Nations on screen: live broadcasting of Bastille Day and Reunification Day

By conceiving of mass media as an active part of the celebration of the National Day, this article invites a discussion of the cultural approach to political history regarding symbolic politics and its relationship to mass media. The French and German National Days selected here illustrate two extreme types of national celebration in European comparison: Bastille Day, the French National Day since 1880, is generally accepted to be the archetype of national celebration; conversely Reunification Day, the German National Day only since 1990, represents a very different type of celebration, standing as it does at the end of a long period of fundamental change within the political order. Although differing drastically in their tradition, symbolism and organisation, a comparison of their respective television coverage facilitates a systematic analysis of the impact of television on both the French and German annually repeated rituals. Comparing how the respective coverage underpins the different modes of temporality which generally characterise the National Day not only allows for a discussion of the interdependence of media and politics in contemporary societies. It also highlights differing conceptions of the French and German national celebration, but also reveals important similarities.