Learning from war-films : the German viewer as historical subject in theories of 'Bildung', mass communication, and propaganda, (1918-1945) / by Garth Noonan Montgomery, Jr.
For Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, and other independent leftists in Weimar Germany, popular experience of 'distraction' which mass culture afforded represented a challenge to the cultural values of Germany's educated middle class (the 'Bildungsburgertum'), and a potential threat to political order of the Weimar republic. During the same period, social scientists of other political persuasions (including liberal democrats who supported the republic, and neo-conservatives who opposed it) also evaluated the 'distracted' reception of mass-media commodities; their insights were applied by schools, corporations, and government agencies. This dissertation focuses on the role of 'modern' social science in German historical education, in order to gauge the contribution, before and after 1933, of contemporary analysis of mass culture to the formulation of propaganda theory. While, for most German historians, the Weimar-period popularity of mass-media treatments of the First World War reflected their own marginal influence on the public, teachers at the Prussian 'Central Institute for Education and Instruction' were awarding lucrative tax-breaks to the commercial producers of war films which they recognized as 'artistic' or 'educational'. Based on a reformist pedagogical theory which incorporated social-scientific analysis of the reception of mass media, educational use of 'World War I' films actually weakened support for the republic, serving interchangeably as a supplement and an alternative to political lessons about the democratic state. After the Nazi 'seizure of power', the political functions of the diversion and relaxation afforded by mass culture were acknowledged in the propaganda strategies of Joseph Goebbels. At the same time, conflicts between the Education Ministry and the Nazi Party 'Propaganda Directorate' over the educational use of 'World War' films reflected the calls of social scientists and pedagogical reformers (including former supporters of the Weimar republic) for propaganda strategies which were based on, and which more fully exploited, what they identified as the 'individual' experience of mass culture. The dissertation considers how the response to 'distracted' conditions of mass-media reception as evidence of an on-going crisis in industrial, mass society facilitated the adaptation of these representatives of Germany's 'Bildungsburgertum' to the Nazi regime.
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