Once we throw away a stale (if not spoiled)West’s propaganda staples such as Solzhenitsyn, nauseating fodder of GULAG, Stalin and “democracy”, laughable Western “Russia Studies” field and Russia’s fifth column, what is left is, traditionally, Hollywood’s production, some attempts at selling West’s imagery and music, much of which is not music at all. That’s it. I already stated that the West lost the main fuel of its soft power–Russians’ care about what the West thinks about them. It is a crucial liberating, for Russians, factor and that is what changed the balance in terms of soft power. Sure, Levada Center, an officially recognized foreign agent in Russia, can still produce some utterly false polls that huge swaths of Russian youth want to immigrate to the West, but the reality, of course, is quite different. Sure, there are some segments, primarily urban office plankton from IT to “journalists”, who do want to move to the West, but this is a very narrow strata of people, many of who do constitute the power, or, rather lack thereof, behind such pathetic excuses for political movements as Navalny’s or the audiences for such radio-stations as Echo of Moscow (aka Echo of Matzah). Hardly a significant minority.
In the end, it was always Hollywood and Western pop music which drove much of the American (and West’s) soft power. That is until recently some news which on the surface seemed unimportant, expectedly, has been ignored in the US. In reality, they were extremely significant. In December of 2019 Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported cultural news which read like this:
Российские фильмы лидируют в прокате (Russian Movies Lead at the Box Office.)
1. Russian movies become increasingly competitive (and more interesting and free from wokeness);
2. Russians, in general, especially youth, demographics which drives box office performance, are less and less “impressed” by the West.
I can remember the times when there were huge lines in 1970s and in 1980s to get to the latest Western movies be that pure Hollywood or European productions such as Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or La Grande Vaudrouille, among many. The Blue Thunder action flick could still make a splash in Soviet Union in 1983 and create long lines, nor least by serving as yet another window into the “life abroad”, but this paradigm is long gone and if in 1983 between some Lada VAZ 2103 and some Renault or Ford, given a choice, any Russian/Soviet would prefer Ford or Renault, things changed so dramatically, that already in 2010s Russians preferred Lada Vesta to Ford Focus and many other European and Asian brands, and that is why Ford wrapped its operations in Russia–it could not compete with, among others, Russian cars. If anyone in 1983 Soviet Union would have been told so, they would laugh at you in disbelief. Nobody is laughing anymore.
In other words, a forbidden fruit of western (American) consumerism lost its appeal. With it went this proverbial soft power of the West. Nor is Western pop-culture anymore is a forbidden fruit, not to mention the fact that much of it today is not a culture at all and it is easily registered through many media channels, including, through YouTube which reveals some peculiar cultural trends in unfolding Russia-West cultural war. And it is a war and a very serious one. Just a brief look at a global phenomenon of Russian cartoon series Masha i Medved (Masha and the Bear), which has been watched now by 55 billion viewers around the globe. This episode alone has been watched 4.4 billion times.
Some Russian pop-acts, such as a huge breakthrough of Tatu in early 2003, de facto musical soft-core porn Serebro could give any American pop-act a run for its money by fielding some truly hot Russian girls (singing ability was of secondary matter). And here is this trick why Russia today continues to hold its own against the assault of Western pop. Simple–Russia has one of the highest concentration of the beautiful women in the world and some of them are, actually, not only gorgeous but tremendously talented to the point that their work makes it to the West based on merit of their music, even when sang in Russian, not traditionally preferred English. Polina Gagarina’s videos gather tens and hundreds of millions views on YouTube alone. Otava Yo altogether is a folk (sometimes rock) phenomenon whose every video is accompanied by a love fest among primarily European-stock peoples–Russians, Americans, French, Germans, Poles, Czechs etc.–in reaction to their videos. Such as the latest one:
Ability to show a “better picture” always counted for a lot, when this “better picture” doesn’t differ that much from a reality–that becomes an explosive mixture, a cultural A-bomb. It wasn’t Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 which really mattered for shattering the wall of lies and reality “management” around Russia. It was Football World Cup of 2018 which did the trick. Unlike the Olympics of 1980 in Moscow, which saw a complete Potemkin Village erected in Moscow. The 1980 Olympic facade ranged from improved selection of goods in department stores in Moscow, primarily for foreign visitors, to removing local prostitutes to different locations of USSR, not least of them being Ufra in Turkmenia–a rather depressing attachment to Krasnovodsk (Turkmenbashi). World Cup 2018 was a completely different affair because Russians didn’t really give a damn about how anyone thought about them, they just wanted to make WC 2018 the best there ever was, for the sake of the game and, boy, did they succeed. There was nothing contrived about this World Cup, from visa-free entrance to Russia to free third-class trains for anyone, to absolutely unrestrained celebrations all over cities of Russia to free access to anyone anywhere.
The reality on the ground turned out to be better than the picture. Did Nizhny Novgorod have (still does) trashy neighborhoods? Sure. So does Moscow, but so does NYC or Paris. It was not for the show it was for the enjoyment. And yes, Moscow Metro has Wi-Fi and services in Russia today in many places are world-class. This is soft power:
As one of the most profound comments I ever read stated:
To understand what happened in Russia in the summer of 2018 one needs to read and understand Dostoevsky’s Pushkin Speech. Both of those things, are beyond the understanding of modern American elites because they do not have context, they hardly ever did and that is why America finds itself today vis-a-vis Russia in the same place it finds itself vis-a-vis herself, and that is not a good place. One can still buy a better car or a better condo in America, than one owned before, but one cannot buy happiness which comes into life by different venues than just material possessions and modern West cannot provide the answer to that anymore, but then again it was Dostoevsky who stated that the beauty will save the world and Russia has a lot of it and is ready to share… That is why Russia’s soft power is growing and I mean it without any pathos.