New Media and Cultural Heritage

Page 1



YEHUDA GREENFIELD-GILAT Hahad Ha'am 7/1 Jerusalem, Israel

Abstract Traditionally oriented societies, wishing to ensure the wholesome transference of their cultural heritage to the future, must undergo technological and cultural adjustments, in an attempt to contend with the changing semiotic significance of elementary social and cultural communications through new media methods. This paper will claim that the connection between "form and content" plays a key factor determining the effectiveness of tradition management cultural transmission in the Jewish Orthodox society. As we shall see, different cultural heritage sites negotiate their ideas, concerns and values to the new generations according to different philosophies, achieving different effects. The examples presented in the paper, will introduce the reader to a cultural "battlefield" in which the relationships between tradition and modernity are affected by the negotiating of form and content. Further on, the paper will emphasize a larger frame in which this discourse might take a part, by examining some radical transformations actually taking place in the Jewish Orthodox society- a society that wishes to preserve a long term affinity with its tradition and attempts to do it by developing methods of adapting new media components to the social-traditional structure.


Introduction: The characteristics and dynamics of the "new media" product - cinema, computers and especially television - function increasingly as a mirror, reflecting the main features of the 21st century and providing rich variety of new methods for the preservation and management of cultural heritage sites. These methods demand a deeper understanding of the effects of the new media digital tools on heritage maintenance and especially on the generation–to-generation transmission process (Bourdieu, 2000). As the level of digitization rises allowing digital representations to become deeply involved in society's construction of reality, its effect on the perception of cultural themes grows as well. New media methods infiltrating ever growing audiences can sometimes be experienced as overly intensive and even intruding by societies wishing to maintain strong affinity with their traditional cultural heritage. Usually this heritage involves, almost by definition, a strong distinction between the sacred and the profane (Eliade, 1959) or the ordinary and the extraordinary (Weber and Parsons, 1963). That is, a conceptual and emotional distance perceived as inevitably dividing the eternal values of the sacred, the miraculous and the mysterious from the mundane experience of everyday life. Traditionally oriented societies, wishing to ensure the wholesome transference of their cultural heritage to the future, must therefore undergo processes of self clarification, in an attempt to contend with the new semiotic significance of elementary social and cultural communications through new media methods1 (Benhabib, 1996). Intuitively, it seems an unbridgeable gap. These two worlds – that of traditional culture that distinguishes as a crucial part of its basic assumptions between values of high and low, and the other world of present new media that is preoccupied with the conceptions of preferentiality and equalization of all values (Bourdieu 1995) – do not seem to be able to form one integrated entity which can provide a powerful constructive tool for cultural heritage management. Yet this paper will attempt to describe several possible points of junction negotiating between these two paradigms. Having this objective in mind, this paper will analyze as a case study for potential approaches, 1

See for instance many of the discussions in: Seyla Benhabib (ed.), Democracy and Difference, Princeton University Press, 1996


methods employed by the Jewish-Orthodox community attempting to respond to the challenge of negotiating between the new young members of the traditional community born into a new media world, and the wish to preserve the conceptual world of traditional values. These junctions will bridge between the cultural and spiritual needs of traditional societies’ young candidates, coping with post-industrial liberal reality on the one hand and with the methods of the digital "cultural management" on the other hand, as actually implemented in two ‘heritage sites’ currently being developed in Jerusalem in the context of a cultural Jewish effort to preserve identity and memory. We shall identify here succinctly the main characteristic of two projects, "The Temple Institute" and the "Davidson Center," both dealing with the Temple Mount, as well as “The western Wall heritage foundation”, -an organization that develops digital education programs that deal with the cultural heritage of the Western Wall (see figures 1-2).

Figure 1/ western wall and Dome of the rock, taken by the author


figure 2/ map of Jerusalem's old city, created by the author

Comparing the methods of cultural management of the Temple sites as opposed to the Western Wall site, will expose an inner fundamental principle of connection between Form and Content which is relevant not only to the very concrete geographical sites, but to other forms of cultural interaction and data transmission as well. The terms "Form" and "Content" will refer in this paper, to the design or "style" in which the information is transmitted, (How do we teach) and to the meaning of this information (What do we teach) respectively. This paper will claim that the connection between form and content plays a key factor determining the effectiveness of tradition management by cultural transmission. As we shall see, the different sites negotiate their ideas and concerns to the new generations on differential basis achieving different effects. While treating these two case-studies as "form and content prototypes", the examples presented further on, will introduce the reader to a larger cultural "battlefield" in which the relationship between tradition and modernity are affected by the negotiating of form and content. Although not always making a clear case fore the unification or separation of F&C, the three examples of chapter 3 will try to emphasize both a larger frame in which the F&C take a part, as well as the radical transformations actually


taking place in a society that wishes to preserve a long term affinity with its tradition (Geertz, 1983) – in this case the Jewish Orthodox society – and attempts to do it by developing methods of adapting new media components to the social-traditional structure. 1. Two models of "cultural management" Understanding the memory and heritage management of the Temple Mount, which is perceived by Jews as one of the most precious sites of their traditional identity, is impossible without acknowledging its constitutive position as Arabic holy site bearing extreme significance to hundred of millions of Muslims. No wonder the issues occupying the conceptual imagination of this place can not be detached from political affairs. Yet, there are many other more prosaic considerations involved in the question of heritage management at this site, for instance archeological ventures, tourism or even regional employment. What will concern this paper is the endeavor to maintain and even create new affinity with ancient tradition by way of "heritage sites" and new media means. It seems that the exquisitely sensitive issues connected to the political and religious status of these sites, as well as their central role in determining long term peace possibilities between Palestinians and Israelis; provide a particularly intriguing background for our analysis. If properly used, the opportunities offered by the new media to the maintenance of tradition could carry perhaps wider significance for Middle East stability and consensus. The first “Temple site," consists actually of two parts that are not connected in any official way: the "Temple Institute" operating in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem's old city, and the nearby archeological park called the "Davidson Center". Their main activities focus on the attempt to reconstruct accurately, according to Jewish textual sources, the architectural, ritual, social and spatial reality of the two Hebrew Temples that existed according to Jewish tradition on the Herodian platform in ancient Jerusalem: The 'First Temple' was established, according to Biblical testimony and archeological hypothesis, (Albright 1963) in approximately the year 930 BCE, surviving until the year 586 BC when it was destroyed by the Babylonians. The 'Second Temple,' built originally in 515 BC and later reconstructed and renovated by Herod King of Judea in the first century BC, was ultimately


destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 CE. The same large platform named after Herod served for the last 1300 years as the foundation of the "Dome of the Rock" mosque. The main concern of the Temple Institute and the Archeological park is to demonstrate to the 21st century visitor, in digitalized and materialized accessories, the way ancient Jews presumably walked, prayed and brought sacrifices in Jerusalem and the ancient temple. The visitor of the park can take a walk within a three dimensional Herodian site and see traditional locations described in Biblical or Talmudic texts brought to life on wide screens right in front of his eyes. In addition, the visitor in the "temple institute" will find craftsmen specializing in reconstructing ancient temple vessels, and graphic artists illustrating the history and culture of the temple through paintings and multimedia presentations. As the illustrations show2, (3-6) the activity of these centers seems to aim directly at the human urge for mythological reconstruction of reality, a kind of constitutive collective memory structuring the present cultural and social existence in light of an age-old yearning for a traditionally conceptualized paradigmatic "golden age". (Eliade 1955). The meticulously detailed and pedantically accurate reconstruction of ritual scenes as well as the digital three dimensional model of ancient Jerusalem with the temple itself placed at its center, all these illuminate the historical temple in unique light of legend, stressing in fact (although these may not be the actual political intentions of the enterprise) its irrelevancy to the substantial life of the present. The impossibility of implementing, now or ever in the future, an actual religious site whose sacredness derives primarily from its spatial position, however well documented it may be, seems obvious to the religious intuitions of the 21st century, even setting aside the political complications. Therefore, the meticulous use of reconstructed vessels or architectural simulations seems paradoxically to intensify the mythical aura that pervades the perfectly designed details.


See the museums official website


Figures 3-4/ parts of the computerized model, Davidson center. Source: Davidson center website:

As a result, the spatial reality so accurately depicted, all these vessels glittering in gold and silver, the vast paintings showing dramatic holy scenes, all contrive to loft the illustrated heritage into a cloud of mythical longing, floating over the everyday life of the visitor who observes from a distance a glorious past and an obtuse future.

Figure 5-6/ simulation of the Jewish temple on temple mount and the "menorah" one of the temple service vessels. Source: The temple institution official website.


Through the transference of cultural memory from the site to the visitor, the represented media transmit a clear message that relates mainly to the past. The visitor is not requested actually to participate or to add her/his own contribution to the creation of collective history, but rather is invited to dive into the public pool of yearning memories, creating all together the corpus of general heritage. In this type of setting, the virtual-digital dimension of the memorization process has a dramatic role in transforming the 'tradition' into a powerful mythological product. As opposed to the temple sites, the visitor center of the "Western Wall Heritage Foundation" produces a memory frame through a different tradition-management philosophy in which the technological-virtual accessories have a clear role. The organization that is in charge of the official heritage-management of the Western (or Wailing) Wall (which represents actually a small portion of the long supporting wall at the western boundary of the Temple Mount platform), is focused, as declared in their official website3, on placing the visitor in the actively continuing sequence of tradition, as part of an historic chain starting somewhere in the distant past and connecting us to the present. The site presents an ancient street near the Western Wall, part of a complex which was excavated several years ago revealing underground tunnels that spread under the houses of the Jewish and the Muslim quarters of today. The visitor center of the site holds very few reconstructions or simulations of the temples era itself, declining to presume historical (or mythological) accuracy. Instead it focuses on the historical remains as they are. Although the site does presents a large model of the temple mount and its surroundings, the model's aim is to demonstrate the slow pace of development characterizing the site since the first century until nowadays. The digitalized program of the site contains a website that offers an online observation simultaneously on three spots of the complex, as well as a virtual tour through the tunnels - not as they were presumaby in the historical past but as they actually look today. The new visitor center computerized project includes an interactive simulation game that takes place in the time of the Biblical figure of Abraham, circa 3000 BC. The player becomes a time traveler shifting through the canonic historical events of Jewish recollection such as the traumatic destruction of theTemple, the 3

See the museums official website:


exile, the dispersion of Jewish communities over Europe, Asia and Africa, the modern age and the establishment of the State of Israel. The game ends when the traveler lands safely in the present day and hour. The representative medium of the western wall heritage site exposes the visitor to the opportunity of becoming a participant in the inheritance of tradition. The focus of the digital media on the present and the act of chaining the participant to the set of historical events, draw the site and its message from a mythical universe into a reality which gives the present high priority. In this orientation, the internet plays an important role compared to other accessories, as a global-human up-to-date communication tool that functions as an agent connecting the cultural heritage site with the present awareness of the visitor.

2. Two "Prototypes" of Form and Content in cultural heritage management. The two models of cultural management presented above seem to accommodate the general structure of dichotomist connection between the two major factors of information transmission: Form and Content. The main discussion will deal with the similarities between "what we teach" and "how we teach". The manufacturing strategic of the "Temple sites" clearly identifies the abstract values of cultural tradition offered by the site with its specific architecture. Content here merges with Form when through the media accessories the visitor to the sites is lured into the impression that his direct sensual experience of the temple, its architecture, its various vessels, its colors and fragrances are all the true embodiment of the cultural message of tradition as intended by the site. In this type of heritage-management, the Form is the Content. In addition, placing the visitor in the position of a passive spectator observing, so to speak from the 'outside,’ a sort of ancient celebration taking place in the fog of a distant past, serves well the ideological infrastructure of this type of heritage management. By establishing a center of significance that is wholly mythological, i.e. does not and can not exist in reality, it complies with the actual political conditions


(Malinowski 1984). This political as well as structural constraint exempts the heritage management of the sites from the complicated challenges of transferring traditional values of the past into the elusive factual infrastructure of the present, or on the other hand the absorption of newmedia perceptions of modernity into the traditional infrastructure of the past. Traditional as well as revolutionary components of either the ordinary or the extraordinary do not need to become entangled here in the conscientious process of mutual adaptation, the one into the sublime sphere of the sacred, the other into the mundane world of every day life. The separation between Form and Content has simply vanished here, and the only thing prevailing now at the sites is the experience of the non-differentiated ultimate unification between a mythological past and a digital-material simulation: a total mutual absorption which paradoxically enough intensifies the deep recognition of the unavoidable distance existing in fact between the glorious past and the factual present. The cultural management model of the Western Wall heritage site presents on the other hand, an exemplary case of distinct separation between form and content. Through the mediation of the digital accessories the site transforms into an active platform of discourse, generating an on-going dialogue with the visitors thus enabling them to reflect upon their present situation as participants in the historic sequence and actors of historical continuation. The site provides a frame of reference to address traditional religiosity as an ongoing experience, inviting the sacred to address the mundane and be influenced by it. Like the Wailing Wall itself which is but an abstraction of the original concept of the temple (being its only remnant), serving as a symbolic framework containing the yearning of Jewish prayers ever since the destruction of the actual place of worship, so too the tunnels underneath the wall become a framework for a renewed and vital contention between old and new, tradition and innovations, the sacred and the mundane.

3. The larger scale: the challenge of tradition and new media This analysis of the rule of connection between F&C ultimately raises the following irony: When attempting to keep the two elements close together and carefully reflecting each other, cultural heritage management sometime results in an emphasis on the distant, the mythologizing and perhaps even the


irrelevant effect of tradition. However, when the separation of content and form takes place, the mundane present can appear to be immersed in traditional memory, and new processes of mutual growth can enrich the collective imagination The techniques by which digital accessories promote the "cultural management", as exemplified in the above mentioned sites, are but one aspect of a larger cultural mechanism that can be defined as a present-day arbitration system operating which channels materials between the traditional way of life on the one hand and the post-industrial world on the other (White, 1986). This process can be described as the adoption of concepts and techniques from the new media world into the practical perception of collective experience in traditional societies wishing to cultivate traditional memory as an integral part of their everyday life (Kymlicka, 2001). The diffusion of new media cultural interpretations into traditional world values are both connected to the issue of relationship between form and content, although it might not be the only case in the more general phenomena of media-tradition counterpoints. As this paper will suggest, although the "large scale" F&C dynamics might not work exactly in the same way as in the discussed specific sites, the above motioned "irony" reveals itself clearly: The ability of tradition brokers to successfully mediate between new media components and the traditional world, depends in many ways upon their ability to separate form and content during the mediating process. Under this notation, we can examine a few cases in which a process of constant adaptation of new media components into a traditional world is taking place. The first example is the production of intra-community ultraorthodox "talk shows", hosting orthodox celebrities and dealing with issues of interest and concern to the community. Since the instrument of television, the necessary venue for ongoing visual talk shows, is regarded as taboo in the ultra-orthodox community, a system of replacements has been formed that can evade the prohibition and provide a different yet similar product which can still satisfy the community’s need for social-visual stimulation. Entrepreneurs in the community produce CD’s in private studios for use in personal computers. These CD’s are distributed on a commercial basis through the sector's separate book stores. The "problematic" medium of television which broadcasts contents without traditional supervision is thus


replaced by a more subservient medium that allows for strict control over screened values. In this process of conversion the various programs including news, host-shows etc. which normally embody the very core of a dynamic medium that is characterized by its "minute to minute" tempo, reappear in a fantastically new form of designated and well controlled media portions served in the state of "deep freeze". The popular music industry within the ultra-orthodox circles is another arena in which the new media and tradition meet. The "Hassidic music" combines two revealing elements: canonic words taken from the Jewish Scriptures, set to music drawn directly from the western Pop and Rock scene. The non-expert listener will identify a rather basic beat typical of contemporary music channels, while the orthodox consumer will enjoy the rhythm finding its traditional content familiar and reassuring. In this example we can trace a conceptual separation between form and content enables the adaptation system to function. The form, the pattern and formation in which the music itself is conceived, conforms flexibly to the standards of the code of western popular music, while the content - the "message" of the song remains strictly within the boundaries of tradition. This deliberate gap can be found active as well, in the increasingly flourishing ultra-orthodox movie industry. Not allowed to participate in the conventional movie industry, perceived to be intrinsically anti-religious, the society has developed an internal, alternative film industry. Action movies are usually preferred, but the spectrum is widening. (The first ultra-orthodox horror movie has been recently released). While in form the outline of these movies simulates modern themes of action or drama, the content remains manifestly conservative. The plot usually deals with matters of interest or concern to the orthodox world. The inner constraints of the product are usually very strict: for instance, any reference to relationship between the sexes is rare. Acts of violence of any kind, physical or verbal, will jeopardize the sanction given to the product by the elders of the community, and naturally the script is strictly supervised to reflect community's values. Movies present a dramatic new challenge to the traditional community by revolutionizing the element of form. Traditionally, the abstract form of the textual would represent the sacred content as the only possible signifier. The new media accessories however enable the community to visualize its perceptions, and the choice the Ultra-Orthodox community makes is clearly


of separation between form and content. It seems a viable choice psychologically (as well as financially). Thus the balance between the two elements receives here new definition. While the form seems to simulate the every-day (albeit fantastic) experience of mundane recognizable characters walking down the street or entering cars and elevators, representing therefore the ordinary rather than the extraordinary side of life, the content remains preoccupied with ritual issues of purity, sacredness and spirituality. The cognitive dissonance created by this shift forces in fact upon the community new perception of its own sacredness, making tradition management a new and surprising venture. The methods of media adaptation through separation are all intended to ensure a slow and safe adaptation system, designed to translate particles from the post industrial world into the traditional society. By creating these artificial estrangement zones the traditional society can do both: internalize the advancement in form while distinguishing successfully between media and life, keeping its new enthusiastic media consumer constantly aware of the sacred and the extraordinary. No doubt the separation between F&C, although possibly affecting the overall quality of the product, ensures efficient adaptation of the methods of the new media component. The constant presence of deliberate distance, generated by the inner gap between F&C, correlates the distance felt between extraordinary and mundane experiences and between traditional communications and the new media product. These examples, along with the model of cultural heritage transmission system described in part A, show clearly that the ability to take a personalactive part in the act of cultural heritage inheritance, is tightly connected with the methods of data transmission. In a world of rapidly expanding digital accessories and methods of representation entirely constructed by new media components, it is important, more that ever, to carefully examine the relationship between "What" we show the next Generation , "How" we do it and how do we insert the traditional world the ability to adjust to the ever changing cultural management process.


REFERENCES Albright, William F .1963. The Archaeology of Palestine, Penguin Books Benhabib, Seyla. 1996. (ed.), Democracy and Difference, Princeton University Press, 1996 Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. (2000) Distinctions, Harvard University Press Bourdieu, Pierre.1995. Sur La Television, translated by Neri Sevenier. Tel Aviv: Babel publishing Eliade, Mircea. 1959. The Sacred and the Profane, Harcourt, Inc. Geertz, Cliford. 1983. Local Knowledge, Basic Books. Kymlicka, Will. 2001. Politics in the Vernacular, Oxford University Press Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1984. “The Role of Myth in Life”, in: Sacred Narrative, Alan Dundes, (ed.), University of California at Berkeley Press Parsons, Talcott, “Introduction” in: Weber, Max, Sociology of Religion, (Trans. E. Fischoff), Boston, 1963 White, Hayden.1986. (1978) Tropics of Discourse, the Johns Hopkins University Press