IT ISN’T A SPOILER to tell you that roughly 10% of my upcoming novel, Travels and Travails of Small Minds, takes place in a vast and troubled land of vodka and pickle chasers, provincial cannibalism, extreme oligarchical excess, tweaked-out Phil Dick-ian hackers, and witch house DJs with eerie contact lenses.
That’s right, Russia, currently the most hated place on Earth. Rush-a. Just whispering those two syllables in a crowded elevator will cause shivers to run up necks and eyes to narrow with suspicion. Try saying it out loud at a dinner party sometime and watch the invective and spittle fly. Or worse, try defending the place for its rich literary history and surreal nihilist vibe and you may have to duck some reactionary punches. What is clear is that the land of Dostoyevsky and steaming borscht is currently far more hated and feared than even during the Cold War.
So why is everyone hating on The Motherland these days? Is it not true that in today’s “be politically correct or die” sanitized culture that it’s a definite no-no to single handedly dismiss an entire country of 144 million individuals? Why clamp the blinders down on a rich and vibrant culture stretching back to the year 862? Like with any prejudice, it all starts with negative imagery that has been implanted on the collective minds of all haters. After all, racism and prejudice are generally learned traits, and there has been a lot of hateful learning implanted on the thought processes of otherwise open minded and accepting liberals for many generations.
Beware! The Commies!
For those alive today who were born in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and early 80s, the images planted in your mind concerning Mother Russia most likely fall under the “Cold War Shit” category. You envision long breadlines with snowflakes falling over hunched babushkas with gypsy headscarves. You envision some weight challenged drunk with a satanic birthmark on his bald head threatening to nuke your home. Your mind recoils at the thought of heartless KGB squads in dark suits making people disappear in the dead of the Siberian night. You think of tapped phones, of honey traps, of atheist comrades willing to live spare for the good of The State. You think of the unsettling, bold visuals of a propaganda flag involving an intertwined hammer and sickle.
Even those cultured enough to be into history have their minds polluted with images of insanely bloody revolutions and cunning assassinations, of dead-eyed mystics leading the empire astray, of genocidal dictators and free thinkers cast into eternal exile.
Like with nearly all stereotypical or flat out racist concepts, much of this imagery has strong footholds in the truth. But is this imagery alone enough to convince you to nonchalantly dismiss 144 million living and many billions of deceased individuals spanning hundreds of centuries as evil Vlads and Kashas? When it comes to Russia, the answer has always seemed to be, “Fuck yes, it is.”
2017: Russophobe Overdrive
If the Russophobe instinct was strong before, then the extremely lame events of the past couple of years have really just kicked this thing into complete, uncontrollable overdrive. The flimsy dam is fully broken and the hate spews forth in waves. Much like with the historical aspects haters can latch on to, these current prejudicial footholds certainly do have truthful elements. Vladimir Putin, for example, is a person who actually exists (we think) and t.A.T.u. really are a Lolita-inspired pop sensation coasting on incestuous imagery. But hey, nobody’s perfect, right?
As if this new wave of Russia hate wasn’t enough already, then along comes The Donald. Now, don’t get me wrong here. Of course I am in agreement that if the asshole was indeed conspiring with other assholes such as Putin or Assange then he should be cast into a supermax facility where his jumpsuit will perfectly match his complexion. But if you take just a slight step back and truly observe the situation from beyond your initial reactionary instinct, it’s easy to see that the hip new wave of Russophobia has been going, and is likely to continue going, just a bit too far. It seems that any politician, businessman, postman, or factory worker that has ever been photographed, anywhere, with some sort of Russian is being called out for having (cue the sinister music) “Russian Ties”. And once you have “Russian Ties” you can pretty much assume that this will follow you for the rest of your life as if you were on the sex offender list. So think twice before Instagramming that shot of you with the half-drunk bottle of Stoli and you may want to ditch that significant other of yours with Russian ancestry. After all, that person will understand. It’s not them. It’s the times.
The two headed Trump/Putin beast has cast forth a whole new wave of negative imagery that makes it easy for otherwise PC and accepting liberal individuals to actively promote the abject hatred of an entire nation and all of their ancestors. This is, after all, a land chalk full of seven-foot-tall Nazis wearing strange medals, of mass homophobia and uprisings squashed with blood in the streets. Neighboring countries are randomly attacked and swallowed into the fold. Gangs of skinheads descend on Halal food vendors in random strikes. Obscure border wars rage on for decades. Dissenting journalist accidentally fall out of 20th story windows or drown in bizarre hot tub accidents. Protesters are locked in provincial prisons to protest away until the end of their days.
In some very striking ways, your average modern day liberal RESISTter has become today’s cold war era Republican. Not only is there an instant dismissiveness and suspicion of any and all Russian-related individuals, objects, or ideas, but there are even hints of downright racist or even low key genocidal thought patterns creeping into play. If you were to go on Twitter right now (I’m not suggesting to actually do this, so please don’t feel obligated to visit this cesspool. Just take my word for it, please.) you will be confronted with a full force front of hatred on the Russian people which, if it were against any other people or country, would come off as extremely racist and get the tweeter blacklisted to the fringes of society. Take for example the simple insult of referring to a Russian individual as an “Ivan”. Just taking a cruise of Twitter right at this moment (yes I’m taking the hit for you) I’ve found the following missives. The handles have been omitted to protect the woke as fuck REISTers in question:
“He’s just your average Ivan-come-lately.”
“I wonder how many Ivans he knows. LOL”
“Oh great, another Russian tie. How many Ivans do we need to dig up on this guy before he has to go?”
“Of course these Russian hackers will work for the campaigns offering $$. Starving Ivans go to the highest bidders.”
Now what would happen if you substituted that “Ivan” with, say, “Habib” to refer to all Indians or “Abdul” to encompass all individuals from the Middle East? That would be rather prejudicial and wrong, wouldn’t it? Much like with the right wingers during the cold war, right now it is simply seen as a fine and admirable thing to viciously slander many millions of individuals just because of a handful of assholes associated with them. And just where exactly does this all stop? Where is the line drawn? Are proudly liberal individuals actually going call for a return of the cold war? Or will they just go all the way and advocate a real war on the “Ivans”? Will nukes be brought into the dialogue, perhaps? And if so, then what exactly separates today’s lib RESISTers from yesterday’s right wing?
Why Russophobia Is Dead Wrong
Although it’s never been proven that hate causes cancer, it certainly can’t help, can it? But this isn’t the only reason to not spew feral hatred at the land of borsch and striking blond tennis stars. It isn’t even the fact that that smirking the word “Russia” in political discussions at dinner parties makes you appear incredibly unattractive. No, the true reasons to not sneer at the Motherland have nothing to do with your health or general unattractiveness. Even in the midst of an era when you are being told by various facets of the press and late night TV that Russia as a whole is responsible for the rapidly declining fate of your country, please take a moment, take a breath, practice some deep sea visualization, and consider the following.
You Can’t Judge An Entire Nation Just Because Of Their Leader (Ahem)
Starting in January of this year, this isn’t too tough of a concept to sell anymore, is it?
You Can’t Judge An Entire Nation Because Racism and Misogyny Exist In That Nation
This is another argument we don’t really need to make, but let’s just humor ourselves here. Is every Russian man an Arab-attacking skinhead or a wife beating, vodka pissing brute? Is every Russian woman a honey trap green card seeking gold digger? There are some people who fall into these high profile categories, of course, but for each bear-fisted abuser there are many thousands of people just trying to make it through another day. Some are blond, others brunet. Some are old, others young. Some are in good shape, others overweight or malnourished. Some are of chipper dispositions, others brooding. Some are artistically inclined, others practical and scientific. Some are horrified by current events, others apathetic. Some feel their lives are stable and on track, while others are searching or lost. In other words, they are just like you or I. And you shouldn’t dismiss them because some hackers from their country that they’ve never even met stole a few emails.
Lots Of Cool Literature and Art Has Come From Russia
Do you remember the hair metal band Gorky Park? No? Well that’s ok because tons of cool cultural awesomeness has boiled up from the frozen ground of the Motherland. I’ve already mentioned the literature, but really, what a rich legacy this is. Not only do you have indisputable literary titans you’ve heard of from your undergrad world lit elective such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pushkin but you have left of center oddballs of the Gogol and Bulgakov variety. You have Nabokov. You have modern dissidents like Eduard Limonov, a man who makes Hunter S. Thompson seem like Chuck Klosterman. The post apocalyptic, Blade Runner vibe of Moscow seems to bring out good things in expat writers as well, as anyone who read The eXile in the 90s could attest to, and even though Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi continue to slog away in the American journalistic abyss, it doesn’t take too keen of an eye to see that they are shadows of their former selves since they stopped covering Russia.
It is often overlooked that Russian artists played a significant role in the surrealist movement of the 20s and 30s. Cubists Jeffim Golyscheff and Mark Slodki were even displayed in the earliest Parisian Dada exhibitions, and it has been pointed out that futurists such as David Burliuk, Kazimir Malevich, Ivan Puni, and Vladimir Mayakovsky most definitely preceded the movement with their absurd and exaggerated works. There was indeed a recognized and popular Dadaist journal founded in Moscow in the early 20s espousing such rhetoric as “Throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoi etc. overboard!” and “Read nothing, write nothing, publish nothing. No more manifestos. Stop talking.” Pretty punk, huh? And if you’ve never checked out the tripped-out works of Boris Zemenkov, the headless drawings of Pavel Fedotov, or the flat-out bonkers works of the over-the-top mystical Mikalojaus Cuirlionis then you are certainly missing out. It only makes sense, since Russia is now and has always been an incredibly surreal and mystical land. There has never been a more fertile ground for surrealist, mystical, nihilist, and just plain trippy art and literature.
These are strong people who have lived through everything
The “Russian spirit” has long been spoken of, and it boils down to a festive, resilient endurance of even the harshest of day-to-day conditions. This is a history chalk full of Siberian gulags, tyrannical leaders, exiled or executed artists and dissidents, flat out genocides, bloody uprisings, brutal winters, food shortages and rationing, blatant governmental corruption of an almost comical extreme, mass murderers, joy killings, mafia ultra-violence, lawless provinces, cannibalism, oligarchical godheads, oppression of minority groups, and dated fashions (people still wear stonewashed jeans there, and not ironically). These are individuals who have, ancestrally speaking, lived through nearly every imaginable horror.
And there you are ready to nuke them all just because their current tyrant supports your current tyrant.
Chill on that. Russia may not be for the faint of heart, but neither is any current or past non-neutral superpower. Your average citizen living within those vast and contended borders has absolutely nothing to do with any of the horrors that came before and will have nothing to do with any of the horrors still to come. A little sympathy and understanding in the face of a mass hysteria lynch mob would go a long way.
And besides, commie hating is soooooooo 1986.