Modernisation is not an event, but a process. It consists of different slow and fastmoving economic and social cycles. Kristin Ross, who has studied the modernisation of France after the Second World War, emphasises that the most important promise made by modernisation is its evenness.1 Modernisation holds within itself a theory of spatial and temporal convergence, meaning that all societies, at least in the West, will unavoidably come to look the same, thanks to technological development. This kind of thinking was popular among scholars, especially sociologists, in the mid-twentieth century. Their theories stressed the importance of societies being open to change and saw reactionary forces as a restricting development.
Modernisation theory has been criticised, mainly because it conflated modernisation with Westernisation or more precisely Americanisation. Many theorists, such as cultural theoretician Stuart Hall,2 have criticised the idea that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, namely that the development of modernisation would unavoidably lead to an American type of society, albeit in a roundabout way. This kind of modernisation theory does not understand different historical times. History is not composed of empty, homogeneous times, but rather of processes that follow different timetables and that may merge in a given situation. Political time may be short, but economic, sociological and especially cultural time can be much longer and slower. Traditions, even if often invented and used to advance particular agendas, such as nationalism, can have a tenacious hold on cultures.3
On the other hand, Ronald Inglehart, who has explored cultural change in forty-three contemporary societies, sees the Scandinavian type of late modern societies as forerunners: he believes that along with fostering prosperity and developing democratic institutions, the Scandinavian direction will be the one to which people’s values will eventually change.4 However, modernist development has not been simultaneous everywhere in the West, even in the Nordic countries. For instance, Finland has witnessed an extremely rapid modernisation process, even in the context of post-war Europe, and especially after the Second World War. Before the 1950s Finland was the least developed country in Scandinavia, but by the early 1970s it had assumed the form characteristic of the world’s most industrialised societies.5 The relationship with the Russians has historically pigeonholed the Finnish modernisation process culturally, politically and economically (owing to such things as bilateral trade agreements with the Soviet Union, for instance).
After all, as the modernisation theories maintain, modernisation is a process that increases the economic and political capabilities of a society. Modernisation is a widely attractive process because it enables a society to move from being poor to being rich. Industrialisation especially tends to increase urbanisation, occupational specialisation and higher levels of formal education in any society that industrialises. Inglehart underlines the importance of cultural changes. But whereas Marx was economically deterministic and Weber was culturally deterministic, Inglehart believes that relationships between economics, culture and politics are mutually supportive. Nevertheless, he finds strong evidence that cultural factors help shape the economic growth rates of given societies. Cultural factors are intimately linked with economic factors.6
Cultural forms can play a central role in supporting people in their roles as citizens. Through culture – both high and popular culture – people are able to shape their subjectivities, to walk in other people’s shoes and, above all, to provide models of rational deliberation, one of the key concepts in the discussion of the public sphere. In a recent reader on the concept of the public sphere, the editors state: “Investigating how the connections between the cultural and political public spheres operate and under what circumstances they might break down should be a priority for future work on the public sphere.”7 As an idea, the public sphere is intimately tied to the wider struggle to implement visions of democratic polity and culture. As a modern “invention”, the public sphere has its roots in the Enlightenment and has been expounded on by intellectuals and activists. Since the 1980s, however, the essentials for the existence of the intelligentsia have changed along with the institutionalisation of university systems and changes in the media.
As the media sociologist John B. Thompson has pointed out, the media play a crucial role not only in the formations of the public sphere, but also in the cultural transformations associated with the rise of modern societies. The emergence and development of mass communication may be viewed as a fundamental and ongoing transformation of the ways in which symbolic forms are produced and circulated in modern societies. What defines our culture as “modern” is the fact that the production and circulation of symbolic forms have, since the late fifteenth century, been increasingly and irreversibly caught up in the processes of commodification and transmission, which are now global in character.8
This paper discusses how the Finnish intelligentsia has defined the modern and reacted to modernity in the twentieth century. It focuses on the role of the media in the making of the modern – both as an abstract concept and as a concrete programme for building a new society. The cultural intelligentsia has had an important role in the process, since the intellectuals and the state have had a historically close relationship in Finland.
The main examples for the study come from the Finnish student magazine Ylioppilaslehti and Finnish television broadcasting. Ylioppilaslehti (which means “student magazine”) is not just “any student paper”, but a Finnish institution, which has had major figures in the Finnish cultural and political elite on its editorial staff in the twentieth century. From time to time, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, Ylioppilaslehti has been a major arena for Finnish cultural criticism. As in many parts of (northern) Europe, Finnish television was established with the idea of public broadcasting, which meant a close relationship between the public broadcasting company and the state. Especially in the late 1960s, television was seen by social scientists as a modern, educational medium. However, Finnish television has always been a hybrid: from the beginning, there was independent commercial television, and the state-owned national broadcasting company, Yleisradio or YLE, has never had a monopoly on television broadcasting.
It must be emphasised, however, that media discussed here, of course, is just a slice of Finnish media history. Since the 1930s, a relatively wide variety existed of Finnish cultural periodical and magazines as well student papers for intellectuals and especially during the sixties, an active alternative or underground press was present, as in many other countries. Not to mention the Finnish newspapers, which, although being strongly partisan until the 1980s, were mostly quality papers including strong cultural sections in their editorial policy. On the other hand, radio has been a major medium in the Finnish public sphere since the late 1920s. Finnish broadcasting was formulated according to the BBC-model meaning the policy “to educate, inform and entertain”, according to the founder of the BBC, John Reith, and those who were formulating the programme policies of Finnish radio consisted for the most part of the intellectual elite of the times.
The cultural modernism of the 1950s, the societal modernism of the 1960s and the cultural postmodernism of the 1980s are the main periods discussed here. These were the times when discussions defining the modern even reached the public sphere in Finland. This does not mean, however, that there were no public discussions defining the modern in Finland before the post Second World War era. The Finnish public sphere was built along with the creation of the Finnish nation state when the major public institutions such as the school system, cultural institutions, (ideological) associations, publishing houses and the press were established in the late nineteenth century.9
Definitions of the birth date of the modern vary according to who is defining it. Usually, the term delineates the tension between new and old, past and present (and future). Almost any historical period or political process, religion or metaphysics, social theory or eclectic mixture of aesthetic trends or movement can be described as modern.10 As an historical period, modernity is a very complex and discursive concept, whether it refers to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the nineteenth century or the twentieth. Each age has succumbed to the fantasy that it is the last word in advanced living, material development, knowledge and enlightenment – until the fantasy has been superseded by something more up-to-date.11 The concept of modernity began to be developed in the classical period, where it was based on German idealism, and it has continued to evolve right up through postmodern culture, where the distinction between high and low was dismantled.12 This development, however, has varied from country to country. It takes different forms and different speeds, depending on geographical and social areas. Cultural modernism is strongly linked to economic and political modernisation.
The Swedish cultural theorist Johan Fornäs had identified three dimensions of modernity.Firstly, there is a diachronic dimension of phases of the modern era, meaning prefixes such as early, high and late modern. Secondly, there is a synchronous, lateral dimension of modernity, meaning various modes of modern such as modernisation, modernity and modernism. Modernisation refers to a combination of several conjunctional processes, such as commodification, industrialisation and secularisation. As for modernity, it is both a stage and a phase in history: “people live in modernity and their lives are characterized by modernity”. Modernism, on the other hand, refers to movements, such as artistic movements, that actively respond to a modern condition. As for the third dimension, there is a series of levels, namely vertical social, cultural and subjective aspects of the modern. All in all, according to Fornäs, culture moves in and through time and modernity, and modernity is less a fate than a human project.13
Consequently, those who define and make use of the modern are usually intellectuals.14 Although there is not an automatic link between the elites and the social stratum considered the intelligentsia, cultural, political, bureaucratic and other elites can be conceived as making up part of a whole called the intelligentsia.15 To call a person an intellectual is to suggest that in some basic way he or she stands against or apart from the contemporary dominant culture. Intellectuals have been in the habit of questioning and challenging values and assumptions that were taken for granted in their societies.16 This rarely fits Finland, especially in connection with the university intelligentsia.
In Finland, the university intellectuals and the state have lived in an extraordinary symbiosis. In general, intellectuals in the Nordic countries have never really become an alienated stratum of society with an independent tradition vis-à-vis the state. Instead, intellectuals in the small Nordic countries have often been a resource in the service of society. Hence, rather than remaining marginalised among the avant-garde, they have been at the centre of society.17 Due to the intellectual history and the geopolitical position of the country, this applies to Finland even more than to Sweden, Norway and Denmark.18
In addition, throughout almost the entire nineteenth century Finland was experiencing a slow modernisation process. When modernisation is rapid, the arenas of society and culture diverge and lay the groundwork for an oppositional intelligentsia. In fact, the whole concept of the intellectual is a child of the Enlightenment and a reaction, supporting or opposing, to modernity.19
Overall, the modern concept of intellectuals entered European culture in connection with the so-called Dreyfus affair at the dawn of the twentieth century.20 To be an intellectual meant autonomy; a distance from the corridors of power. But even then intellectuals in France were divided into two camps: the liberals who were defending Dreyfus, and the intellectual conservatives defending national values, the army and the established social hierarchy. In universities in particular, this division was defined as the degree to which individuals were bound to legitimate social structures, both within the university and without. Some intellectuals, most of whom represented the humanities and modernism, were more autonomous and likely to choose the universalist liberal camp, while those in the more traditional sciences, who were more dependent on the state, embraced the conservative camp. Despite the divisions, the Dreyfus affair nevertheless helped to solidify intellectuals as a social stratum, the intelligentsia. Now intellectuals could function as a distinct group in society with a moral mission against the established authorities.21 Although the French case was unique, explained by the tradition and structure of the Parisian elite, the same kind of movement appeared in other parts of Europe as well.
In Finland, the modernisation process forged ahead in the late nineteenth century. One of its features was that the traditional social order of the Four Estates and the ecclesiastical regulation system started to crumble. The traditional customs and mores as well as the attributes of social status were called into question. If we approach this development from the viewpoint of subjective modernity and consider not only linear goal orientation, but also multidimensional fragmentation, then it becomes clear that the process meant changes in individual identity. Selfhood and identity became relatively loose, and the “self” was now seen as a reflective project. As the Finnish intellectual historian Marja Jalava, who has studied this change as exemplified by the Finnish liberal moral philosopher Rolf Lagerborg, has put it, the main question and problem concerned the relation between Sittlichkeit (morality) and Sinnlichkeit (sensuality) and their “reconciliation’” (Versöhnung).22 Significantly, Lagerborg was a Swedish-speaking23 university intellectual – an aristocrat who was not only liberal, but also internationally orientated. But internationality and liberalism attracted the Finnish-speaking intelligentsia as well.
The period gave rise to liberalism, but also produced cultural criticism and the first Finnish modernists in literature. Especially after the nationalistic Fennoman movement split into factions,24 the liberal writers of the group known as the “Young Finns” wanted to “open the windows” to Europe. For the first time, the Finnish intelligentsia was concentrated in circles of artists, writers, and journalists instead of students or politicians. In particular, authors, poets, writers and journalists, such as Juhani Aho and Eino Leino, who later figured among the Great Men of Finnish literature, resembled the archetype of a French intellectual. They were academically educated, well-travelled individuals, skilled in languages— virtual renaissance figures, who participated in artistic circles and were interested in various social, political and cultural issues. The resemblance to France was not coincidental; Juhani Aho even wrote articles about the Dreyfus affair, for instance.25
The important arenas for these intellectuals were periodicals and magazines, but they also met regularly in small elite circles. The public sphere is a network for communicating ideas and points of view, as Jürgen Habermas has noted,26 organised around the interplay between face-to-face argument and mediated communication.
During the same period, the arrival of a strong market-based, cheap, mass-circulation newspaper industry in the Anglo-American world challenged the ideals of the normative public sphere with an overwhelming proportion of crime, scandals, sensational and entertainment subjects reported on in the newspapers.27 This development did not take place in every country. In Finland, however, the newspapers were strongly linked to political ideologies and parties, and the situation continued into the late twentieth century. The Finnish tabloidisation of evening papers started as late as the 1980s. However, at the dawn of the twentieth century all of the Finnish media, including newspapers, magazines, periodicals and publishing houses, were in the hands of a rather small competing elite groups (particularly divided by the language struggle). These groups wanted to educate the young nation in the Snellmanian spirit of national revitalisation, even the socialists.28 In other words, it was a very modernist project.
As in many European countries, the situation changed in Finland, with radical nationalism emerging between the world wars. After the country gained independence in 1917, there was a strong nationalist movement among the Finnish university intellectuals called the Academic Karelia Society (Akateeminen Karjala-Seura or AKS), an extreme right-wing student movement.29 The organisation turned against liberalism, pluralism, socialism and communism, stock jobbing, foreigners, urbanity and “snobbery”. The AKS objected to foreign influences and the individuality of modernism, which the movement saw as decadence in Finnish culture. Moreover, the AKS had a strong generational hegemony among the students at the university, especially in the 1930s, and made adroit use of the media.30
However, in the 1920s, an influential cultural faction of the intelligentsia emerged called Tulenkantajat (The Flame Bearers). They wanted to develop the Finnish literature culture, which they saw as backward, into something more modern and European. Their main task was to find a way to take Finland from its so-called “back woods” culture to the new, modern European level of literature. The group had its own periodical, also called Tulenkantajat, which introduced a new generation of writers and poets such as Mika Waltari (1908-1979), later an internationally renowned author (e.g., The Egyptian, 1949). Another central figure in the group was Olavi Paavolainen (1903-1964), one of the most influential literary figures of the time. Paavolainen was culturally very Europe-orientated and open to new ideas. In the late 1920s, Paavolainen admired urbanism and technology in works that resembled the modernistic writings of the Italian Futurist poet F.T. Marinetti (1876-1944) two decades earlier. In 1929, Paavolainen published an essay collection entitled Nykyaikaa Etsimässä (In Search of Modern Time), which focused on the modernisation of Europe.
Tulenkantajat was not really in opposition to the AKS, because some of the same intellectuals operated in both movements. In fact, many in the group, including Waltari and Paavolainen, started their writing careers on the pages of Ylioppilaslehti, which was already then in the hands of the AKS. At the beginning of the 1930s, however, the Tulenkantajat group disbanded, partly owing to political conflicts, as some members ended up being strictly on the left, while some openly promoted the right-wing values of the AKS throughout the 1930s.
Yet, unlike Sweden and particularly Norway, Finland practically lacked a cultural left in the inter-war period, mainly because the Communist Party was illegal in Finland until 1944. The main ground for the situation was the bloody Finnish Civil War in 1918.31 The left-wing Finnish intelligentsia of the 1930s, which had to operate mostly underground, sharply criticised the AKS. Leftist intellectuals, by the way, did not consider the AKS members as belonging to the intelligentsia, even if the AKS was an academic movement. The leftists intellectuals wanted to separate the academically-educated class from the intellectuals, who did not necessarily need any degrees or diplomas to be intellectuals. Above all, an intellectual had to be in the vanguard of progress and outside the power elites. The main virtues of an intellectual were intellectual integrity and the pursuit of truth and justice.
In the 1930s, emphasising Finnish culture meant rejecting other cultural influences and closing the window to the European modernism flourishing in the 1920s. After the Second World War, during the so-called Second Republic of Finland (1944-1991), the political struggle was over the soul of the nation. In this clash, cultivating high culture (art, literature, theatre, music, architecture and also film) played a big role. A highly literary liberal and independent intelligentsia began to emerge in Finland in the 1950s. People were motivated by “an immense hunger for culture” after the war as the poet and author Kirsi Kunnas32 later put it. Essentially, this applied to all of postwar Europe, including the student circles in Germany, which also experienced Hunger nach Kultur.33
The Communists now resurfaced and regrouped. Leftist cultural views went through a formation period for some time after the war. The Communists believed that culture should be the property of the people as a whole and that artists should be supported financially by state grants and awards. Indeed, this modernist state-centred planning programme for science and culture became reality in the ensuing decades. However, in the late 1940s, traditionalist forces still prevailed.34
As in Finnish society in general, the leftists did not manage to seize power among the university intelligentsia after the post-war formation period. Meanwhile on the right, intellectual activistshad to separate themselves from the nationalistic tones that had been emphasised in the student movement before the war. The solution was to concentrate on high culture. This was also the official state policy – a kind of mental war reparation agenda.35 But when it was again possible to breathe more freely in Finland in the early 1950s, nationalism soon reared its head. For instance, for the Academic Federation for Freedom (VAL), which in a way continued the anti-communist traditions of the AKS, culture signified “Finnish national culture’”: “living in an organised society entails that the members of society adapt to certain limits – individuality has its limits”, as the secretary of VAL wrote in early 1952.36
It was evident that the term “individualists” referred to the new generation of modernist critics, whose important forum in the 1950sturned out to be Ylioppilaslehti.37 Numerous different debating groups and literary circles formed after the war. The best known of these, the Eino Leino Society, was formed in 1947. It was named after the great Finnish poet and included a large number of the critics who were contributing to Ylioppilaslehti in the 1950s. When the left wing was no longer able to pose a threat to the cultural conservatives, controversy developed between the independent liberal cultural intelligentsia and the conservatives. In general the term modernism encompasses the activities and output of those who felt the that “traditional” forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organisation and daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social and political conditions of an emerging, fully industrialised world.
But what, in fact, was Finnish literary modernism in the 1950s? As with international modernism before the Second World War, a noticeable characteristic of Finnish modernism was to rely on self-consciousness and individuality. Although individualisation should not be confused with individualism, which is an ideological or philosophical concept, both aspects appeared in the life philosophies of the Finnish literary modernists in the 1950s. On the whole, they thought of themselves and made their choices based on individual rather than collective grounds, which is characteristic of the process of cultural individualisation.38
This approach often led to experiments: narrative was broken into pieces, causality was avoided and sensationalism became important. Although Finnish poetry, for instance, was freed from regular metre already in the early twentieth century, Finnish writers acquainted themselves with European modernism of the 1920s in a big way only after the Second World War – with the exception of the Tulenkantajat group in the 1920s and 1930s. T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and other authors appeared in translation on Finnish bookshelves after the Second World War. Camus, Hemingway, the French nouveau roman and classical Japanese poetry influenced Finnish writers as well.
On the whole, the critics rose to prominence in the 1950s. The poems and essays of the modernist aesthetics reached beyond the so-called “birch bark culture” (ethnological national issues) of Finland and out to international currents. Yet Finnish modernism was not a backward copying of foreign works, but a basis for creating art of one’s own. The post-war Finnish modernism was international and distinctively Finnish, yet at the same time it was not nationalistic. The most important difference compared to international post-war poetry, such as that being written in Sweden, for instance, was the apolitical character of Finnish modernism. The Finnish modernists of the 1950s were members of a liberal bourgeois cultural intelligentsia.
Another speciality can be found in the strong educative tone of the cultural criticism. Besides poetry and literature, this educative programme was carried out particularly in film criticism. As one headline in Ylioppilaslehti stated in 1952: “The rise of cinema culture cries out for film-educated intelligentsia.”39 In the 1950s, the young writers for Ylioppilaslehti internalised the new European film critique, which significantly revolved around the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. Influenced by Italian neo-realism, the French New Wave and politique des auteurs (i.e. emphasising the individual creator, such as the director, in film production), Ylioppilaslehti had a central role in creating a new intellectual cinema culture, which was very strong, even in the international context. The heyday of cinema culture activism in the 1960s – involving essayistic literature on cinema and film club activities – coincided with the coming of age of the post-Second World War baby boom generation, but the foundation for cinematic education was laid in the previous decade. The relatively large share of cinema reviews in Ylioppilaslehti caused the traditionalists to demand dropping such reviews from the paper altogether. As one leftist writer commented: “The cinema shapes public opinion effectively, and film reviewers are the only people guiding the public.”40
The post-war cultural struggle was not only a Finnish phenomenon. Discussions along cultural lines could be found in major European countries as well. One of the best-known examples is the “two cultures” controversy in Britain, where the scientist-turned-novelist C. P. Snow clashed with the literary critic F. R. Leavis in the early 1960s. To put it simply, the controversy was over the basis on which British post-war society should be built: technocratic modernism or romantic humanism. For instance, Snow criticised the opaque “anti-novels” of the modernists; they rejected the effort to depict the social world and speak to a wide audience. Modernist writers, by contrast, glorified the alienated individual, a tendency that led them to embrace reactionary attitudes.41 Although the national framework of the British controversy differed from Finland – notably concerning Britain’s colonial history – the discussion in the two countries shared common features: in both countries, there was a confrontation between modernism and tradition.42
Still, the young Finnish critics in the 1950s were by definition part of the historic legacy of the Finnish intelligentsia, where intellectuals, despite their ostensible radicalism, were close to the Snellmanian nation-state – or at least they did not work outside the nation-state, as happened in southern Europe, for instance. This group of young modernists, who later became the strong part of the national elite, certainly brought with their modernism something new to Snellmanian ideology by breaking down and rebuilding the national attributes. This was done mainly by restoring the idea of the fatherland and the language to the level of private experience.43
Industrial production and supplies of consumer goods fundamentally “revolutionised” western societies in the 1960s. The breakthrough of the Finnish consumer society was a result of the strong movement towards modernisation after the Second World War, and the most rapid stage of modernisation took place in the 1960s. In Finnish economic history, the period from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s is considered a time of structural change.44 Finland’s post-war development can be seen as part of the “golden years”45 of Western Europe, i.e. 1950-70; the development was, however, exceptionally rapid, even in that context.
The “golden years” also meant “cultural revolution”. Advanced communication services contributed to the increased importance of popular and youth cultures, and the cultural change was characterised by Americanisation. Concurrent with increasing economic prosperity, the Finns learned a new way of life. A key role in this process was played by developments in the media, especially the advent of television. Television is intrinsically penetrated by modernity.
Especially the year “1968 was a time of shocking modernism.”46 Media, particularly television, had an important role in the movements of 1968 in three ways. Firstly, television rapidly broadened the baby boomers’ worldview by reporting on worldwide events through fast communication enabled by satellites and (professional) videotape. Above all, the reality of the Third World, such as Biafra’s catastrophic famine and Vietnam’s “first television war”, quickly awakened the feeling of collective injustice. Secondly, television soon provided models for how to act and created a coherent story about the phenomena taking place around the world.47 Thirdly, television provided an efficient channel for the public sphere. Fairly soon the members of these movements realised that the more extravagantly they performed and clashed with the authorities, the more avidly “the whole world was watching.”48
In this way television was also strongly creating the image of the generation of the 1960s. As television spread aggressively in the United States in the 1950s and in Europe, mainly in the 1960s, television influenced not only communication, but also a new kind of social life. Being at the heart of post-war modernism, television offered models for living and for taking part in an increasingly consumption-orientated lifestyle that was mostly private and revolved around the family.49
The 1960s saw a “Revolution of the Intellectuals” as in 1848. It has been stated that 1968 – “the year of the barricades”50 – was especially a collision of traditions and institutions. The old world of bourgeois hegemony, a fashionable term in 1968, was challenged. Both sociologists and left-wing youth politicians used the term. The entire decade of the 1960s was “the great age of Theory” as the historian Tony Judt puts it. The Western new Left exhumed the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, Georg Lukacs, Antonio Gramsci, and other forgotten early twentieth-century Marxists, and engaged in the rediscovery of Marx himself. 51
But unlike other Western countries, after 1968 the Finnish intelligentsia for the most part chose the “old” Marx of Lenin: authorised democratic centralism and proletarian dictatorship. And the master was particularly Lenin, not Trotsky or Mao, as in most other radical movements in the West during this time. So-called Taistoism was a Finnish version of the Stalinist, orthodox communist movement in the 1970s, which began to take shape after the Soviet Union’s occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. This was a turning point, after the radical left turned pro-Soviet. Another remarkable feature compared to other Western extreme left-wing movements of the time was that Taistoists joined the political party (the Communist Party of Finland or the SKP) right from the beginning. The communist revolution in Finland was to be brought about by means of parliamentary politics. As in Finnish society in general during the extremely rapid modernisation process of the sixties, the student activists too had a strong belief not only in political parties, but also in state politics and the Scandinavian type of social welfare policy.
Another Finnish peculiarity in the context of international student activism of the 1960s was the relation between the young intelligentsia and the President of Finland (1956-81), Urho Kekkonen. Kekkonen, a former AKS student radical and the chief editor of Ylioppilaslehti, became “the Great Master” of the Finnish 1960s generation. While students in France and the United States demanded their presidents to resign, the President of Finland invited young radicals to wine and dine at his residence (the famous “Children’s Parties”). Kekkonen also supported the most visible and soon to-be-mythical Finnish action of 1968, the occupation of the Old Student House in Helsinki.52
The year 1968 was also significant in Finnish broadcasting policy and in defining policies for its future. The national broadcasting company, Yleisradio (nowadays known as YLE), was by that time discontinuing the commercial, commercially-funded Mainos-TV (nowadays known as MTV3), founded ten years earlier to finance Yleisradio and owned by business interests in Finland.53 There was a new and modern idea of broadcasting policy behind the discontinuation of the project, which collided with the views of the conservatives.54 In the late 1960s, the nickname given the Finnish national broadcasting company, Reporadio, saluted Eino S. Repo, the Director-General of Yleisradio (1965-70). Repo was one of the main figures in the Finnish literary modernism of the 1950s discussed above, and he was also President Kekkonen’s right-hand man in cultural politics.
Reporadio is remembered, among other things, for its “informational programme policy” and radical, leftist ideas about public broadcasting. The ideology of Reporadio entailed faith in researched information and planning. Repo established a section for long-term planning, so-called PTS, in Yleisradio. The head of planning and selected experts were responsible for compiling the results of the studies and for preparing proposals for outlining a long-term course of programming. According to a member of the PTS group, Yrjö Ahmavaara, an expert in theoretical physics and later in sociological methodology, the ultimate objective of public-service broadcasting was to activate viewers and listeners on the intellectual level and help the individual draw conclusions about existing reality from the evidence obtained. The goal was highly edifying and rational: wrong consciousness cannot promote the right kind of action. Accordingly, to prevent people from becoming numb and ignorant, mass communication needed to educate citizens by presenting facts and their contexts. In practice, the policy “to inform and to activate” meant critical, leftist societal programmes and provocative political cabaret and theatre programmes.55
Reporadio, which came to an end at the beginning of the 1970s, when Repo was voted out of the office of Director-General, borrowed its ideas from modern sociology, which saw its heyday during those years. As with the making of the Finnish welfare society, Finland’s broadcasting was also developed according to scientific planning in the 1960s.
Despite the complex and difficult cultural and political situation with the Soviets, Finland was very “western” in terms of consumption as well as in the media.56 For instance, although Finland was late coming to television broadcasting in the European context, there were some unique features in the Finns’ development of television. Finland was a pioneer in European commercial television, as well as being among the first European countries to offer cable and satellite television in the 1970s and 1980s.57
On the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
This condition has been called Postmodernism in the philosophical discussion. The Modern belief in progress has gone. History has faced the end. There is no future. The longing of a postmodern man is all that is left, and the only direction is backwards. From the reservoir of history we are able to pick – in an eclectic way, as they say – the ingredients that create solace and joy for the sadness of an irresolute man made by the value of nihilism.
It could be said that the 1980s was the real decade of postmodernism. In Finland, the first indications appeared in the new alternative media such as punk fanzines and cultural periodicals. Ylioppilaslehti, although an old institution, adopted a new approach consisting of highly subjective and narcissistic new journalism. The surface was often the only level. This journalistic approach dealt with sensitive foreign policy matters, for instance. Ylioppilaslehti, still quite influential in the Finnish public sphere (with a circulation of almost 60,000 in the early 1980s), was in the vanguard of (sarcastically) criticising the Soviet Union and its leaders. This “sacrilege” started even before Gorbachev came to power. In general the Finnish mass media gradually began to criticise the Soviet Union after the mid-1980s.
The Finnish media system after the Second World War can be classified, together with other Nordic countries and the Low Countries, as a Democratic Corporatist Model, according to the well-known ideal of the media scholars Daniel C. Hallin and Paolo Manchini.59 It is a system in which state intervention in the media is strong, but media autonomy and professionalisation are nevertheless well developed. State intervention is intended to guarantee the plurality of the media market rather than colonise the political public sphere.60
One important factor distinguishing Finland from other countries in the Democratic Corporatist Model was Finland’s relationship with the Soviet Union. From the Berlin Crisis of 1961 until the end of the Cold War era in 1991, there were discussions of Finlandisation61 (in Finnish, suomettuminen; in German, Finnlandisierung). The term, still controversial among Finnish historians, wasused to describe the influence of a powerful country on the policies of a smaller neighbouring country.
Especially after the political scene in the wake of the post-1968 radicalisation, besides politicians and state officials, journalists as well were very careful not to talk about issues that might irritate Soviets. This “self-censorship” concerned both contemporary Soviet political injustices (e.g., dissidents and defectors) and historical disputes (e.g., the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939-40 and the status of Estonia) and lasted after Gorbachev came to power, until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. However, although Finlandisation was used for political purposes in the Finnish domestic policy, there were also very practical reasons for the “self-censorship” of media. Firstly, the Finnish media, as other institutions, wanted to maintain their relationships with the Russians. Secondly, this practice was a kind of a strategic instrument to preserve press freedom, rather than destroy it.62
In the 1980s the new President of Finland, Mauno Koivisto (1982-94), became Ylioppilaslehti’s target. Criticising the President was something new among the young, radical Finnish intelligentsia.Articles on the President and the Soviet leaders were mostly written in a sarcastic and ironic tone.
The attitude was also highly subjective. “Gonzo journalism” was the order of the day in the early 1980s.63 This meant, for instance, provocative and often ironic articles about those in power, but also very personal articles about “taboo” topics such as sexuality and drugs. One way of producing such articles was for journalists to interview each other in writing for another paper and use a pseudonym. But the new postmodern attitude was manifested most clearly in Ylioppilaslehti’s layout. During the wildest, most experimental years in the mid-1980s, the magazine was often difficult to read.
Did this mean that after the “stagnation” and stained dogmatism of the 1970s, it was finally time for the young Finnish intelligentsia to reject the values of enlightened elitism in “the cultural logic of late capitalism”?64 In the mid-1980s the pages of Ylioppilaslehti contained a lively discussion on this topic, but no conclusion was ever reached. For instance, the “postmodernists” with their fascination with popular culture were considered as elitist as the “modernists”. There were also remarks that postmodernism was not a new thing; it was said that the art world had invented the ideas decades before. On the other hand, the defenders of “post-thinking” saw the theory as an umbrella, not as a clear idea or concept.65
The philosopher and theoretician of postmodernism Jean-François Lyotard declared the collapse of “grand narratives”, 66 in which the discourses of German idealism and Enlightenment had come to an end. The young Finnish historian Juha Siltala stated that historical research is only a therapy for people living under the threat of nuclear war: there is no use studying the nineteenth-century roots of Finnishness, for instance, when humankind will survive only a maximum of twenty or thirty years. Another historian invoked Nietzsche, who used the allegory of history as a coat rack in which modern man can be fitted for different coats: “In the same way, the TV screen can be seen to represent the world.”67 However, like Marxism, postmodernism remained a marginal trend in Finnish historical research.68
Nevertheless, the debate on this fashionable topic was basically the same in Finland as in the international discussion. In the end, postmodernism did not create any coherent theory, but instead broached arguments that often contradicted each other. Since the 1980s, the significance of Ylioppilaslehti in the Finnish public sphere started to diminish slowly. There were two obvious reasons for the development. Firstly, the national circulation of the magazine ended in 1983. Secondly, besides other cultural and university papers, Ylioppilaslehti got more rivals in the same segment when local commercial radio stations and the urban free sheets started in Finland in the mid-1980s.
In Finnish media sphere in general, the Democratic Corporatist Model faced structural transitions along with an increase in global marketisation of the media. In Finland the deregulation and re-regulation of media markets as well as the decrease in the partisan press began in the 1980s.69 In other words, of the vertical levels of the modern,70 technical modernisation dominated the processes in late modernity. And along with the rise of digitalisation, development in information and communication technologies is remoulding almost every sector of our current societies.
However, the link between the state and the media has survived in the era of deregulated media markets. Thus, the Finnish modernist idea of the Democratic Corporatist Model has not vanished in the new, globalised media sphere.
Conclusion: Media, the Elite and Modernity
As the Finnish case shows, the modern has mostly been defined in and through the media by the intellectual elite. But it must be emphasised that this article has concentrated mostly on cultural intelligentsia. The sources of modernity were very different amongst the common people as well as in different sections of the elite. For instance, advertising people took their model directly from the United States. On the other hand, designers and architects from the same professional and educational background took their model of modernity from European sources.71
In the early twentieth century in his Finland: The Country of White Lilies the Russian reformist priest Grigori Petrov (1866-1925) wrote how the story of Finland and the Finns is a tale of power and the triumph of progress, education and virtue.72 It is true that the resistance to modernity and novelty has generally been weak among the Finnish intelligentsia. For historical reasons, intellectuals have been dependent on the state. This has meant that different modes of the modern have been mixed in the activities of the Finnish intelligentsia. Put simply, individuals who have experienced modernity have actively furthered the modernisation processes as modernists.
This pattern has undoubtedly been a success for a small, peripheral country located next to Russia. However, the role of intellectuals in defining the modern vanished along with the Finnish intelligentsia when this social group began to lose its significance in the 1970s. The new postmodern times questioned and even ridiculed the whole idea of a Finnish intellectual. Intellectuals in postmodern times have characteristically presented categorical truths about the diminishing significance of the intelligentsia, and thereby have undermined the validity of their own arguments.73
On the other hand, Finnish modernisation shows how social changes are not linear, although a “specific Modernisation syndrome of changes”, as Inglehart puts it, becomes probable when societies move from an agrarian mode to an industrial mode. No trend, however, goes on in the same direction forever. Advanced industrial societies have reached an inflection point, which can be called postmodernisation – “moving away from the emphasis on economic efficiency, bureaucratic authority, and scientific rationality toward a more human society with more room for individual autonomy, diversity, and self-expression.”74
However, the current European financial crisis is threatening countries like Greece to take backward steps in economic development. And looking at Finland after the 1990s, for example, it can be said the modernist project has faced a new trajectory in a different way, whereby the structures of the welfare state have been slowly dismantled in the context of economic liberalism. This “attempted destruction by neoliberalism”75 of the welfare state should be seen as either a reaction or an answer to the crisis phenomena of modernity. Besides, at the level of economic modernisation, the questioning of the modern project is also highly relevant at the political and cultural levels. Fundamentalist religious movements as well as the rise of right-wing nationalism are destructive answers to the idea of modernity in its all modes.
About the Author
Jukka Kortti has the title of docent (adjunct professor) in economic and social history at the University of Helsinki and in Television Studies at Aalto University. He is a media historian who has published two extensive studies on Finnish television history. His latest publication Ylioppilaslehden vuosisata (Gaudemaus 2013) concerns the hundred years of the Finnish student magazine Ylioppilaslehti. At the moment, he is writing a book on the history of the media. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org