By Paul Goble
Anecdotes about leaders and policies have long been an important part of Russian life, but the Internet is transforming its form and content because falling prices for connectivity are increasing the number of users and rising download speeds are making video clips more widely accessible, according to a Moscow commentator.
On the “Russky zhurnal” portal, Aleksandr Chausov argues that at present Russians are “observing an evolution of the form of jokes about politicians and politics as a whole,” with “the transition from television to the Web and the development of Internet technology being decisive events in this process (www.russ.ru/pole/O-politike-s-yumorom).
As a result of the spread of the Internet, he says, Russians can now watch video clips and look at thousands of images rather than relying primarily on text alone, and “the video clip is understood by an individual much easier than the typical text, however brilliantly it may be written.” As a result, Chausov continues, humor is increasingly taking a visual form.
In addition, the sense of “anonymity and security” that the Web appears to allow “gives rise to the illusion that everything is possible,” and the increasing use of the Internet and especially video in political campaigns invites those who want to make jokes about the politicians who use this format to do the same.
This has led, Chausov says, to the appearance of “a new and unexpected phenomenon” as far as Russian mass culture is concerned: the appearance of “political comics on the Net.” In the West, “so called video comics or computer comics” are not a new phenomenon, And in Russia, they are no full-blown, with most including written texts instead of only oral presentations.
But these are instructive as far as political humor is concerned, Chausov argues. “The most well-known [of these] are the super hero comics.” Russian society “unconsciously is waiting for a hero, someone who will come and save everyone.” That is because, however much they joke about it, Russians view the powers as “a sacral phenomenon.”
That in turn means that “the bearers of power are a little super human. They can be ‘evil doers’ or ‘heroes,’ but all the same they are of a different order than ‘the ordinary man.’” That was true of the “Puppets” series on television, and it is even more clearly manifested on Internet video clips about the current leadership.
However, there is one interesting detail, Chausov says. Vladimir Putin in most of these clips is presented not only as a super hero but also as “’a man like everyone else,’” a unique case in Russian humor. While it is unclear how this combination will play itself out – whether the sacred will conquer the ordinary or the other way around – it likely will affect Russian culture.
In the most hopeful outcome, one likely to become more possible as the Internet grows, this will “take out of the mentality of our society the genetic sense of the sacred nature of power,” something that will open the way for a different relationship between those in power and those in society than has ever existed in Russia up to now.
And that possibility becomes clearer if one understands that “in the Russian segment of the Net, there is a somewhat different approach to politics and politicians than in the United States. There, “politics has already for a long time been to a certain degree a show” and politicians as a result “not only administrators and government managers but showmen.”