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Performing the Modern German

Performance and Identity in Contemporary German Cinema


Matthias Uecker

Since the late 1990s, German cinema has gone through a period of astonishing productivity and success that has made it the focus of scholarly analysis once more. What can contemporary German cinema tell us about current German society and its problems? What are the distinguishing features of filmmaking in Germany today?
This book analyses the representation of individual and collective behaviour in post-unification German cinema. It looks at performances of gender, ethnicity and nationality in a wide range of contemporary German films. Using Performance Theory as a framework, the book discusses how modern German identities are presented as conformist, liberating or subversive responses to external challenges.
Theoretical considerations regarding the efficacy of performance and the dialectical relationship between transgression, resistance and normalization form the background for an analysis that investigates contemporary German films in terms of their function within the restructuring of post-unification German society.


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Chapter 7 Perform or Else! Conformism, Achievement and Subversion in the Performance Society


1. Selling oneself This book began with an example from the world of work: a young wom- an’s somewhat inept attempts at presenting herself in job interviews in Andreas Dresen’s film Sommer vorm Balkon provided the starting point for our discussion of performance as a mode of normalized behaviour which is shaped by perceived social norms and expectations and positions the performers in a world not of their own making, but requiring their active contribution – usually in the shape of an af firmation of the norms which they believe to govern the situation. It was no accident that this opening was drawn from a scene situated in the world of work. After all, as Jon McKenzie has shown, performance is not only a central concept in social and cultural studies, but has also become a crucial concept in descriptions of management styles and business models as well as engineering: ‘performance’ subsumes the pace of a factory’s production line, the behaviour of a new machine and the achievements of an employee all under the same concept and puts all of them through constant ‘performance reviews’ which not only register their output, but are designed to create opportunities for regular improvement and prevent any slackening of pace.1 While Gof fman and Butler had suggested that performance was the mode in which general social norms are reproduced 1 See Jon McKenzie, Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance (New York/ London: Routledge, 2001). 250 Chapter 7 by the individual as behaviour, McKenzie has...

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