Allen's “Getting By the Occupation: How Violence Became Normal during the Second Palestinian Intifada” (2008); Galit Saada-Ophir's “Borderland Pop: Arab Jewish Musicians and the Politics of Performance” (2006); and Alex Weingrod's “Changing Israeli Landscapes: Buildings and the Uses of the Past” (1993).

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"Ceremony on Mount Herzel marking the shift from Memorial day to Independence Day." May 2009 via Danny Kaplan.

About the Author

Danny Kaplan is currently a professor at Bar Ilan University and Tel Aviv-Yafo Academic College. He is the author of Brothers and Others in Arms: The Making of Love and War in Israeli Combat Units (Haworth Press 2003) and The Men We Loved: Male Friendship and Nationalism in Israeli Culture (Berghahn Books 2006).

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"Danny Kaplan." May 2009 via Danny Kaplan.

Multimedia

The Amichai Project for Israel website links to dozens of streaming Israeli radio stations, as well as a number of music charts and live video broadcasts.

In the essay, Kaplan writes about mizrachi "oriental" music. Specifically, he mentions Kobi Peretz as a popular mizrachi performer. The comments on Peretz's videos seem to show that he has a wide audience globally, with people from italy and france typing in their support.

Here is a clip of the Tel Aviv born singer performing Balbeli Oto ("Confuse Him"):

Questions for Classroom Discussion

1. Most commonly, media is thought of as a vehicle for carrying information. But media serve many other functions. Kaplan writes about how music programming “presents new ways for engineering national identification” and “regulates time in a uniform manner.” Media can also be used for negotiating indigenous identity (Ginsburg 2008), shaping social imaginaries (Anderson 1991), “mood enhancement” (DeNora 2000), and distributing “glory” in order to legitimate political-economic systems (Agamben 2007). Scholarship on the creation and maintenance of different “publics” has highlighted the importance of various media in shaping forms of collectivity and participation (Habermas 1991; Taylor 2004; Warner 2005) and the historical development of media technologies has had important effects on the politics of participation in flows of knowledge and information (Castells 2000; Kelty 2005). How else are media used?

2. Kaplan could not have produced his insights by listening to one or a few broadcasts. It took an in-depth, “jewelers eye view,” over a long period of time. How did his insider/outsider status help him to write this essay?

3. While the following list of questions can be asked about individuals pieces of media, or individual performances, another level of analysis requires addressing these questions to entire systems of media: What kinds of collectivity enable and orient this medium? What kind of technical infrastructure did it build on and possibly extend? What economic infrastructure enabled the medium? What social and political-economic landscape does the medium operate within, and how have EEM producers read this landscape? What is the structure and logic of the medium and whom does it address? What kinds of translation are attempted? And, then, who watches? What kinds of subjects are constituted through interaction with this medium? What kinds of insight are provoked? What kind of collectivity is engendered, and how sustainable does it seem to be? What further communications result? What kind of political action is provoked?

4. The "MTV generation" refers to people that grew up overstimulated, soaking up flashy fast-cutting media and as a result are require lots of quick transitions to hold their attention. Kaplan argues that Israeli radio "regulates" the collective sense of time. In what other ways do the media we consume actually transform how we sense the world?

5. One of Kaplan's main arguments is that “times of emergency are represented through and subordinated to sacred, mythic experience" and he suggests "possible political implications in terms of the cultural responses to terrorism." What is the "political" orientation of Kaplan's essay? What do you think of his use "zionist?" When he argues that a "political interpretation of terrorism" is substituted by a "mythic framework," do you think the term "mythic" connotes "not true?" story-like? false? shared?

6. Anderson argued that, as Kaplan writes, “newspapers linked in the readers’ imagination unrelated yet concurrently occurring events… as a result, a growing number of people could increasingly imagine themselves living their lives in parallel to fellow readers, sharing a strong sense of common identity and destiny. Through the faculty of simultaneity-in-time the nation could thus be envisioned as a single social body moving uniformly through historical time." Could new media that is increasingly global in its reach (the Internet, the New York Times Global Edition), foster a new kind of imagined global community? Furthermore, can Anderson’s account of the “reading community” be extended to account for the “writing communities” that emerge with more participatory new media technologies?

7. What is Kaplan’s “object?” Is it the songs? The siren? Time?

8. This essay is “informed by an ethnographic study of national and regional radio stations in Israel," a research report submitted to the Second Authority for Television and Radio. What is the “Second Authority?” According to their website, “The Second Authority… represents the public interest in the commercial broadcasting channels in Israel, enables their operations and regulates them, promotes original productions, protects against the offense of the public interest, encourages the incorporation of public interest contents and initiates studies on the social effects of the broadcasts." What is this “public interest” they speak of? Also see the wiki page on the Second Authority.

Recent Publications by the Author

Kaplan, Danny. "Commemorating a 'suspended death': Missing soldiers and national solidarity in Israel." American Ethnologist 35.3(2008): 413-427.

__________. "What can the concept of friendship contribute to the study of national identity?" Nations and Nationalism 13.2(2007): 225-244.

__________. "Folk models of dyadic male bonding in Israeli culture." Sociological Quarterly 48.1(2007): 47-72.

Kaplan, Danny and Niza Yanay. "Fraternal friendship and commemorative desire." Social Analysis 50.1(2006): 127-146.

Kaplan, Danny. "Public intimacy: Dynamics of seduction in male homosocial interactions." Symbolic Interaction 28.4(2005): 571-595.

Related Readings

Abu-Lughod, Lila. Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt. 1st ed. University Of Chicago Press, 2004.

Agamben, Giorgio. "The Power and the Glory." 11th B. N. Ganguli Memorial Lecture January 11, 2007, CSDS. http://foucaultblog.wordpress.com/2007/03/18/agamben-lecture-power-and-the-glory/.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991.

Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society (New Edition) (The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Volume 1). 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, January 15, 2000.

DeNora, Tia. Music in Everyday Life. 1st ed. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Ginsburg, Faye. "Rethinking the Digital Age." In Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. The MIT Press, 1991.

Kelty, Chris. "Geeks, Social Imaginaries, and Recursive Publics." Cultural Anthropology, 20.2(2005): 185-214.

Lipsitz, George. "The Meaning of Memory: Family, Class, and Ethnicity in Early Network Television Programs." Cultural Anthropology 1.4(1986): 355-387.

Manuel, Peter. Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India. 1st ed. University Of Chicago Press, 1993.

Spitulnik, D. "Anthropology and Mass Media." Annual Review of Anthropology. 22(1993): 293.

Taylor, Charles. Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004.

Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics. Zone Books, 2005.

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