Friday, August 17, 2012

The Riot of the Pussies

Let the electronic Pamplona begin.

The most entertaining thing about totalitarian dictatorships such as the United States and Russia is that they're so predictable and, because of the dominance of bone over actual brain matter, are tailor-made for the critical intelligencia, charging headfirst and leading with the chin like a ham-and-egg club fighter because the practitioners of oppression have a fabulously apolitical and illogical sensibility.

They either have no political instincts or are fatally blase about the negative press that turns into support for those they seek to oppress. Oppression from these totalitarian regimes whether it be New York City or Oakland in the #OWS movement or post-Soviet Russia in the wake of two stupendously peckerheaded rulings handed down by their high courts is absolutely identical the world over.

One of them was in the Russian High Court banning Gay Pride marches in Russia for the next century, as if that's going to happen. To paraphrase Andrew Jackson, "They've handed down their decision. now see them try to enforce it."

But this isn't about the LGBT movement in Russia but Pussy Riot, an all girl punk rock band and performance artists who have somehow, without meaning or trying to, hilariously twisted up post-Soviet Russia into taking a stand defending religion. If you would take the time to read Mo Jo's constantly-updated article on the trial and verdict, you'll be treated to a load of belly laughs reminiscent of a hardly less oppressive time of Stalinist show trials, airbrushed photographs and razor blades coming with every encyclopedia so good Soviets could edit incriminating information on their own.

And leave it to Vlad Putin's Russia to be so bone-headed as to turn a shitty punk rock band like Pussy Riot, a group that obviously peaked when they picked their cool name, into a world-wide phenomenon and cause célèbre. Leave it to oppressive and repressive police states like Putin's Russia to give these girls a global audience and, in the process, making them international celebrities and creating fans that are legion and show no signs of shrinking or stopping.

Of course, when a brutal police state seeks to repress and oppress by elevating the previously obscure, if the international press or a domain such as Twitter or Facebook makes it viral, it's pretty much guaranteed that 110% of the time you make them martyrs, hence symbols. And if their stunt last February in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow (that had been destroyed by Stalin over 80 years ago) had been ignored, Russia would've gotten out of this clean and simple and Pussy Riot's fans could still be squeezed into a kvass kiosk.

But no. Russia had to elevate these girls to international celebrity in a highly publicized Stalinesque show trial that involved fake bomb threats (it's notable the three defendants weren't evacuated from the court room with everyone else), suppression of supporting witness testimony and even cranes being used to remove protesters.

Instead, we're seeing from Moscow to Melbourne and from St. Petersburg to San Francisco people wearing balaclavas, the signature ski masks worn by the band during their concerts and performance art. I doubt if any of their newest fans know the lyrics to any of their songs or even the titles. But that's not important. What's important to remember is that Pussy Riot is now symbolic of freedom of human expression and a new focal point for the denial and repression of human rights. Talent is irrelevant. Integrity isn't.

Giving this show trial a nostalgic Theater of the Absurd ambience is the charge that sent these three girls to prison for the next two years: "Hooliganism." Incredible as it is to believe that there are still people besides John McCain and Scrabble players who use the word "hooligan", what's even more incredible is the realization that they intended on generating this kind of publicity as if they were going out of their way to anger and unite feminists, gays, lesbians and bisexuals (the girls were accused of disseminating "homosexual propaganda"), music lovers, human rights activists and celebrities from all over the music world.

Because a show trial's efficacy is only as good as the press it generates. If no one cares, you forfeit your symbology. But when you get celebrities involved, well, then it becomes more fully real.
Yes. Peter Gabriel has also written a letter of support, and British actor, author, director, and comedian Stephen Fry has taken up the fight through his Twitter account. According to Pussy Riot lawyer Mark Feygin, the Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis has also spoken to Madonna and texted Bono about the cause...

Paul McCartney, The Who's Pete Townshend, Bjork, and Pulp's Jarvis Cocker have also voiced support of the imprisoned women, and pro-Pussy Riot rallies in more than two dozen international cities are mobilizing for marches on Friday. This week, literary magazine n+1 published Pussy Riot's closing arguments in English, and tonight electro-punk feminist musician JD Samson (Le Tigre, MEN) hosted a reading of them in New York City, featuring Chloe Sevigny, performance artist Karen Finley, and poet Eileen Myles, among others.

Before the trial's closing arguments, Kathleen Hanna (formerly of Bikini Kill) argued for a global Pussy Riot movement. "Who knows this could be the start of a whole new thing," Hanna wrote on her site. "A whole new motivating source for a globally connected unapologetic punk feminist art and music scene."

And the fact that Judge Marina Syrova is herself a woman will not tamp down any charges that the Russian state was acting in the interests of misogynism by imprisoning Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich, and Maria Alekhina for two years.

Bravo, Russia. Like that poor, stupid aging club fighter who still never learned to box and instead charges headfirst and leading with the chin, you did not fail to disappoint. This and your High Court's decision to pathetically attempt to ban gay activism in Russia for the next century makes our own right wing, reactionary High Court briefly look a little better by conspicuous relief in the lightning-fast court of international opinion.


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