While dissent and publicly promoting revolutionary ideas was not the primary purpose of the musicians in the USSR, their actions should still be interpreted as activist: it challenged the boundaries for personal expression established by the soviet government, distortion of conventional norms and create alternatives to certain social paradigms.
In modern Russia, however, this is not the case.
- Defining activism (!)
- Next, we will give an overview of the history of Russian rock. This part is supposed to give the reader a general idea of the revolutionary nature of Soviet rock.
- This part will discuss the standpoint of the musicians themselves regarding the issue. By looking at interviews and memoirs, I will discuss how they perceive their role in this situation. The key point here will be that the main purpose of the musicians isn’t starting revolutions but rather create the music the way they wanted to create it. I will conclude by connecting this to our definition of activism,
- Here I will discuss the key differences between the situation in USSR and in modern Russia.
A lot of my feedback had to do with swinging and tone variation. A consistent thread in the feedback regarding the content that I received had to do with the following issues:
- I’m not defining activism explicitly. While I talk about some superficial justification for why it makes sense to try to show that Russian rock is a form of activism, I never really say what I mean by this. This lead to me thinking a lot about what interpretations of “activism” fit the frame of my facts best. Making my RBA, I will dedicate some portion of it to specifying what I mean by activism and why I choose this particular definition.
- I don’t specify what time frame specifically I will be discussing and not showing the link between the cases of modern Russia and USSR. I decided I will focus of the 1980-90 period and nowadays and reiterate the links between the two throughout my RBA (the links are extensive: modern musicians aren’t just standing on the shoulders of the USSR musicians, the latter are still present on the musical arena).
Thesis: Rock music in the late USSR and modern Russia are a form of activism.
My interest in political activism started developing throughout my teenage years. While it would definitely be a stretch for me to call myself a full-functioning activist in those times, I was still reasonably exposed to activism in various forms on the post-soviet space platform. There are a few mediums that I find especially interesting when it comes to exercising activism, and because of my background, I’m especially interested in the anatomy of protest via those mediums in the frame of severe regulatory restraint (e.g. in the USSR).
- Hacktivism in totalitarian regimes. It would be interesting to investigate whether using the internet as a weapon against the heaviest forms of governmental control can make a change.
- Activism through film.
- Activism through literature in the USSR
- Activism through culture jamming. This is something I haven’t thought about that much prior to this class, but the idea fascinates me. I’d love to find out more about specific examples of the ways in which culture jamming can affect modern day industrial giants.
- Kvartirniki. Protest through bard song.
This one is my favorite topic so far. Being an activist in a society where walls have ears is a challenge and ungrateful experience. I think it would be fascinating to find out what hope and expectations these people had, how they perceived their own actions and how they estimated their chances of making a change. In this also lies the potential issue with the topic: one could argue that activism in such an “inactive” form shouldn’t even be classified as activism, but I would want to try to argue the converse. I deeply admire people who can’t stay silent despite knowing that:
- choosing to vocalize their complaints can be a life-threatening decision;
- they are most like not going to see a change in the structure of the society they live in during their lifetime,
and I’d love to dig deeper into the anatomy of the process.
In Chapter 5 of the book Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society, the author Tim Jordan introduces the so-called “culture jamming” and “semiotic terrorism”. According to Jordan, this is a form of protest against the obtrusion of norms and values upon society by injecting cultural codes via “massive creative resources that corporate and state funding can command” (Jordan, 103). He stresses that protest via culture jamming implies utilizing the language, symbols and format of an existing advert campaign and disturbing its crucial elements in a manner that “reverses” the intended effect of the advert, thus using the “language of advertisers to produce opposed associations”. Jordan explains that these actions are meant to corrupt the cultural codes promoting certain values, desires and ways of life that we are artificially contaminated with. An example he gives is a spoof add of the Absolut vodka. It mimics an existing series of advertisements in which the word “Absolut” is followed by positive adjectives like “fun”, only with the original mottos replaced with slogans such as “Absolut Impotence” (Jordan, 107).
Unfortunately, it seems that inoculating the cultural code virus can be a much more nuanced and strategically demanding task than it may appear. Jordan gives examples of cases of culture jamming effects being “reversed” yet another time and used in favor of the original promotion. A disturbing piece of evidence to that is Nike hiring and paying jammers to criticize its own campaign (Jordan, 114).
This leads Jordan to speculations about the effectiveness of culture jamming as a whole in its current form. He questions whether it is truly possible to contest the associations we have by the means of the existing, “corrupted” languages, and suggest creating new pure cultural codes in lieu of that. Jordan’s resolution doesn’t seem very convincing to me. Taking into consideration the amount of wit and effort that goes into cultural code “wars”, it seems plausible to me that even if pure cultural codes were to be created, they could easily be transformed into a platform for achieving the very same goals by the same people. Unfortunately, it appears to me that unless some fundamental institutional or constitutional changes take place, there’s little that can be done to provoke substantial change.