The media can shape public displays of emotion, as the mourning of Princess Diana’s death, in 1997, shows. Yet in today’s media, public celebrations (especially when sports related) generally lack a higher purpose. The public celebration derives its legitimacy from its past without being conscious of it. In the bourgeois age no celebration was conceivable without having a message, and political power manifested itself in displays of celebration and highly controlled direction of emotion. The control enabled individual participation in collective experiences while relieving people from the burden of individualization. Such participation assumed identification with a group, community, or society. As the institutionalization of the nation, the state brought together the identification offered by associations and other groups, both spanning and superseding them. In the age of nationalism, public ceremonies secularized and transcended the prior unity of celebration and religion.
As a rule, the history of public celebration must be thought together with the history of media culture, the development of media transforming celebratory practice at every step along the way. Although the emotionality of celebration depends on individuals, the media offers new possibilities for emotional direction, for synchronizing moods, and for ideological control. Politically, it is in all of our interest that the emotional extremes produced by the media are only loosely connected today with identity.
Michael Maurer is Professor of Cultural History at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Previously he served as its Friedrich Schiller instructor for history and was a recipient of the Bennigsen and Heisenberg scholarships. He is the author of Geschichte Englands (2000); Aufriß der Historischen Wissenschaften (seven volumes, 2001–2005); and Eberhard Gothein (1853–1923): Leben und Werk zwischen Kulturgeschichte und Nationalökonomie (2007). He has coedited Das Fest: Beiträge zu seiner Theorie und Systematik (2004) and “Im Schaffen genießen”: Der Briefwechsel der Kulturwissenschaftler Eberhard und Marie Luise Gothein (1883–1923) (2006).