Globalization and Russia
Amid the chatter about Russia’s isolation (here, here, here, and here) I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Russian internet. In particular, my newsfeed on the Russian Facebook, Vkontakte, has seemed to me to offer a pretty good cross section of Russian culture; after all, I’m a teacher, so I encounter people from every part of society. Kids and teens make up the majority of the postings, of course, but I consider this to be a boon in terms of cultural transparency. Firstly, politically, young people parrot their parents, and will often say the things their parents in a simpler manner than their more socially adept parents are willing to. And scondly, young people are prime consumers and the most active internet denizens. Their social life has been digitized, and the their cultural currency shows up in their likes, reposts, and comments.
Without further ado, on to the things I’ve noticed about Russia in the last several years.
The first thing I noticed was the aestheticism. This is notable in their musical talents, their willingness, almost eagerness, to dance, their sincere interest in art and poetry, and, perhaps more superficially, in the way the (women) dress. Being an important cultural aspect of the country, this aestheticism of course manifests in their social network newsfeeds. Look at the photos below, shared virally by teens and occasionally even created by the teens themselves, and think about whether you would ever see color-coordinated advertising in America. Would you even see anything that had gone viral just because it was beautiful?
Point number two: Russians are solidly integrated into Western popular culture. This of course means that they view the US and Western culture through the oversexed, violent, saccharine, somewhat obtuse lens of Hollywood, and there are undoubtedly diverse reactions and echoes of that throughout authentic Russian culture, but it also means that they have formed impressions of the West based primarily on our superficiality, taking it to be the extent of our cultural landscape. Hence, techno is the norm in Russia, Maroon 5 is considered indie, Tupac, The Rolling Stones, and Nirvana are the realm of audiophiles only, and Talib Kweli, Marvin Gaye, and Dylan are simply unheard of. (This isn’t a question of taste, by the way; when the songs appear in popular television series, they can briefly gain fame and garner interest. The problem is that they’re currently marketed by American advertisers. A case in point would be Michael Jackson, for whom the record labels apparently decided not long ago to work on the Russian market, as he went from “crap” to “great’ in the words of a Russian friend in the course of two months – which just happened to correspond to a remarkable spike in appearances of his image and hit songs on VKontakte.) Product icons like the iPhone, Frozen, and Iron Man, and Coca Cola have similarly made their way into teen consciousness, as has duct tape and Sponge Bob.
Thirdly: Russians are not in a political backwater. In fact, comparatively, I would venture to say that they are more in tune with the world than their American peers. This impression may of course be a product of milieu into which I’ve fallen here, but even my milieu (a language school with international language camps) is indicative of broader trends. I’ve often heard locals call their town “the ass of the world” and say ironically “we’re so cool we live in Ulyanovsk by choice”. The fact that there are three major international language schools in a town that would be happily compared to Oklahoma City says something. It also should be noted that Americans still suffer and benefit from an intentional isolation from the rest of the world, despite the vivacity of our government on the world stage. Note that as a rule, we speak only one language, read only American news, don’t watch foreign TV or movies, and have never taken an interest in any country’s culture except as a human interest story in the midst of a bombing or some other horrendous event – see Koney 2012, the Mexican child refugee crisis, Haiti.
Is it really possible to isolate a country entirely in the modern world? If so, it would take a lot more serious measures than what’s underway in Russia at the moment. A more pertinent question seems to me to be, what are the side effects of the imperfect integration the world has been experiencing in the internet age? Who is best taking advantage of it, who is reacting, and who just doesn’t get it?
In Russia aesthetic presentation is a huge boost to viral advertising. How does this compare to the US?
How does Westernization affect cultural identity? Do other countries willingly, blindly, consciously, accept our consumer goods? To what extent are these countries divided on Westernization, and how does it affect their attitude towards us?