Table of Contents
2. AustroPop - a transcultural style and a product of cultural contact
2.1 The imaginary America – Cultural transformations linked to America
2.2 Short History of Austropop
3. An example of cultural translation
3.1. The Boss of America – Bruce Springsteen
3.2. Da Chef ausn Gemeindebau – Ostbahn-Kurti
3.3. Fire vs. Feuer.
6. Appendix I
This paper is the culmination of thoughts and ideas I have been exchanging with students and professors from Austria and the Stanford University in the course of the CSI: Vienna class in the spring term of 2009. I have been invited to attend a class while visiting Stanford in order to do research on my diploma thesis, and I ended up being sucked into the topic and the multitude of aspects it incorporates. Cultural exchange used to be a topic I did not understand and even avoid because it seemed too difficult to fully grasp and explain. Not only did the course highlight the complexity of the topic, it even posed more questions than it answered.
But it was the possibility to reflect, compare and discuss cultural transformations with people in class after reading various texts that tried to explain it, that made me aware of the vastness, 'multi-layeredness' and flexibility of cultural transformation. So many 'aspects of change' could be analyzed and the beauty of how cultural exchange helps to create something new can be brought to light – in culture, the possibilities seem limitless.
Writing this paper also helped me to realize my own narrow-mindedness – For me, Ostbahn-Kurti and Austropop used to be almost defamatory elements of Austrian culture (see 'Schifoan' or 'Fürstenfeld') that I have not considered 'valuable' representations of 'Austrianness'. But by reading about it and rethinking the concepts of culture and national identity and also the ideas behind Austropop and Ostbahn-Kurti, I have gained constructive insights into Austrian culture and have learned to appreciate Austropop and what it stands for.
In this paper, I have tried to describe what a cultural transformation can be, using Austropop as a specifically Austrian example. For that, I first have rethought articles by Erward Larkey, Richard Wagnleitner and Gerd Gemünden, who we have read and discussed in class. Their contributions and the critical class debates were necessary in order to understand cultural exchanges in a German speaking context. Going back in history and reconsidering the roots of certain developments can shed light on the reasons for their existence, as in the case of Austropop. Therefore, I have added a short history of Austropop that focuses more on the how and why than on its actors. In chapter three, I have analyzed a particular Austropop artist and compared him to his American 'counterpart' and pointed out the differences, similarities and especially novelties that came to life through a cultural exchange.
Through this paper I have not only gained further insights into cultural studies and the cultural transformations that surround us, but also into the Austrian culture, the culture I consider myself part of, that often seems too close and therefore everything seems to be obvious. By distancing myself from this culture and viewing it from a different perspective, I have become aware of the fact that not everything is what it seems and that some cultural assets need to reviewed and analyzed in order to be fully understood.
2. AustroPop: a transcultural style and a product of cultural contact
Austropop, as the name implies, is a specifically Austrian phenomenon. Its name, the combination of Austro- and -pop, short for popular, gives already away some of its meaning. Even if 'popular culture' normally includes all forms of artistic expression, in the case of Austropop is it mainly associated with popular music produced in Austria, by Austrian artists or artists living in Austria. It is a particular form of popular music that has emerged around 1971 as a product of the a greater cultural influence from abroad and the student protest movement, and although the student movement did not prevail, it did at least continue to exercise some influence over the first generation of Austropop artists like Wolfgang Ambros and Georg Danzer. Later Austropop artists including Ostbahn-Kurti or Jazz-Gitti were less connected to the student and protest surroundings, although they did express some sort of social criticism or comment.
In his article “Austropop: Popular Music and National Identity in Austria”, Edward Larkey describes Austropop as a “transnational or transcultural style”.(Larkey, 151) This transcultural style is a mix of new, imported styles of music, fashion, art, etc. with the existing, local styles. Through this melange, a new style is created. And subsequently, these new styles have influence on the domestic culture and society. (see Larkey, 151) But how do these transcultural styles function in our society?
According to Gemünden, consumers are active in their reception – they deliberately select and position signs and re-locate them in new contexts, but do not simply subordinate to what they receive from outside. Therefore, reception should be considered a creative process, not a one-way street. (see Gemünden, 37) Larkey agrees with this view point and bases his “model of diffusion and tradition-formation for popular music innovations” on the idea of the creative consumer. (Larkey, 151) In this model, he differentiates between “4 historically apparent phases” that can be applied to the development of Austropop as a transcultural style (Larkey, 151):
”1. consumption of the new musical culture by new audiences in Austria;”(Larkey, 151)
As mentioned above, the reception process is highly creative and involves the selection of particular ideas that the audiences like and want to apply and adapt themselves. This selection leads to phase 2 of the model.
“2. imitation of the innovations by domestic rock and pop musicians and groups after its acceptance by the valorising audience communities;”(Larkey, 151)
The local artists imitate and reproduce the foreign musical styles for the local audiences that have accepted some innovations. By imitating and copying the foreign cultural styles, the local artists can make themselves acquainted with novelties and continue the selection process. To attract new audiences, the innovations need to be put into the local context, for example by adapting the language, which happens in phase 3.
“3. de-anglicisation of the imported music, incorporating new musical elements into the repertoires of the domestic groups. A further element of this phase is the stabilisation and institutional consolidation of 'spontaneously'-emerging audience communities into socio-cultural groupings which enter into competition and negotiation along the lines of musical culture and style with other preexisting one;” (Larkey, 152 ff.)
This process of de-anglicization can be seen as a crucial step in the course of the full establishment of the foreign musical style and its innovations in the domestic music. It is also the phase in which first groupings around the new musical styles occur that are negotiating their place in the domestic scene, e.g. the New Wavers vs. the Punks, the Austropoppers vs. the folk music fans.(see Larkey, 152)
“4. the re-ethnification of these styles as independent centres of creativity and innovation and the struggle for their cultural legitimacy with the 'established' traditions, resulting in socio-cultural alliances with a hierarchical, hegemonic structure.” (Larkey, 153)
In this fourth and final step, the new musical style is being fully imported and adapted to the local cultural circumstances and becomes an accepted cultural asset of the local culture, challenging the dominant culture.
This model of diffusion can be easily applied to any cultural exchange, especially concerning music and the arts. However, it is important to keep in mind that a cultural exchange does not function one way or according to Adorno, can be described as a 'cultural imperialism' - one culture imposing itself on the other and slowly superseding the local culture. (see Adorno, 1 ff.) Rather it comes to an adaption and re-interpretation of cultural assets, a mingling of something new from abroad and the pre-existing old, as described by Larkey. For Austropop, it was mainly the contact with English speaking countries and their music that triggered its development.
2.1 The imaginary America – Cultural transformations linked to America
According to Gemünden, America has always had a specific place and role in the minds of people all over the world and especially in German speaking countries.(see Gmünden, 16ff.) The idea of America, the imaginary America, has a long tradition that has its roots in America's discovery and the myths that arose with it. America became a place in the mind of people, an Eden, a place where one could start all over again and everyone could make it. Freedom was one of its main attraction and as we all know, it still is today, at least to some extend. Gemünden calls America, and not the United States, “a playground for the imagination and a site where the subject comes to understand itself through constant play and identifications with reflections of itself as an other.”(Gemünden, 19) It was the spirit of America, for example, cinema, Hollywood and Jazz and rock music that implied or celebrated a new 'culture of abundance' that had previously been unknown to the countries under Nazi influence. This perception of America, however, has been subject to historical change and not static. The instability of meaning explains the various perceptions of America that have been present before and after World War II and even today - from waves of strong anti-Americanism to a passionate support of everything that is considered American. The various changing points of view have always been expressed by different social groupings, e.g. the youth did engage in the pro-America feeling, whereas their parents might have had resentments about the American presence and culture.
In his article, Gemünden characterizes cultural transformations that occur when cultures meet as “re-semanticizations”, as the process of giving new meaning to signs that “are taken out of their original context and juxtaposed against other signs from other sources.” (Hebdige qtd. in Gmünden, 18) It is not only a juxtaposing, but moreover a re-interpretation, a translation of a cultural asset into a different culture. This cultural exchange has been very active in Germany and Austria after World War II, when American GIs were stationed all over the ex-Nazi territory and brought along some of their culture. Furthermore, the Americans saw it as their duty to re-educate the German and Austrian people and free them from the Nazi ideology by teaching them democratic values. With their more open and modern approach to politics, they also brought a different style of culture, popular culture, that most European scholars disdained as a means of stultification of the masses.