Popular media and national trauma in Vietnam: Discourses of Vietnamese cultural reconciliation

Author: Nguyen Thu Giang (University of Social Sciences and Humanities)
Speaker: Nguyen Thu Giang
Topic: Language, community, ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


This paper investigates ways in which the effects of popular television emerge when mediated by viewer affect so to unsettle and resettle the politics of national reconciliation in Vietnam. For this, the paper presents a case study of the reality show ‘As if We Never Parted’ (AIWNP), a popular and ongoing TV program in Vietnam that combines television with the Internet to reunite missing people, most of whom have become victims of national catastrophes.

The study argues that AIWNP has become a working site of neoliberal biopower, more so than a facilitator of socialist sovereignty. In featuring testimonies of missing people and enabling actual family reunions, AIWNP offers participatory opportunities for ordinary citizens to voice their tragedies, and to alleviate their own pain. As such, this reality show has replaced the traditional theme of revolutionary heroism in Vietnamese media with a new focus on intimate victimhood, a common theme on the media in the age of neoliberalism.

The study argues that AIWNP demonstrates the emergence of Vietnamese television as a ‘neoliberal technology of affect,’ and one that governs private feelings of nationhood by citizens, by provoking their affective engagement, and connecting this engagement with past national events. The paper argues, however, that in reducing past tragic events to personal experience, AIWNP also promotes the prospect of healing as only achievable at the level of intimate emotions, while not attempting to alter the roots of past violence and the continuities of political and social injustice, which become encapsulated by a combination of socialist politics and capitalist economies.

The paper advances discourse theory, as well as the study of the anthropology of Vietnam through media, by combining investigations of media, socioeconomic and sociopolitical flows, and social psychology, by discussing that AIWNP addresses the wounds of the socialist past, but inevitably conceals ongoing neoliberal inequality in the name of the loving self.

Keywords: Media, Vietnam, Neoliberalism, Nationalism, Discourse theory