Pussy Riot is certainly the cause célèbre at the moment: Madonna, Paul McCartney, Bjork, and Sting have all shown their support, as has just about everyone on Facebook. While it’s really nice that people are coming out in droves to support a radical anarcho-feminist organization, we think it’s important to examine and qualify all this international support.

Let’s start with what you think Pussy Riot stands for; that is, the ever-popular hologram of this group.

The media’s depiction of Pussy Riot versus the actual message of Russian radicals is like the difference between pop punk and real punk. Saying you support Pussy Riot without supporting their message of the radical reconfiguration of society is like saying you like punk and listing Green Day as a sole example. They are not the Green Day or Sum41 of political activism. They’re more like the GWAR or G.G. Allin. Unless you actually understand and support Pussy Riot’s vision of radical freedom, shut up, because you’re doing more harm than good. Really, you’re just helping the media gloss over their true message.

So let’s take a look at what this candy-coated media portrayal consists of:

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova


Backpedaling, they quoted Bullet, a member of the collective:

“The principle of our image is that no personality should stand out in the show, and no identity of a particular girl can be recognized,” Bullet said. “It’s close to the ideas of Guerilla Girls, who had nicknames and masks. It’s very important to us that there are no designers or labels to fetishize around us, because we do everything ourselves.” The one exception to this rule are the Dr. Martens they sometimes wear.”

But that’s exactly what happens: co-opted by mass media and turned into overt sexual symbols, the members of Pussy Riot are being silence and their message effectively obscured and entirely reversed. Playing right into the hand of the Kremlin, they are painted not as representing a sexually-liberated anarchy operating outside of the current cultural system, but rather as a kitschy image firmly within the tradition of capitalist pop culture. On the other hand, Western media’s buying into this kitschy image further reduces their message to pop-cultural nonsense, preventing a viable critique of the same issues we have here on this side of the pond.

All of this honestly sounds like some kind of satire of the radical collective, and what’s absolutely batshit about it is that everyone seems to be buying into it, swallowing without even taking a moment to chew.

What it comes down to, is this: seriously people, stop liking them. They’re most likely way too hardcore for you. Trust me, you don’t actually like Pussy Riot; you’re just enthralled by the bubbly, candy-coated Feminism they represent. I doubt most of their supporters would be down with member Madeszhda Tolokonnikova’s public participation in an orgy at a museum in Moscow, (super pregnant btw, she gave birth a few days later) with the radical art group Voina (Russian for “war”). These people are not playing around. They have, in the past, lit a police car on fire and painted dicks all over a St. Petersburg drawbridge. They’re that kind of legit. But you’d never know it from the way the media’s depicting them.

Now, we at Superchief are totally down with that kind of thing, but I really doubt that the girl you knew from vacation bible school posting “Free Pussy Riot” graphics is actually down with their message. Like so many radical movements before them, Pussy Riot has been watered down by the media into a shadow of what it truly represents. Suddenly, these badass anarcho-punks set on completely transforming society have been reduced to cute RiotGrlz out to ‘express themselves.’ If when you think of Pussy Riot’s message, you imagine the video for Cindy Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, you’ve got their message totally wrong. As the New York Times points out:

The members of Pussy Riot are not liberals looking for self-expression. They are self-confessed descendants of the surrealists and the Russian futurists, determined to radically, even violently, change society.

People seem to think this is an issue of “self-expression” similar to the right to have a corporate -ponsored Gay Pride parade. This is NOT what Pussy Riot’s all about. These women want to overthrown patriarchal society as we know it, including capitalism, religion, moral norms, inequality of all forms and the corporate state system. They have more in common with insurrectionary anarchists than with the bland pop-culture “icons” who so vocally support them.

So what exactly is their message? This is rather hard to discern without looking into some alternative media outlets. What we’ve come up with is this: their critique of capitalism and consumerist society is as much a critique of the West as it is Russia. We can look at Putin’s collusion with the Eastern Orthodox church and cry foul, even as religious fundamentalists are trying to regulate women’s bodies in our own country. If you want to support their message, you need to be calling out the religion and capitalist interference in our own culture, not re-hatching the same old tired narrative of Russia as this big bad authoritative state oppressing its own people. You know what Pussy Riot was protesting? State Corporatism, which thoroughly applies to the US, not just Russia.

Stated Goals and objectives of the Art-Group Voina (2008-2010)

  1. Rebirth of heroical behavioral ideals of an artist-intellectual, in a manner of Russian libertarian decemberism. Creation of image of artist as romantic hero, who prevail over the evil. Creation of lively romantic models in today`s soulless commercial conceptual art.
  2. Rebirth of lively expressive art, which is sincere and honest and provoking observers` deep emotional experience. Actualization of monumental expressive genres, where large scale harmonizes with totally rich in content orientation, in contrast to outdated hypertrophy of forms, which deovid of sense.
  3. Creation of innovative topical art-language, which is producing for pure art, but not for a money. It is mean language, which is adequate for today’s cultural and socio-political context, which is can show actual of the new epoch, which have no analogues in the past. Creation of Russian national actual art, without outmodedness and provinciality, and which provokes admiration of intellectuals all over the world.
  4. Rebirth of Russian laughing culture, traditions of absurdity and sarcasm in context of high art, that is Rebirth of lively merriment in the art-spaces. Creation of political street-art in Russia in the best traditions of skomorokh and carnival middle-age art.
  5. Conceptual destruction of glamour timeserving and conformist Russian art-market, which is reproducing outdated forms of art, artificially falsifying processes of pricing of art-market and creating financial pyramid from devalued art-junk.
  6. Creating of real left front of art in Russia in traditions of futurism of 1920 years, which is radically shift all ideological poles by the facts of its being. Rebirth of political protest art all over the world.
  7. War with “werewolfes in straps” for the freedom of contemporary art. War with socio-political obscurantism and ultra-right reaction for the triumph of nano-modernization in Russia. Subversion and destruction of outdated repressive-patriarchal socio-political symbols and ideologies. Art-war against all global world for total triumph of justice in Art-Area.

But the actual message gets drowned out by the rockstar’s ‘cool factor’. But instead of delving into the actual message, it’s “privileging the easy and fun over the constructive.

From Voina’s ‘Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear!’ orgy in a museum.

From Voina’s ‘Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear!’ orgy in a museum.

From Voina’s ‘Fuck for the heir Puppy Bear!’ orgy in a museum.

Capitalism is ruthless and gluttonous, devouring everything in its path including (and especially) itself; reposts and caffeinated critiques aren’t going to abolish shit. The propaganda of the deed, à la Russia’s long history of revolutionary anarchism. This Pussy Riot fever we’re seeing, on the other hand, is slacktivism at its finest. Remember when everyone started posting that Kony crap on facebook and Africa was saved? Oh wait, that never happened. Instead, well-meaning people perpetuated the “white burden” myth and distracted from real, current problems that could use attention. People click ‘like’ on Facebook thinking they’re changing the world but really nothing’s being done. No one except google adsense and extremely vain and lonely people really even count how many “likes” a facebook group has as a measure of success. What we’re seeing and perpetuating (and we’re all guilty of this) is ‘activism for the sake of activism’ –doing it for the sake of seeming to do the right thing, for the feeling of having helped out, for the feeling of repentance from being a mere consumer– not following through and seeing that the support actually furthers the cause.

More about this cause: while mostdefinitely a critique of global capitalism and all this entails, Pussy Riot’s actions are targeting repressions specific to Russia.

The fact is, Putin’s royal realm is seriously tightening its grip on dissidents. From banning gay pride events (they call it “homosexual propaganda”) for 100 years to jailing people who are very clearly political prisoners, a dangerous totalitarian trend is in full spiral. If we’re to talk about freedom of expression, then this is the kind of freedom of expression we’re talking about: the freedom to critique the government and not end up dead in a cell. Feel-good watered down RiotGrrlism is really just a hologram of dissent. The thing is, true radical political agitation is seldom widely accepted; if it is, we can say that it’s been co-opted or cooled down in some way. The Slutwalk movement is a perfect example: as Harsha Walia explains in her critique of Slutwalks, the societal critique disappears in favor of a more palatable, less jarring form of feminism:

In reality, capitalism mediates the feminist façade of choice by creating an entire industry that commodifies women’s sexuality and links a woman’s self-esteem and self-worth to fashion and beauty. Slutwalk itself consistently refuses any connection to feminism and fixates solely around liberal questions of individual choice — the palatable “I can wear what I want” feminism that is intentionally devoid of an analysis of power dynamics.
The media attention to Pussy Riot seems to fall into the same trap.

While Pussy Riot’s pretty faces are splashed on every blog and article, other Russian dissidents are dealing with some real shit. At a rally in which over 400 protesters were arrested,  Artyom Savyolov and over a dozen fellow activists were charged with calling for mass disorder and assaulting police officers, and each could serve up to 10 years in prison. Additionally a Russian lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky never got a trial, unlike Pussy Riot’s speedy one, and he ‘happened’ to turn up dead in a Russian jail cell. Russian authorities refuse to release his body for an independent autopsy. Because, you know, they did some shady shit, no-no cha-cha material. If Pussy Riot’s freedom of political expression is so important, why not that of the protestors being arrested and those mysterious turning up dead?

Because they’re hot lady punk rockers, and other activists are not. Singling them out perverts PR’s message, essentially: Fuck the patriarchy, we’re gonna tear down the wall of inequality like a vagina tearing down its own walls during one’s period. This attention to Pussy Riot detracts from the fact that non-hot dissidents are having REAL shit happen to them.  Don’t get me wrong. What’s happening to Pussy Riot is fucked and deserves our attention, but we can’t let the fun “girl power!” message distract us from the real issues of free speech in Russia right now. The media has this way of taking something good and putting a candy coating on it, only to hand it back to the audience for easy consumption. It essentially sanitizes protest art to make it palatable for the general public so the actual message of the group is glossed over.

As an article aptly titled The Kony-fication of Pussy Riot puts it best:

In Russia, Pussy Riot’s newfound Western fans are taking a serious issue (Russia’s degrading political freedoms and civil liberties) and turning it into a celebration of feminist punk music and art. Feminist punk music and art are great, but they are not the solutions to this particular problem, and pretending that they are takes attention away from more worthwhile efforts.

I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Pussy Riot t-shirts à la Che Guevara. This trend (such a trendy trend too!) of pigeonholing political action into fashion statements is fucking brilliant, seriously: you can have your radical cake and consume the message too. But let’s see how this turns out; let’s see if there’s anything left on the plate for the silent anarchists, for the lifelong activists rotting in obscurity or prison cells or worse, after the West’s children have finished gorging themselves in this empty binge. Let’s see where the cultural calories end up.

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