2.2 Engaged publics: the IPO at the BBC Proms
As mentioned, we tend to think of history or current affairs as happening ‘out there’, and then channelled by various media to be eventually received or ‘consumed’ by the public. Yet, things may not be this straightforward. Shortly, you will watch a short video clip reporting a very powerful incident at the BBC Proms in 2011 when publics engaged with politics in a very active and forceful way by disrupting the normal flow of a prestigious event.
As you may or may not know, the BBC Proms, founded in 1895, is an annual festival of (mainly classical) music. From mid-July up until early September, every single evening orchestras and individual performers from around the world appear at London’s Royal Albert Hall to perform in front of a large and often quite diverse audience. It is perhaps one of the most widely known (and arguably the biggest) classical and contemporary music festivals in the world today. The Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) was founded as the Palestine Orchestra in 1936 and is Israel’s oldest and most prestigious orchestra. From 1979 onwards, the IPO were regularly invited to play at the Proms.
The short video clip, entitledand embedded at a BBC website from 2011, shows the IPO’s Proms concert from 1 September 2011 being interrupted by protesters. At the time of writing this course (2018), the IPO have not returned to the UK. You should now watch the first clip on the website, the clip which ‘prefaces’ the reporting of the event.
Activity 2 The IPO at the Proms
As it was reported, the concert was repeatedly interrupted by Palestinian protesters, which led BBC Radio 3 to suspend its coverage. Bearing in mind social scientific concerns, think about the questions you would ask and would like to answer, especially from the perspective of publics and representations. For instance, you might want to think about the way activists manage to influence the representation of the event. Alternatively, you might want to focus on how the TV footage represents the activists – or the orchestra. Make some notes below.
When posing your questions, think also about which of your questions could be answered by analysing the video itself, and which would necessitate broadening the inquiry’s horizon, looking for and interrogating different pieces of data?
There are many questions that you can ask and you can interrogate this event from many angles. One angle we will now focus on concerns not the event itself (i.e., the interruption of the concert) but the way it is represented by the BBC. After all, the video is quite obviously an edited material. And as such, it will not simply represent an event but will represent it from a particular perspective: showing certain images and people (but not others); including some of what they said (but leaving out something else); presenting them in a certain order; showing them from a certain perspectives etc.
So, narrowing our analytical concern to the problem of the news item as a representation, try to think of two or three issues which may be of interest. Once you have made some notes about this, read the discussion.
There is of course no shortage of interesting questions so if you chose something different to this, don’t worry. Nonetheless, here is what you may have found interesting about this video:
- The voices we hear – the perspectives that are represented: Interestingly, it is two perspectives that the BBC found worthy of directly quoting on the matter.
- a.First, we hear a person who comes across as ‘an ordinary member of the public’ and as such with no obvious affiliation to those who were disrupting (let us call them something like ‘supporters of Palestine/Palestinians’) or those interrupted (i.e., the Israeli Philharmonics). An impartial or neutral observer, as it were, although someone who wished to enjoy a valuable cultural experience. What is important about this person who is presented as a neutral observer is that he actually offers a firm judgment. He flatly states that whatever the protesters are protesting against, the Israeli Philharmonics are not involved in that. That is to say, the protesters are not only implied to be culturally barbarous (i.e. they interrupted a cultural experience) but politically/morally wrong.
- b.Second, most of the time is given to the IPO’s conductor of the night, Zubin Mehta. Mehta (himself not an Israeli and not Jewish either) represents the orchestra not simply as not involved or standing for in any problematic political projects but actually working for peace and for Palestinians (as well as, obviously, Israelis). It is therefore represented as an agent transcending any divisions and any binaries: something beyond politics and, arguably, violently dragged into the realm of politics by the protesters.
- The voices we do not hear – the perspectives that are not represented: what is intriguing in the report is that whist we are standing at the doorstep of the Royal Albert Hall, we do not know what actually had happened. That is, a voice that is conspicuously absent here is that of pro-Palestinians. Why did they do it? What were they thinking? What is the political-moral project they sought to advance with their disruptive action? And, most importantly, what can possibly be their problem with a cultural institution (i.e., the Israeli Philharmonics) which is either, as one voice flatly stated, not involved in politics or, as another voice elaborated on, aspires to heal political divisions?!
It is time now to do some independent work. The video, of course, is only an item with which the report starts. So read now through the whole material at the webpage and watch the remaining two videos. When doing so, think about whether the representation of the event you have just looked at changes throughout the report. Whose voices are represented? And what political-moral perspectives do those voices stand for? Below, make some notes.