Negotiating Screens of Past Protests

In November, cinema scholar Malin Wahlgren was invited to speak about her ongoing research at one of our project seminars. The research was centered on what Wahlgren conceptualized as solidarity programming in Swedish public service television between the late 1960s and early 1970s. It addressed how alternative documentary films about topics such as black liberation movements in Southern Africa and reports from the Vietnam war found their way in to the programming of Swedish public television (SR, now SVT). Wahlgren explores this process by studying discussions between executives, editors, film makers and distribution agencies, inside and outside of SR, concerning the inclusion of these films. The films were often met with critical response from the public as well as from the board and executives of SR, who, as Wahlgren found, were concerned with preserving the objectivity and reliability of the current affairs programming.

Compared to the empirical focus of the Screening Protest project, Wahlgren focuses more on what goes on behind the scenes when protest and other politically charged subjects are screened on television. It deals less directly with questions concerning representation, which is at the heart of the project, and more with the context of production in the mediation process.

A point that is recognized in our project is that different narrative genres are often associated with different expectations about what is allowed, and is not, on the television screen. Journalists may for instance be expected to honor norms of objectivity when producing news, while screenwriters, for instance, are not. That is also why we have different studies, which compare representations of protest in popular culture with the ones in the news, as well as between newsrooms, to see how they vary. What I find interesting with Wahlgren’s research is that, in spite of being limited to a specific historical context, it arguably offers an interesting perspective on how such expectations may vary, not only according to genre, but also become subject to change over time or in particular moments.

Although we are working with different source materials, a question I took with me from that seminar was whether and how we can find the traces of those changes in the televisual representations of protest over time. The video for this post is a trailer from a documentary called Concerning Violence (2014) by Swedish director Göran Hugo Olsson, and which features footage from some of the films discussed in Wahlgren’s research.

Martin Karlsson