The reality television genre, Volcic identifies, is founded upon staged social experiments that produce spectacles from representations of gender, class and race. In the Balkans, a fourth staple is added to the formula – ethno-national identity – in order to re-inflect the former three elements, but scholars such as Wilson (2005) are critical of how this medium reproduces stereotypes of race, gender, religious identity etc. instead of exploring them more thoroughly for the “post-socialist, neoliberal Balkan media environment” (Volcic 2012: 2). My analysis has taken the route of observing the ways that Serbian reality television reinforces a version of national identity, the prerequisite values that inform this perception of national identity, and how various audiences consume these media messages.
“Pink TV was one of the main promoters of the pop star Ceca… As Grujic observes, the nationalist portrayal of Ceca as both ‘mother of the Serbs’ and as hyper-sexualised Madonna/pop star ‘was not supposed to challenge patriarchal discourse but, on the contrary reinforce it’ (2009: 217). Her version of Serbian femininity, in other words, celebrates the link between patriarchy and national patriotism” (Volcic 2012: 2). Ceca is one of Serbia’s most popular female singers and has held that title since the 90s. It is not a coincidence that her popularity soared at the same time that Milosevic’s regime was at its strongest point. Her portrayal across the Balkan media can be rooted to her complex ties with the television station. “The relationship between gender and nationalism as been a recurring theme in Serbia’s aggressively commercial Pink TV station since it was started in the 1990s as a kind of commercial propaganda arm of the Milosevic regime… During this period, Pink TV helped to legitimate, normalise and institutionalise Serbian mainstream patriarchal nationalistic culture – a culture in which parliamentary war criminals and gangsters were widely celebrated as role models, and their female counterparts came to stand for a nationalistic symbol of Serbian femininity (Kronja 2001, 2006; Tarlac 2003)… [Ceca] became the wife of paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan” (Volcic 2012: 2).
Essentially, Ceca’s image became idealised and endorsed through Serbia’s government as well as other branches of Pink TV, all of whom tactically used the standard to project views on the appropriate feminine performance and how it could be used to strengthen national patriotism amongst audiences. Ceca’s reignited these controversial messages each time she made an appearance on or became associated with various commercial and reality television. “Critics disparage Pink TV as nationalistic entertainment television with a Serbian sensibility, whose iconography represents a cultural threat to democracy, multiculturalism, the public sphere and gender equality” (Tarlac 2003, cited in Volcic 2012: 3).
Investigating the ways that particular groups view these media texts is paramount in that it illustrates the varying degrees to which Serbian audiences are willing to interact with Serbian-approved messages, as notions of corruption within certain television and radio networks are widely known of, just difficult to prove and put a stop to. What we discovered in our focus groups with the students of the University of Belgrade is that most of them are around Serbian media to an extent, but what they actively choose to tune into is predominantly foreign media. Their preferences are heavily influences by America, though they are sensibly critical of much of it. They are also aware of the cultural differences in American and British media and share strong opinions on them. What I found especially interesting was one part of our discussion:
Natalija: I found that I like the UK programmes more than the US versions. They can be any show like, for example, The Voice – I like the UK version because it looks more original and, I don’t know, looks more interesting to me –
Ilija: Original shows – they copied it
What I am perceiving in this discussion is that Serbian students are just as aware of America’s stereotypically artificial and exaggerated media than we Brits are. But what goes completely unmentioned is Serbia’s version of The Voice, in which Ceca is a judge to the contestants. Though it would be irresponsible to consider the students’ opinions as representative of all Serbs within that age range, it could be posited that those young people who are active within the media industry in Serbia, or seeking to do so professionally, are critical to the point of rejecting terrestrial television in their country, and thus rejecting certain value systems conveyed through an awareness of them. They choose instead to connect with the value systems of American comedy shows, British music, and Spanish movies, despite being geographically disconnected and underrepresented.
Grujic, M. (2009) ‘Community and the Popular: Women, Nation, and Turbo-Folk in Post-Yugoslav Serbia’. PhD thesis, Central European University, Budapest
Kronja, I. (2001) Smrtonosnisjaj [Light of Death]. Belgrade: Tehnokratia
Kronja, I. (2006) Politics as Porn: The Pornographic Representation of Women in Serbian Tabloids and Its Role in Politics. In: Moranjak-Bamburac N, Jusic T and Isanovic A (eds) Stereotyping: Representation of Women in Print Media in South East Europe. Sarajevo: MediaCentar, 187–216.
Tarlac, G. (2003) Vojaski in Politicni Turbo-Folk [Militaristic and Political Turbo-Folk]. Mladina 12(1). Available at: http://www.mladina.si/dnevnik/21-03-2003-vojaski_in_politicni_turbo_ folk/
Volcic, Z. (2012) ‘Commercial and Sexualised Nationalism on Serbian Reality TV’. International Journal of Cultural Studies
Wilson, N. (2005) ‘Excessive Performances of the Same: Beauty As the Beast of Reality TV’. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory. 15(2): 207–229