1. bookVolume 4 (2022): Issue 1 (June 2022)
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2003-184X
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Contemporary ceremonial media events – time and temporalities of liveness

Published Online: 07 May 2022
Volume & Issue: Volume 4 (2022) - Issue 1 (June 2022)
Page range: 19 - 36
Journal Details
License
Format
Journal
eISSN
2003-184X
First Published
30 May 2019
Publication timeframe
1 time per year
Languages
English
Abstract

This article discusses media events and liveness as ways live is performed in and by the media. Understanding the workings of contemporary media events entails understanding how they are embedded in complex patterns of temporalities; hence, the article deploys the notion of temporality of liveness to contemplate different ways in which time is entangled and made salient as particular forms of temporality in the unfolding of media events. Analysing the Danish queen's 2020 New Year's speech, the Danish prime minister's Covid-19 speech of 11 March 2020, and the broadcasting of the inauguration of Joe Biden on 20 January 2021, the article shows that liveness can be approached analytically. The analysis unfolds the diversity and changeability of temporalities of liveness, and argues that contemporary ceremonial events may be local or global, small or large, but still reach a substantial portion of a population. Thus, a point in the article is to call attention to the enduring importance of broadcast media and television for the creation of media events that gather and “enthrall” large audiences, to quote Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz, even in a time of global digital network communication.

Keywords

Introduction

Dayan and Katz (1992) famously coined a typology of ceremonial televised events consisting of coronations, conquests, and contests. Their focus on ceremonial events has since been contested, and suggestions of new types have proliferated over the years. Hepp and Couldry (2010) did not discard the ceremonial event but suggested replacing Dayan and Katz's events with three types, of which only one is ceremonial, whereas the other two are called traumatic – alternatively disruptive (Katz & Liebes, 2007) or conflictual (Mortensen, 2015) – and popular. Sonnevend (2016, 2018) suggests distinguishing between the integrative media event, the disruptive event, and lastly, the hijacked event, “when media events are being targeted as sites of protest” (2018: 112). Already in Media Events, Dayan and Katz (1992: 73) used “hijacked” to describe the terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. This changed landscape of media events also include user-generated media events (Mitu, 2016), emerging and spreading quickly in online media. User-generated media events may even convert an event into an alternative event (Heikka et al., 2016) or hijack (Sonnevend, 2018) a ceremonial media event and transform its temporality, mood, and content.

Dayan and Katz contributed to the criticism and the further development of their typology themselves (Dayan, 2010; Katz & Dayan, 2018; Katz & Liebes, 2007). Katz and Liebes (2007: 160) noted the “decline of ceremonial events in both frequency and centrality” in an online media landscape. Dayan (2010: 25–27) claimed more cynically that since 1992, the ceremonial media events had undergone a banalisation at the syntactic level (vs. the media event's “Ceremonial reverence […] sacrality and awe”), conflictualisation at the semantic level (vs. the theme of unification and the message of “reconciliation”) and disenchantment at the pragmatic level (vs. “Enthralls very large audiences”) (quotations in parentheses from Dayan & Katz, 1992: 12; emphasis original). Accordingly, the term “eventization” (Hepp & Couldry, 2010; Strach, 2018; Maasø, 2018) – alternatively, “event-isolation” (Hepp, 2004) or “eventification” (Hauptfleisch, 2004; Jakob, 2012) – should be included in this sketch of the contemporary media event landscape. Performing event, creating affective, attention-attracting crossmedia event packagings, may turn whichever premiere, release, upload, and so on, into a popular media event, to use Hepp and Couldry's (2010) term.

Despite the diversity of media events in contemporary broadcast and online media culture, they have one crucial thing in common: They are live and characterised by temporalities of liveness. Thus, this brief outline is in accord with Thomas Poell's (2020: 615) claim that “the contemporary, digitized media environment is characterized by a strong orientation towards the present, towards the event”. In this article, I delve into this mediated presentism by scrutinising the complexity of ceremonial media events’ liveness. Contemporary media events invoke the here and now in the live unfolding of an occurrence, despite their different purpose, scale, and presence or absence of media institutional framing. They remind us of time and our living in time, and they allow for more perceptible and tangible experiences of mediated time. Media events basically make time visible and our situatedness in time felt beyond the routine and mostly invisible “dailiness” of “broadcast time” (Scannell 1996: 5; see also Scannell, 2014; Couldry & Hepp, 2017: Ch. 6).

I depart from an understanding of media events as characterised by different temporalities of liveness or “constellations of liveness” (van Es, 2017). It is the complex textuality of liveness, its “thick” (Hepp & Couldry, 2010) intermingling of past, present, and future, I wish to pursue in the following. Furthermore, it is this “thick” temporality of liveness which makes time felt. Accordingly, I ask: How do temporalities of liveness unfold in contemporary media events?

Dayan and Katz (1992: 123, 125) argued that media events involve the viewer actively: Viewers are “invited, perhaps even commanded” to occupy the required reverential mood “beyond the border of routine viewing”, and in that sense, they participate in “bringing the event to life” (Scannell, 2017: 76). Dayan and Katz's most elaborate example is “festive viewing”, which involves people dressing up and gathering in front of their television sets to co-celebrate the event being broadcast. However, I argue that the way the audience is addressed by the mediated event in the three contemporary ceremonial events examined in this article is more inclusive and direct than that experienced by the participating audience conceptualised by Dayan and Katz. Accordingly, I also ask in which ways users and audiences are included as co-constituents in the liveness of the media event.

To address these questions, I first reflect in more detail on the question of time, temporality, and media events. In the following two sections, I deploy the notion of temporality of liveness to contemplate different ways in which time is entangled and made salient as particular temporalities in media events. First, I discuss the live transmission of the Danish queen's annual New Year's speech starting at 18:00 on 31 December 2020 and then the live transmission of the Covid-19 press conference of 11 March 2020, headed by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen at Christiansborg Palace, the Danish government building. I then turn from local examples to discuss the ceremonial live transmitted inauguration of Joe Biden as US president and the subsequent “deceremonialising” of the event as a result of the real-time spreading of memes of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders. The memes were based on a couple of photographs taken of Sanders on the Capitol when guests were arriving for the ceremony.

The examples call attention to the enduring importance of broadcast media and television for the creation of media events that gather large audiences in a time of global digital network communication. The three media events were produced and transmitted by television, but the inauguration travelled from television to social media while changing the event in terms of mood and temporality. All three examples conform to the preplanned ceremonial scripting of a media event well known from television. However, while the first two examples follow the script of the televised ceremonial event, the Biden inauguration shows how social media disrupt the broadcasters’ ceremonial script, construct a sense of the unplanned and unexpected, and give way to a popular user-generated media event (Mitu, 2016).

The analysis points out that the three examples are characterised by different temporalities of liveness. However, they share the unfolding of the event along the “before–during–after” structure characterising the ceremonial event (Scannell, 2002). The before phase is a slowed-down sequence marked by a mood of anticipation, an atmosphere of waiting for the event to start, and contemplating what will happen (often reverentially commented upon by a host on- or off-screen). Then the event unfolds as it was (hopefully) planned, and finally, the after sequence is marked by a mood of relief and elevation (think of Dayan and Katz's claim that in live broadcasting “something can go wrong”; 1992: 5). In all three examples, there is a manifest awareness of the audience which makes it more than participatory witnesses. Most significantly, the example of the Biden inauguration shows how contemporary broadcast television may lose control of the planned performance of liveness when audiences take to social media with humorous mocking to disrupt the event. The queen's New Year's speech and the prime minister's Covid-19 speech also gave rise to comments on social media, but of a much less conspicuous kind. Moreover, I argue that these two examples exude an awareness of being “traditional” ceremonial broadcast media events in a hybrid media context. Finally, I conclude by summarising my discussion about temporalities of liveness, and about the way ceremonial media events today perform liveness in complex ways and continue to gather large audiences in a time of “eventization”.

Time and temporality

Basically, live refers to the simultaneity of recording and transmitting an aspect of reality as it is happening. Real time is used similarly to live, but in particular for the temporalities of connectivity and immediacy constructed by networked mobile media communication (Poell, 2020; Williams, 2018). Liveness (e.g., Auslander, 2008; Caldwell, 1995; Couldry, 2003; Feuer, 1983; Scannell, 2014; van Es, 2017) may overlap conceptually with live, but it also refers to the ways live is performed in and by the media. In this respect, liveness can be approached analytically. Moreover, I deploy “temporality of liveness” as an umbrella term covering the performances of temporality which constitute the different ways media events unfold live.

Participating in a ceremonial media event means witnessing “an exceptional moment in history” (Sonnevend, 2016: 6) as it is unfolding live, in real time. By disrupting the preplanned temporality of the weekly (TV) schedules, media events create experiences of time beyond the “textured temporality of dailiness” (Keightley, 2012b: 12). Media events create unique and unrepeatable “moments” (Marriott, 2001) and a sense of “being there”, “in the time of the event” (Marriott, 2001: 725). Thus, the media event's temporality of liveness involves a sense of sociality and sharedness (Keightely, 2012, 2013), of partaking in the event's “moment-to-moment” unfolding (Scannell, 1996: 84).

Dayan and Katz (1992) argued that three temporal orientations were embedded in their three forms of ceremonial media events: contests were oriented towards the present, conquests towards the future, and coronations towards the past. In that sense, the understanding of media and temporality in Media Events was simple and unproblematic. However, the liveness of contemporary media events often unfolds in accordance with the entangled temporalities of cross-media multiplatforms (Sørensen, 2016), and they cannot be characterised as belonging to a definite temporal orientation. The liveness of contemporary media events is constructed by means of increasingly intertwined temporalities exceeding past, present, and future. This is the case regardless of whether we are talking about the slow, linear real time unfolding in the ceremonial event or the accelerated, viral real time in user-generated media events.

Thus, temporalities of liveness are made salient by very different means, depending on the platform and occasion. This supports van Loon's (2010) point that understanding media events and why they enthrall so many people requires more than the live aspect. It is time itself, van Loon (2010: 111) asserts, the experience of time as tangible, not self-evident: “The event is what is marked, what stands out, in time. Standing out in time becomes a time out, as if time itself ceases – even for the briefest of moments – to be”. van Loon (2010: 111) imagines time as putting its mark almost physically on the viewer. Experienced as a “time out” or “rupture of time”, the event may enforce a revitalisation of the viewer outside of the temporality of the routinely scheduled, provide “a moment of release from ‘the numbness imposed upon our senses’” (McLuhan, as cited in van Loon, 2010: 111). In van Loon's thinking, the outstanding “event-temporality” (Frosh & Pinchevski, 2018) thus includes a transformative potential (a point also made by Dayan & Katz, 1992: Ch. 6; see also Sonnevend, 2018; Ytreberg, 2017).

van Loon's (2010) reflections on the event and the defamiliarisation of time as time-out apply to media events in general and also echo Katz and Dayan's (2018: 147) more recent thinking about media events as having a “‘time-out’ character”. More closely related to contemporary media events, Frosh and Pinchevski (2018) think of time and what they, inspired by John Durham Peters (2001), call media witnessing in a “post-media events” configuration. The “post” prefix points to the simultaneity of events and multiple temporal orientations. Media events are formed bottom-up as well as top-down, and mobile technologies have radically changed viewing practices and the relationship between media, users, and events: “Today, it seems, not only are the times of media events ‘a-changin’ – they are also multiplying” (Frosh & Pinchevski, 2018: 138). Emile Keightley does not focus on media events in her writing but contemplates time and the media more generally; she notes that today, media “articulate time in multilayered ways” (2012a: 220). To Keightley (2012b: 12), the ubiquity of genres, platforms, and media surrounding us “create[s] multiple times which go beyond a linear model”. Keightley's point is that in the contemporary media ecology, the “temporality of broadcast time” (2012b: 12) has been replaced by the coexistence of a range of different temporalities, predictable or more chaotic, evolving from broadcast media or social media or developing across media. Keightley (2012b: 14) further argues that “these multiple dimensions of mediated time are not experienced separately but together as situated holistic temporalities”. The spectrum of media events detailed at the beginning of this article is illustrative of what constitutes this multilayered, multitemporal media landscape.

To make sense of the coexisting “formations of event-temporalities”, Frosh and Pinchevski (2018: 136) distinguish between eventfulness and eventness. Eventfulness refers to the centring and unfolding of time, a defined focalisation and “the power of shared synchronization” (Frosh & Pinchevski: 137),

Frosh and Pinchevski (2018) do not refer to Scannell (1996), who devotes a chapter in his book Radio, Televison & Modern Life to “Eventfulness”. To Scannell, eventfulness refers to a temporality of becoming, the exceptional event's being-exceptional in the moments of viewing.

whereas eventness refers to the decentred, distributed bottom-up enfolding of time in networked media, the non-centricity and non-focalisation of the perspective and a “‘now’ of networked immanent divergence” (Frosh & Pinchevski, 2018: 137) produced at any time across media. Eventfulness and eventness, the linear and the networked temporality of liveness, coexist in the multimediated time of contemporary media culture (Keightley, 2012b). The many different mediated temporalities exist in a tension of multilayering, intersection, and competition (Keightley, 2013: 61), including media events competing for their singularity in a media landscape in which media events are hardly monopolistic.

To summarise this section, media events today are multiple, overlapping, and of different scale, just as their temporalities of liveness are multiple and intertwined. Even though media events unfold live along the pace of continuous real time, their particular “‘thickened’, centering performances of mediated communication” (Hepp & Couldry, 2010: 12) – the way a media event is made to perform liveness and make meaning – is held together by networks of felt temporalities. Moreover, the user-generated media event on social media performs its liveness – its virality – through an unorganised distribution of disparate “nows”.

I now proceed to discuss how examples of contemporary ceremonial media events perform temporalities of liveness. I reflect upon a temporality of presence, a temporality of urgency, and finally, a temporality of futurity, which changes into compressed immediacy.

Contemporary ceremonial media events
The Danish queen's New Year's speech 2020

Since 1958, the Danish monarch has addressed the Danish people live on television on New Year's Eve. The speech was initially broadcast on television and radio, and since 2010, it has also been transmitted on the Danish public broadcasting services’ web portals. Since Queen Margrethe II made her first speech in 1972, the New Year's speech has mainly been transmitted from the queen's official reception room at the royal palace, Amalienborg, in Copenhagen. It starts precisely at 18:00 after sequences of exterior shots showing the queen's guards saluting and the gathering of people following the speech on screens on the palace square. The ceremonial tone is set by six strokes from the Town Hall clock. The speech lasts between 11 and 13 minutes; however, around 2005, DR (The Danish Broadcasting Corporation) started expanding the before sequence by framing the speech within a sociable conversation between a group of guests, journalists, and experts, seated at a table in front of the palace. They are all dressed up and sipping champagne, thus mimicking what is most likely taking place in front of most screens in Danish homes at that same moment. The chat leads up to the speech by contemplating what the queen might address that year, thereby increasing expectations as well as festivity and presence. In the after phase of the event, the same group of guests evaluate the speech amiably.

The live New Year's Eve speech is a national ritual attended by a large portion of the Danish population. The annual average attendance is 2.2 million viewers, and the speech on New Year's Eve 2020 attracted almost 3 million viewers, more than half the population (MediaWatch, 2021). The form is ceremonial and festive, and the queen's friendly smile and direct look into the camera infuse her communication with a sense of presence and intimacy. She sits behind her desk, decorated with some personal items (often from Greenland and the Faroe Islands) and a colourful bouquet of flowers, and she reads from the script in her hand while addressing the viewers directly. The open door to a cozy and elegant dimly lit sitting room behind her contributes to creating what Dayan and Katz (1992: 216) would call a “communal and egalitarian experience”, placing her almost on equal footing with the viewers during the event. She is dressed nicely, but never as if she was going to a party after the speech. The queen is at work, performing one of her royal duties, so she also maintains a certain distance.

The transmission is minutely planned. It is hegemonic and resonates historically. It is also integrative and creates a national “we” in which the queen includes herself and her family – in 2020, by making reference to her youngest son's (much media-covered) sickness and recovery. Time is of course prominent in the New Year's speech, just as New Year's Eve is a celebratory counting down to the new year. Like the televised transmission of the queen's speech, New Year's Eve typically constructs a festive and condensed – thickened – temporality, in which the present moment includes the past year and the year to come.

The queen's annual speech enacts and confirms the sovereign's traditional authority (as phrased by Max Weber; see Dayan & Katz, 1992: 43–45). The media event resembles Dayan and Katz's understanding of coronations. However, the construction of familiarity is prominent. The viewing situation is different, and the construction of the event's temporality of liveness includes the viewers in a more proximate, including way. The convivial framing and the direct address make the festive viewers co-constituents in the unfolding of the event rather than witnesses or an audience being “reached” by the event – to refer to Hepp and Couldry's (2010: 12) definition of the media event. This became manifest in the queen's 2020 speech. She concluded with the ritual blessing “Gud bevare Danmark!”, or “God bless Denmark!” but, surprisingly, before that she said “Gud bevare jer allesammen”, or “God bless you all”. This sociable and informal closing address created a bond between the queen and the viewers: It constructed a temporality of presence and a national collectivity, while at the same time referring to the challenging Covid-19 year, which the speech addressed at the beginning (see also Villadsen, 2021). Finally, it intensified the liveness, which constituted this television broadcast as a shared experience and an integrative national media event.

However, the informally spoken blessing and direct personal address might be regarded as this television event calling attention to its cross-media context, that the speech would be posted online on Instagram. Whereas the Danish crown prince and crown princess occasionally post information on Instagram accompanied by a personal comment – for example, a close-up of the crown prince at a hairdresser's along with the comment “I am possibly not the only one having a haircut today” (The Danish Royal House, 2020), and the crown princess posting a selfie on a plane on her way to an event with her “husband” (Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, 2021) – all photographs of the queen on Instagram (and Facebook) are posted with informative third-person comments. The informal blessing may thus compensate for the queen's lack of personal communication on Instagram.

The Danish prime minister's Covid-19 speech

The live broadcast of the queen's speech enacted traditional authority. In contrast, the ceremonial form of the media event constituted by the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's live transmitted press conference and speech on 11 March 2020 accorded with Weber's rational-legal authority, in which power resides in the political system and the “criteria of achievement that give access to leadership in such a system” (Dayan & Katz, 1992: 43–44). The live transmitted press conference occurred at the time when the Covid-19 pandemic was spreading aggressively; accordingly, it was the Covid-19 speech in which the prime minister declared a comprehensive lockdown.

The speech started at 20:30 and gathered the Danes massively in front of their screens; it had a little more than 1.8 million viewers.

Of the eight Covid-19 press conferences Mette Frederiksen headed between 6 March and 6 April 2020, viewer attendance at the first conference was only a little less than a quarter of a million, and attendance declined after the 11 March conference (PHD, 2020). The prime minister's 17 March press conference forecasting further restrictions was attended by approximately 2.85 million viewers, though this was most likely because Queen Margrethe II gave a historical Covid-19 speech immediately after that was attended by an unprecedented 3.4 million viewers. Numbers include flow TV on DR, TV2 and TV2 News, but exclude users on digital platforms (Dr.dk and TV2 Play).

The press conference was framed as a prolonged news segment by the Danish public service channels DR and TV2, both channels making diligent use of visual eventisation appeals like yellow “breaking” and “right now” banners. Yet, the press conference was infused with authority and importance by being meticulously formed as a media event and, in return, conferred importance upon the national television channels. It was ceremonial and addressed the nation. The before phase repeatedly pointed out that the event would interrupt the preplanned television schedule. Finally, it was narrated in accordance with the three-part before–during–after composition of the ceremonial media event.

I am only referring to the DR broadcast available on YouTube (Thailand Portalen, 2021).

The extended segment of anticipation took place in DR's news studio. It was hosted by one of the news anchors, who confessed that she had not been informed of the details of the conference, thus alluding to the live and exceptional nature of the broadcast. She also explained that the scheduled food programme had given way to the live transmission and would be rescheduled. The mood of anticipation was further constituted by cross-cutting between the news studio and the empty Spejlsalen – the Hall of Mirrors – at Christiansborg, from which the meeting was transmitted. The host explained that what the audience was seeing were live images from the Ministry of State, the long shot of the room and the empty desks ripe with anticipation. From the Hall of Mirrors, DR's political reporter also invoked the extraordinariness of the occasion and the situation despite this not being the first Covid-19 press conference to be broadcast. The reporter claimed that “this is almost like a speech to the nation” and even compared the event with the traumatic 9/11 event.

The Hall of Mirrors is one of the official rooms in the Prime Minister's Department, where press briefings take place on a weekly basis. However, they have not usually been transmitted to the public. The room is ceremonial. It is renovated in a neobaroque style, and a grey monochrome wall-to-wall carpet covers the floor. The walls are blue-grey, and a large blue banner bearing the Prime Minister Department's logo fills the walls behind the white desks where the officials would stand.

At exactly 20:30, the doors to the large room opened and a long shot showed the grave-looking procession entering. The prime minster walked ahead and placed herself by the middle table, flanked by the director of the Danish Health Authority, the minister of health and the elderly, the police commissioner, and the director of citizen services at the Foreign Ministry. They were all formally dressed, the prime minister wearing a dark skirt and jacket, the police commissioner in uniform, and the three other men in dark suits and ties. After the prime minister's extended introduction in which she explained the imminent implementation of restrictions and regulations, she gave the floor to her surrounding officials, and finally the camera turned towards a smaller group of journalists who were invited to ask a couple of questions. The after phase returned to the news studio and a continued discussion among the experts from the before phase.

Mette Frederiksen's press conference explicitly unfolded as a local media event, the Danes being at the centre of attention despite the global nature of the pandemic. The prime minister repeatedly appealed to “Danishness” and used the inclusive “we” pronoun. It framed “the COVID-19 crisis as a uniquely Danish problem with a particularly Danish solution” (Villadsen, 2020: 230), that is, showing “samfundssind” (translated by Villadsen as “civic-mindedness”) because, as phrased by the prime minister, “this is exactly what we have in Denmark”. Thus, the rhetorical maneuvers of the speech served to create the integrative communitas, which the live ceremonial event is meant to deliver, according to Dayan and Katz. Central to the speech was an emphasis on how the impending changes to everyday life would be challenging. Whereas the broadcast event in Dayan and Katz's view “creates an upsurge of fellow feeling, an epidemic of communitas [emphasis original]” (1992: 196), the speech was urging this communitas to stand together and “help each other”. The obvious crack in the communitas – the fact that the Covid-19 virus spread so rapidly that “we have started to also infect each other here in Denmark” – was amended rhetorically by constructing the slogan, “Standing together by keeping a distance”. The press conference simultaneously advocated and created this national (imagined) community.

For a discussion of the speech's nationalism and how the interpellated community of Danes excluded other Danes, see Villadsen (2021).

Whereas the queen's speech created a temporality of presence embedded in tradition, the prime minister's live speech created a temporality of urgency. Simultaneously, she called upon and constituted the immediate now for the sake of the future. By deictically invoking the live moment (“What I am going to say to you tonight will have great consequences for all Danes”), she performed the speech as an extraordinary prolonged now, even though the set-up repeated the previous day's press conference.

The prime minister managed to craft a national media event, broadcast live and interrupting the scheduled flow of the two national channels. The speech was focused on the necessity of acting immediately to prevent a future catastrophe. The press conference was ceremonial while at the same time exuding an air of future disruptions by the DR reporter's reference to 9/11. It was far from festive, but invoked everyday social life and presaged a different everyday temporality. The speech brought together a community of Danes, and the event enacted one of the core functions of the media event: It was “integrative of society” (Dayan & Katz, 1992; Katz & Liebes, 2007) in terms of media attendance, the exceptional live transmission of an extraordinary moment and the serious mood, mirrored in the authoritative mise-en-scène. Additionally, the speech's rhetorical construction of a temporality of urgency and its rhetorical inclusion of the audience contributed to the ceremonial construction of a national community.

The speech confirmed the prime minister's rational-legal authority while at the same time challenging the broadcaster's position as “mediated centre” (Couldry, 2003) by relegating it to a slightly inferior position: DR produced and were in charge of the before and after phases but transmitted the during phase – whose content the producer and anchor were not fully aware of. In this article's third example, the 2021 American presidential inauguration, while emphasising liveness and real time and accomplishing the ceremonial media event, the construction of television as mediated centre was no less challenged.

The American presidential inauguration

Joe Biden was officially sworn in as president on 20 January 2021. The inauguration was broadcast and live-streamed on all major American network and cable media. An estimated 34 million Americans watched the extended transmission, which started the sequence of anticipation well before the ceremony on the historically important Capitol. Joe Biden was sworn in around noon, Vice President Kamala Harris shortly before, and the transmission lasted until President Biden and his wife arrived at the White House at around 16:00.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no “mass audience” co-producing the coronation and confirming “the contract between leaders and led” (Dayan & Katz, 1992: 42). Apart from this important difference, the ceremony on the Capitol and the post-ceremonial events (the visit by the new and former presidents and their spouses to the Arlington cemetary, for example) comply with Dayan and Katz's definition of the coronation, the function of which is “to reaffirm the values at the center” (Dayan & Katz, 1992: 42). However, unlike Dayan and Katz's argument that the coronation constructs a “time orientation” towards the past (1992: 34–35), the inauguration event constructed a temporality of futurity. The theme of Biden's inaugural speech was the soon-to-come recovery of “American unity” (The White House, 2021), and the inauguration was staged as a future-oriented occasion to reaffirm a collective sense of American history for the future (Heikka et al., 2016). The event was also spectacular. Singers Garth Brooks, Lady Gaga, and Jennifer Lopez and poet Amanda Gorman contributed prominently, the latter three glamorously dressed, thus also embedding the temporality of futurity within a fashionable now. The singers performed nationally revered treasures, and their appearance represented a spectacular and festive contrast to the practical and winterly look of the invited guests and the facemasks worn by everyone. Notwithstanding Lady Gaga's performance of the national anthem and Amanda Gorman's rendition of her poem “The Hill We Climb”, the fashion media were quick to comment on Gaga's voluminous haute couture Shiaparelli gown, Gorman's bright yellow Prada coat and red headband, and Michelle Obama's purple outfit by Sergio. Gaga and Gorman quickly took to social media, though, to explain the symbolic value of their outfits, thus balancing the fashionable and the nowness of the fashion with the reverential in the media event.

However, a user-generated media event eventually became attached to the ritualised and reverential ceremonial media event. A couple of photos of independent senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, long-time fierce critic of social and economic inequality in the US and earlier front-runner for the nomination as Democratic presidential candidate, became memes and went viral on social media right before the inauguration ended. The ceremonial and reverential mood was overlaid with a disruptive commenting on the coronation through humorous, satirising mocking. I use the term disruption in a different way than Katz and Liebes (2007), who use it to designate sudden and unexpected, often violent, events. I also do not use it to mean hijacked media events, where protesters or terrorists appropriate the ceremonial scene for disruptive means (Dayan & Katz, 1992: 72–73; Sonnevend, 2018; Heikka et al., 2016). Instead, I use it to designate how the satirical communication dismantled the aura of the inauguration.

The Sanders memes were the result of a process of visual decontextualisation. They deritualised the media event by creating another free-floating online space, punctuating its temporality of futurity in favour of a temporality of compressed immediacy characteristic of the viral – a nowness attending to neither the past nor the future. Moreover, as the memes spread to many corners of social medias’ networked publics, they disrupted the sense of the event as a powerful political centre to which authority could be attached. Finally, the memes despectacularised the event by spreading an image of an old man wearing a plain winter coat and a pair of over-sized knitted mittens. In short, by humorously elevating Sanders's homely appearance, the spreading of the memes created a user-generated media event which deceremonialised the official mediated event and thus mocked the elite by zooming in on a random moment before the ceremony started.

The capture and decontextualisation of this moment definitely went viral. Between 20 and 23 January, 52,010 tweets including the hashtag #bernie were published on Twitter.

The tweets were generously collected by my colleague, assistant professor Franziska Marquart, using R and the academictwitteR package (Barrie & Ho, 2021), utilising Twitter's v2 API endpoint for academic researchers (Tornes & Trujillo, 2021). In all likelihood, not all of these tweets were memes.

References to “Bernie's mittens” started appearing on Twitter two and a half hours after the culmination of the inauguration ceremony, that is, shortly before the president arrived at The White House. Then they spread virally, creating a decentred liveness, to paraphrase Auslander (2008). A little over 1,300 tweets were posted on 20 January, around 17,000 on 21 January, around 22,500 on 22 January, and the rest (around 10,000) on 23 January.

The numerous online articles about the meme claimed that the Internet “exploded”, it “spread like wildfire”, went “viral” and became an “instant meme”. The meme did go viral, in the manner of Wiggins's (2019: 4) definition of viral media as “the capacity for media content, such as texts, images, hashtags etc. to spread massively in online spaces often for relatively short periods of time”. Using the search term “Bernie Sanders meme” and selecting “whole world” and dates “last twelve months” on Google Trends (n.d.-a) showed a significant peak during the week 17–23 January. Selecting only the dates 20–23 January, the graph showed an ascending line from January 20 to January 22 and then the curve flattened (Google Trends, n.d.-b). The curve looked more or less the same if only the US was chosen as a geographical search term. It could be noted that Vermont showed the highest acitivity of US states.

Memes are basically defined as mutable and replicable “semiotic signs”, “mediated digital content which individuals can alter if they choose and spread again” (Wiggins, 2019: 6, 44). They are “units of popular culture that are circulated, imitated, and transformed by individual Internet users, creating a shared cultural experience in the process” (Shifman, 2013: 367; see also Shifman, 2014, for a slightly different definition). Accordingly, memes work by being detached from their original context, but they only go viral because of joint knowledge to their references. Miltner (2018) credits Jean Burgess (2006) with the term “vernacular creativity” when defining memes, which makes sense in this context, where the strategy of many of the Sanders memes is humorous devaluation. Finally, Denisova (2019: 2) contributes to the understanding of the “viral power” of memes by focusing on emotion. Memes are “remarkably versatile for meaning-making, emotion-sharing and attention-grabbing in the oversaturated Internet environment” (Denisova, 2019: 10).

The most memified photograph, taken by photojournalist Brendan Smialowski, shows Sanders “appearing unamused” (Fazio, 2021), bundled up in a chair in his ordinary green parka, wearing a blue facemask, his legs and arms crossed, his eyes slightly closed behind his glasses. Most conspicuously, he is wearing a pair of large, knitted mittens in a brown and white pattern. However, another meme grabbed from television broadcasts, which apparently started circulating on Twitter a little before the one using Smialowski's photo, may have set the tone of vernacular mocking of the elite: It showed Sanders on the Capitol holding an orange Manila Envelope and looking “like he was just running an everyday errand” (Wanshel, 2021). Apparently, the envelope contained the ticket to the event; however, it occasioned different deceremonialising memes, which communicated referentially (Shifman, 2013) by adding texts commenting on his everyday appearance: “Bernie really looks like he's on his way to mail something” (Katherine Miller, 2021); “Bernie, on his way to Stewarts for coffee, has parked his Subaru on the capitol lawn to briefly attend the inauguration” (Taietsarón:sere, 2021); “Bernie dressed like the inauguration is on his to do list today but ain’t his whole day” (Reeezy, 2021); or “10:30, drop off dry cleaning; 11:00, Joe's thing; 2:00 swing by the post office” (Brody Logan, 2021).

The mitten memes can be divided in two main categories distinguished by their different decontextualisation: one adds humor to the photograph through comments, while the other does so through remixing (Wiggins, 2019), inserting Sanders in new, popular cultural, or real-world, contexts (some of these memes also include text). Texts accompanying the former anchor Bernie Sanders's pose humorously – in the manner of friendly mocking – like “In Jewish yoga this pose is: waiting for my wife at Loehmann's” (Chandra Steele, 2021); “I am once again asking that you not talk to me at parties” (Obed Manuel, 2021); or “Bernie Sanders gets to the movie theater nice and early even though he hates sitting through the trailers” (Joseph Scrimshaw, 2021). The remixed memes insert Sanders in numerous different environments, be they geographical locations in the US or well-known popular cultural texts. Examples include Bernie Sanders on a bench with Tom Hanks in Forest Gump (e.g., Torres, 2021); Bernie Sanders in the coffee shop in Friends (e.g., Myllena <3, n.d.); Bernie Sanders in Hopper's Nighthawks (e.g., Golenda & Waddoups, 2021); Bernie Sanders together with the workers having “Lunch on top a Skyscraper” (e.g., Know Your Meme, n.d.); Bernie Sanders on the moon (e.g., Alex Levin, n.d.); Bernie Sanders sitting alone in an underground car (e.g., Ives & Victor, 2021); and Bernie Sanders anywhere in a Google Street View Image (e.g., Desreumaux, 2021).

According to Wired (Barrett, 2021: para. 7), master candidate in computer science Nick Sawhney quickly set up a site which offered users the opportunity to put “pictures of Sanders anywhere in the world that Google's Street View cars have roamed”.

Through decontextualisation and “playful appropriations of contexts” (Mortensen & Neumayer, 2021), a user-generated media event using memes to mock the reverential temporality of futurity and the performance of power in the inauguration ceremony developed rapidly on social media. The user-generated media event departed from and interacted with the coronation, commented upon it, and called upon a debate about its undisputed staging of the powerful nation and its authority. In the aftermath of the inauguration, the memes challenged the ceremonial event and could be said to transform it into an alternative “dialogic” event (Heikka et al., 2016).

Conclusion

The aim of this article has been to show how media events prominently render time and our situatedness in time visible. I have discussed different examples of ceremonial media events and argued that the liveness of media events unfolds along complex temporalities. A point has been that liveness is both a technological term and a term designating the particular live unfolding of a media event. To analyse a media event therefore involves analysing the performance of temporalities of liveness.

The three different media events analysed in this article exemplify different temporalities of liveness: presence, urgency, and futurity turned into compressed immediacy. The queen's New Year's speech gathered a large proportion of Danes and addressed the viewers directly, and they thus co-constituted the temporality of presence. Mette Frederiksen's Covid-19 speech was preplanned and ceremonial, leaning towards the traumatic media event. It invoked a temporality of urgency by pledging action of the Danes for the sake of the future. And in the final example, social media users harvested a couple of photos from the inauguration, memified them, deconstructed the ceremonial event's temporality of futurity, and created a different temporality of compressed immediacy.

Thus, this article has aimed at not only conducting a media event analysis but also showing that the temporality of ceremonial events exceeds the three straightforward “time orientations” – past, present, and future – that Dayan and Katz (1992) attached to coronations, contests, and conquests, respectively. The different designations imply that media events today may be understood as performing liveness. Liveness takes many forms and comes in many temporalities, depending on media technology and type of event.

By focusing on how liveness unfolds in three examples of contemporary ceremonial broadcast events, this article has pointed out that the contemporary hybrid media landscape still comprises ceremonial media events and continues to show television's ability to attract the attention of large groups of people, on a national and an international scale. Yet the stable centring perspective and firm temporal positions characterising Dayan and Katz's ceremonial media events are less prominent, and their boundaries may be more easily contested. This change towards somewhat more unstable ceremonial events comprises the changed positions of the audience and the changed media landscape. Viewers were positioned inclusively in the queen's speech and addressed as agents in the prime minister's speech. In the last example, a user-generated media event took off from the ceremonial event and turned online commenting through memes into participatory acts. The point of the analysis was to demonstrate that the memefied environment created around the broadcast inauguration challenged the ceremonial, the constitution of power as evidentiary, the media centric linearity, and the temporality of futurity. As phrased by Bianca Mitu (2016), the user-generated media event may comprise the power to create an alternative interpretation of an event, to disrupt it or co-develop it in a new direction.

The last example shows that temporalities of liveness acquire a different meaning as technology changes, from a temporality of futurity to social media virality's temporality of compressed immediacy. As regards the first two examples, social media are not involved directly in the same manner, leaning more towards Media Events’ “classical” ceremonial event. However, I argued that the social media context of the two Danish media events is made discreetely felt: The queen's unusually direct address strengthened the ceremonial media event's temporality of presence and could also be understood as an address conforming to social media communication, given that the speech would be posted on Instagram. The television broadcast of the prime minister's speech also reflected the hybrid, decentred media context by DR's news anchor's subjecting her agency to the prime minister's office at the beginning of the broadcast.

The three examples show that temporalities of liveness are diverse and changeable. Understanding the workings of contemporary media events entails understanding how they simultaneously perform and are embedded in complex patterns of temporalities. This sense of the contemporary ceremonial media event being more transformable and less centring accords with the “multimediated time” of contemporary media cultures (Keightley, 2012b) and the ubiquity of competing platforms and networks constituting the media landscape on a global scale. Media events today are of a different scale and different societal importance, and they may occur simultaneously. However, the chosen examples show that ceremonial media events are still able to make meaning and gather a large proportion of a population.

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