Tuesday, May 11, 2010

It's the Reds! Quick, tesseract away!

Edit: Briullov always beats me to the punch, even when we've (as in this case) not spoken about the phenomenon together. /Edit.

The question, today, is on the topic of Communists.

There's something "universal" about Yakov Smirnoff's "In Soviet Russia..." jokes, where the typical agents and objects switch. (For those not familiar, something like "In Soviet Russia, tooth brush you!") On the one hand, the jokes are funny because they break a basic feature of English syntactic structure, in a way that fits the stereotypic Russian accent. It's funny to talk about the funny ways people say funny things. Funny funny funny.

But there's that extra bit at the beginning - the "In Soviet Russia" clause. It's key to the punch of the joke. If I just said "Tooth brush you" in an affected Russian accent, it wouldn't be funny. Even if I said "In Russia...", it still wouldn't have the desired effect. It has to have that clause, and I think the reason is similar to the reason why, as Polish-born journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski details, people say the threat of "they'll deport you to Siberia," and not to a different snowy and Arctic region - it's never "they'll deport you to Alaska*" or "...to Canada" or "...to Sweden."**
* Although this has a new connotation in post lipstick-wearing-bulldog America.

** Possibly for fear that, if there were a massive ABBA-reunion concert happening, it would be condemned by the UN as cruel and unusual punishment.
"Siberia" means cold, desolate, barren -- but it also means "dictatorship." Same thing with the joke. In Soviet Russia, so the story goes, no one has agency. Everything is done to YOU. The joke isn't just funny on a linguistic basis. It's funny because it reaffirms our stereotypic and - as I think has already been sufficiently proven (those links are, of course, an incomplete list) - misinformed understanding of the Soviet Union as a state of homogeneous mindless labor under the control of one horrible disembodied brain.

So Briullov marched with the Communists on May Day. I was downtown, and saw the parade go by. I was with a different Faustian Contractee and her father, and heard his intriguing and enlightening commentary, as a US citizen who had lived through the tail end of the Cold War, to set foot on Red Square and see that the ground wasn't rumbling with tanks and guns and military men (my pictures of Victory Day will come later); to see a Communist parade go by on its peaceful way, singing nostalgic revolutionary songs. The posters to Stalin and Lenin aren't necessarily for the dictatorships the images represent; they're just NOT for the government(s) that have arisen since.

That's the crux. If there's a cultural imperative for the US to think of Russian political movements as a threat, the enemy is not the Communists. Whatever "gut reaction" all of that reductivist history and political studies from our schooling programmed us with was false then and more so now. At worst, the Communists today are guilty of nostalgia, of some flavor of naïveté. But for all of that they seem to have a better grasp of what social problems grip the nation than...certain others...might.

1 comment:

S.H.S said...

vulcan/zhaan-ian mind meld?


and...the word verification is BROPHYPE: "Bro P. Hype" "Bros/Props Hype"

either way, perfection.