“Torch-bearing parades are associated with Nazi Germany,” he declares.
February 19, 2015 8:23 AM   Subscribe

When you watch the Putin Show, you live in a superpower. You are a rebel in Ukraine bravely leveling the once-state-of-the-art Donetsk airport with Russian-supplied weaponry. You are a Russian-speaking grandmother standing by her destroyed home in Luhansk shouting at the fascist Nazis, much as her mother probably did when the Germans invaded more than 70 years ago. You are a priest sprinkling blessings on a photogenic convoy of Russian humanitarian aid headed for the front line. To suffer and to survive: This must be the meaning of being Russian. It was in the past and will be forever.
Gary Shteyngart watches a week of Russian television.
posted by theodolite (26 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Note to self: read more Gary Shteyngart.
posted by Fizz at 8:35 AM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


This was a fascinating read. Inviting his psychiatrist to come by for a session in the middle was an interesting idea, and I wish there had been more written about the session, or that the author had brought him back at the end for a bit more investigation into how this assignment had affected him.

Maybe it's just the all the room service calls and the occasional 'popping of benzos', but there are just the slightest little echoes of a bit of Hunter S. Thompson in there in a 'Fear and Loathing on the Russian Satellite Feeds' kind of way throughout this article.

As an aside, the remark about "Sixty percent of the house fires in Moscow used to be caused by exploding televisions" is just so mind-boggling surreal on a bunch of different levels.
posted by chambers at 9:00 AM on February 19, 2015


This is the New York Timesiest thing I have ever read. Can't decide if I love it or hate it. I will say kudos to Shteyngart for somehow convincing the Times to allow him to endure this Clockwork Orange-esque torture in the comfort of the Four Seasons. I would love to see his expense account. Room service at the Four Seasons is breathtakingly expensive.
posted by Wretch729 at 9:02 AM on February 19, 2015 [10 favorites]


I had forgotten about Shteyngart since Absurdistan, so it's good to be reminded. I'm surprised we haven't seen more of him commenting on Putin lately. Seems like a perfect fit.
posted by Edgewise at 9:04 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


My theory is that the frequent references to luxury room service and the therapy appointment are an attempt to bait Russian media into noticing this piece. It plays right into all the juiciest Western Decadence tropes. I suspect that nothing would delight Shteyngart more than to be personally attacked on Rossiya-1.
posted by theodolite at 9:06 AM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I too both kind of like this piece and kind of hate it. It feels as if Shtyengart wants to write a direct op-ed about modern Russia, but he doesn't quite have the facts at his disposal so instead we get this.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:09 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Apparently, one in a thousand Soviet colour TV sets exploded and caused a fire. No data on how many exploded without conflagration. Model most likely to explode: the Rubin-714 (video shows brave Russian fearlessly turning it on).

I had no idea.
posted by Devonian at 9:11 AM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


I had forgotten about Shteyngart since Absurdistan

Oh man, do I wish I could say the same.

Sent from my äppärät
posted by RogerB at 9:24 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I will say kudos to Shteyngart for somehow convincing the Times to allow him to endure this Clockwork Orange-esque torture in the comfort of the Four Seasons.

It plays right into all the juiciest Western Decadence tropes.

I'd love to see an article just on how that was done. It seems like something that almost demands a heist-movie framework.

The subject, presentation, and format, whether planned or not, really leaves it open to entertaining all sorts of conjectures of hidden goals and motives. Is it designed to get criticized in Russia? Is it designed to be a tantalizing form of clickbait for internet forums? Is it just a way to scam free room and board at the Four Seasons and have the NYT pick up the bill?

I have to give the writer credit for creating a piece that can provoke reactions about not only it's content but its creation and presentation. There seems to be something for everybody here to talk about, no matter if you liked or disliked the article. Maybe that was intended by the author, and maybe it was a selling point to the editors. Maybe I've been reading about too many Russia/Soviet/Cold War things lately that everything that addresses the subject seems to demand a search for hidden motives and goals.
posted by chambers at 9:30 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I gave up part-way in. I wish there was an app or website or something that could strip the irrelevance away from an article, and there's frequent almost-smug filler here about the author's "Look at me, posh dining in a posh hotel" time. For example:

"Slightly drunk off a frisky Clos Du Val pinot noir, which I’ve been sipping along with another helping of Wagyu"

The Russian TV stuff sounds interesting but bored with the author's dining experience.
posted by Wordshore at 9:50 AM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Had you told me I'd read the phrase "beef injections from room service" today and the context wouldn't be NSFW, I'd have laughed in your face.
posted by notsnot at 9:58 AM on February 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


next up: Gary hangs out at a hotel in Jackson Hole while the American oligarchs toddle around, drinking forties and staying up on trailer-park meth watching reality shows and cable TV news...
posted by ennui.bz at 10:00 AM on February 19, 2015 [13 favorites]


Oof. What a hideously terrible article. And that's after you get past the hotel crap.

But I guess I should be grateful; who else could distill all the things Russia takes seriously into four punchy bullet points, as the author does in the first sentence of the second paragraph? I mean, that counts as a pretty nuanced view, all things considered. Most articles of this kind only include one or two bullet points in their summing-up of a nation of a hundred and forty-three million people.
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


He saves the best for last:
On my last visit to Moscow several years ago, a drunken cabdriver from a distant province drove me through the city, nearly weeping because, he said, he was unable to feed his family. "I want to emigrate to the States," he said. "I can't live like this."

"You should try Canada," I suggested to him. "Their immigration policies are very generous."

He mock-spit on the floor, as he nearly careened into the sidewalk. "Canada? Never! I could only live in a superpower!"
posted by clawsoon at 10:29 AM on February 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


Note to self: read more Gary Shteyngart.

Heed that note. Super Sad True Love Story is one of the best books I've read in the past 10 years.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 10:46 AM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


next up: Gary hangs out at a hotel in Jackson Hole while the American oligarchs toddle around, drinking forties and staying up on trailer-park meth watching reality shows and cable TV news...

Wow, twelve whole comments before the first whataboutism. Guess I should've bet the over.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:02 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Tangential, but I have a hypothesis that any word that gets invented to describe a cheap rhetorical tactic — a word like "whataboutism" — will in due course be itself used as a cheap rhetorical tactic.

Kind of like the "fallacy fallacy".
posted by archagon at 11:45 AM on February 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


Wow, twelve whole comments before the first whataboutism. Guess I should've bet the over.

I think its more Matthew7:5ism than whataboutism.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:54 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think its more Matthew7:5ism than whataboutism.

Are you suggesting that Shteyngart shouldn't presume to mock the inanities of Glorious Russian television while Fox & Friends and the Real Housewives yet wave o' er the land of the free?

Now personally, I might read a piece about hanging out at a hotel in Jackson Hole while the American oligarchs toddle around, drinking forties and staying up on trailer-park meth watching reality shows and cable TV news, but that sounds more in the line of William Vollmann than Gary Shteyngart.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:04 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


In the northernmost reaches of Russia, we meet Aleksey Tryapitsyn, a “salt of the Earth” postman in a tiny village who somehow doesn’t smoke or drink and has been featured in a recent documentary, “The White Nights of the Postman Aleksey Tryapitsyn.” His wife is pretty salt-of-the-earth too. “I’m such an ordinary woman,” she says, “I know how to do everything: shoot a gun, catch ducks.”
Need to hook up these guys with the Duck Dynasty cats in a hurry! It could be the Apollo–Soyuz of shitty TV.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:47 PM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Apparently, one in a thousand Soviet colour TV sets exploded and caused a fire.

Oh, this is fun! Here's more Soviet Russia trivia, courtesy of Uncle George Kennan's Bathroom Reader:

- They called potatoes, "people's tubers,' and they weren't brown but a sickly gray due to the climate.
- They didn't get their first automobile until 1978. When the CEO of Toyota visited, he was set on fire due to a particularly volatile boyar hat.
- Laika was originally their second choice, but Khrushchev's dog fell ill with dysentery.
posted by gorbweaver at 2:21 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


I stopped reading almost all SF about 30 years ago (in my 40s), except some Benford, and that not recently. The stories and characters had become too cardboardy.

But big exception for 'Super Sad Love Story'. Wow. It's not super-science and not super-fiction, but, with the usual caveats about predicting, notably super smart.
I recommended it to a 30-something korean-american woman co-worker at the time--perhaps not so smart. But at least it is now several years in the past.

I recently found 'Absurdistan', and liked it but not as much. Then, I also recently lost a lot of weight. And am not rich. And not russian. And don't live in brooklyn. It is always 'what you see depends most on where you stand.' (I am, however, ashkenazic, so, I stand somewhere on the edge of the stage.)

Reluctantly returning to the post topic: I hope for Steingart's sake it was all lies--he went out every night with his friends, returned late for Times-comped snacks and drinks, and made up the observations from the two hours/day he spent watching that video bore-crap. Or perhaps the friend(s) spent the night.
posted by hexatron at 4:32 PM on February 19, 2015


For years, I've felt like I could make a billion rubles/euros having one rogue Russian station that just played state/political speeches with fart noises.

Not to make a political statement whatsoever, just because farts are funny and have been funny for millennia.
posted by Sphinx at 6:35 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read this and I thought how typical, guy gets paid to make the world a worse place, torpedos inderstanding, while pretending to educate, all while pretending downing that pinot is a chore, we deserve hat happens next, and next, and next. What someone pays for with huge free floating cash, alrighty it is the international way!
posted by Oyéah at 9:08 PM on February 19, 2015


A much better article about Russia – thanks, nasreddin:

"The Resistible Rise of Vladimir Putin: Russia’s Nightmare Dressed Like a Daydream"
posted by koeselitz at 12:15 AM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


koeselitz - Heh, I said that the OP link was the New York Timesiest thing ever. This FA piece is the FAiest thing ever. Straight from the CFR, the voice of the foreign policy capital E Establishment.

It's a good piece, and I think makes an insightful point at the end about why the ball is in Russia's regarding a negotiated solution. However (and maybe it isn't fair to ask this of a short FA article) I think that while it is a good primer on recent history and sketches a plausible path for Russia reintegrating into the existing post-1945 world order, it fails utterly to make a compelling case for why such integration is in Russia's strategic interest, other than some economic handwaving. I came away with a better understanding of Putin's rise, but no insight into what might make him have any desire whatsoever to appease the Western powers.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:45 AM on February 20, 2015


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