This article investigates how neoliberal globalization has been mediated through audiovisual narratives since the 2000s. It identifies a cluster of films, produced by and circulating on German public television, which use the generic conventions of the popular crime genre to constitute a sub-genre—the televisual economic crime drama. Using a content and textual analysis that focuses on the backdrop of historical context and genre norms, the article examines key tropes to assess the critical potential of this sub-genre. The analysis demonstrates that both the containment theme of “a few bad apples” and a systemic critique can structure these narratives of neoliberalism. At its best, the televisual economic crime drama argues that alternatives to neoliberalism are possible by referencing Germany’s history of the social market economy and by featuring characters as well as images of active citizenship, solidarity, and collective action in the workplace.
Neoliberal Globalization in the Economic Crime Drama Since the Millennial Turn
Sabine von Dirke
Using Popular Culture to Trace and Assess Political Change
The German federal election in September 2021 marked a significant transformation for German politics. As Chancellor Angela Merkel decided not to run again, the election spelled the end of her 16-year tenure; it also signaled a major shift in the German party system. The right-populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the Bundestag again after their first entry in 2017, implying—for the first time since 1949—the establishment and sustained parliamentary presence of a party on the national level to the (far-)right of the Christian Democrats. The challenges facing the new parliament and government after the election are paramount. The climate crisis looms as large as ever. With the exception of the AfD, all German parties (and a distinct majority of voters) see this as the most pressing issue to tackle. However, the scope of action will be limited as the extensive state debt accumulated through covid-19 relief measures exerts pressure on the specific German model of social market economy. Finally, the international environment has seen drastic changes in the last years: While the election of u.s. President Joe Biden as successor to Donald Trump implies a return to normal for transatlantic relations, the uk exit from the eu shifts the balance between the remaining member states. After the Euro, refugee, and pandemic crises, European solidarity is strained, complicating Germany’s role as the eu’s “reluctant hegemon” or “gentle giant.” This reluctance or restraint connotes far more than a strategic policy choice: it is deeply rooted in the German history of the twentieth century that witnessed the cruelty and atrocities of the Nazi regime.
German Memory Politics, Cultural Criticism, and Contemporary Popular Arts
The present study understands comedy in relation to the Holocaust as an attempt by Germany’s third and fourth generations to create alternative forms of commemoration. Analyzing the country’s history of coming to terms with the Shoah, it highlights that recent forms of subversive satire are reacting to a crystallization in official memory politics through counter-discourse to political correctness and the defenders of moralism. The article finds that it is possible to combine comedy and Holocaust memory if Jewish victimhood is not spoofed and the limitations of official memory politics are debunked. Finally, it contends that not every historical assessment based on a local/national context can serve as a global blueprint. The recognition of national historical guilt and the establishment of distinct collective memories are still crucial for understanding specific pasts. Accordingly, German popular culture referring to the Nazi past differs from u.s. comedy dealing with the Holocaust.
Representations of Politicians and Institutions in the German TV Shows “Eichwald MdB” and “Ellerbeck”
In popular culture, politics are frequently framed with negative stereotypes, and there is some overlap between the anti-establishment rhetoric of political humor and populist challengers. This article probes similarities shared by politicians as presented in the television comedies Eichwald MdB (about a backbencher in the Bundestag) and Ellerbeck (about a kindergarten teacher turned mayor) and supporters of the (right-)populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD). The analysis of the storylines uncovers representations of self-serving and incompetent politicians that align with the fundamental critique expressed by the AfD. However, the negative depictions in the shows are interwoven with positive elements that speak to a responsiveness of democratic institutions. The two case studies help us better understand the specific form of German political satire produced by a public broadcaster and how satirical entertainment oscillates between negativity and meaningful critique of political power.
Sustaining German Culture in “Dark” Times
Streaming technology has facilitated the global distribution of foreign language shows such as Netflix’s Dark. The worldwide popularity of Dark, the streaming giant’s first original series made in Germany, raises questions about Netflix’s business strategy of producing “local stories with global appeal” as well as the international allure of German culture today. This article examines how Dark’s pop-cultural engagement with nuclear power connects to Germany’s post-war policies on atomic energy and the circulation of the country’s sustainability politics on the international stage. The show’s particular blend of local and global aesthetics of nuclear power, sustainability, and climate change demonstrates how German culture is now viewed as a fitting medium to reveal, correspond to, and have an impact on today’s zeitgeist globally. It also signals a shift in the dynamic between local and global media forms, and thus German film.
The Case of German Military Intervention in “Spec Ops: The Line”
Political claims about the real world are abundant in video games, and the medium persuades uniquely through procedural rhetoric, the rules of behavior contained in computational code. The transnational scope of the video game industry makes it productive ground for interrogating how a game’s persuasion might influence international audiences with nationally situated politics. The 2012 third-person shooter Spec Ops: The Line, produced by the German studio Yager Development, depicts the international concern of a fictional conflict in the Middle East and the atrocities of failed military intervention. The game’s core procedural rhetoric, which tasks players to push ahead at all costs, cautions an international audience about the futility of deploying military power abroad, a warning that mirrors particularly German political anxieties. The game’s depiction of extreme violence—and the player’s participation in it—raises further questions about the cultural status of the medium in the country and abroad.
“Team Wallraff,” “Undercover Boss,” and the 2014 Burger King Scandal in Germany (As Seen on TV!)
This article analyzes the role of tv formats in the 2014 Burger King scandal in Germany as part of the popular representation of work, work-related conflicts, and the dynamic of power relations in both contemporary German companies and the German economy in general. It shows that investigative journalistic techniques in popular tv formats like Team Wallraff are essentially undermined by the existence of reality tv shows like Undercover Boss that use comparable techniques to present fundamentally different messages about companies, work conditions, and the relationship between employees and employers. I argue that to understand the effect of these representations of politics on the “real political arena,” in Germany and elsewhere, we should consider not only individual films, tv series, genres, and media formats, but also the crosseffects of multiple, often widely differing representations of politics in similar tv formats that can be viewed via identical media outlets.
Louise K. Davidson-Schmich, Matthew Hines, Thomas Klikauer, Norman Simms, Jeffrey Luppes, Stephen Milder, Robert Nyenhuis, and Randall Newnham
John Kampfner, Why the Germans Do it Better: Notes from a Grown-Up Country (London: Atlantic Books, 2020).
Karen Hagemann, Donna Harsch, and Friederike Brühöfener, eds., Gendering Post-1945 German History: Entanglements (New York: Berghahn Books, 2019).
Daniel Marwecki, Germany and Israel: Whitewashing and Statebuilding (London: C. Hurst & Co., 2020).
Robert Gellately, Hitler's True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).
Thomas Fleischman, Communist Pigs: An Animal History of East Germany's Rise and Fall (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2020).
Joanne Miyang Cho, ed., Transnational Encounters between Germany and East Asia since 1900 (New York: Routledge, 2018).
Andrew Nagorski, 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019).
How, in the aftermath of National Socialism and World War II, was the memory landscape of Munich and Bavaria denazified under the Office of the Military Government of the United States? Supplementing existing cultural approaches and scholarship on denazification in Bavaria, this article considers the execution of Allied Control Council Directive Number 30 by the American occupation government (omgus) in Bavaria, in conjunction with appropriated native Bavarian bureaucracies and bureaucrats, to inventory and assess the built environment in order to register militaristic or Nazi monuments and prioritize their removal or modification. The limitations of the project to renew or restore the monument landscape confront in turn the limitations on the “bureaucratic manufacture of memory” in the modification of individual memory.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's second grand coalition (2013–2017) was the most successful federal government since 2005 regarding the adoption of anti-corruption measures. This article first gives an overview of recent German anti-corruption reforms. In order to explain the varying policy outputs of Merkel's coalition governments, an analytical perspective drawing on the multiple streams approach is utilized. This theoretical perspective is then applied to the analysis of three major anti-corruption reforms. Mainly on the basis of these case studies, the article concludes that the spd was a crucial policy entrepreneur between 2013 and 2017. In former legislative periods, the Social Democrats could not advance their favored anti-corruption policies. But when the cdu and csu decided not to make full use of their veto power, the spd pushed policy change through. Analyses of anti-corruption reforms should not overlook the constellations of veto players such as coalition parties and their preferred policy options.