Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland demonstrating at a “Free Pussy Riot” rally there.

“There are two kinds of cynicism,” philosopher Slavoj Žižek explains, “the bitter cynicism of the oppressed which unmasks the hypocrisy of those in power, and the cynicism of the oppressors themselves who openly violate their own proclaimed principles.”

The Slovenian pop-philosopher made this assessment in an open statement responding to Pussy Riot’s trial, implementing his signature ironic reversal to demonstrate that the state accusation, and not the performance itself, was the “true blasphemy” in this situation. The kangaroo-court conviction used terminology like “hatred of religion” and “abuse of god” to convict the punk band of a non-crime.

Žižek, however, asserts that what is really at stake is the group’s open dissent against Putin’s abuses and how willing the Russian government is to cynically violate its own proclaimed values to retain political hegemony. By convicting the three women on bloated bullshit charges, the Russian state has played right into their hands, creating a Dreyfus affair which even the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland got in on.

The True Blasphemy

Pussy Riot members accused of blasphemy and hatred of religion? The answer is easy: the true blasphemy is the state accusation itself, formulating as a crime of religious hatred something which was clearly a political act of protest against the ruling clique. Recall Brecht’s old quip from his Beggars’ Opera: “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?” In 2008, Wall Street gave us the new version: what is the stealing of a couple of thousand of dollars, for which one goes to prison, compared to financial speculations that deprive tens of millions of their homes and savings, and are then rewarded by state help of sublime grandeur? Now, we got another version from Russia, from the power of the state: What is a modest Pussy Riot obscene provocation in a church compared to the accusation against Pussy Riot, this gigantic obscene provocation of the state apparatus which mocks any notion of decent law and order?

Was the act of Pussy Riot cynical? There are two kinds of cynicism: the bitter cynicism of the oppressed which unmasks the hypocrisy of those in power, and the cynicism of the oppressors themselves who openly violate their own proclaimed principles. The cynicism of Pussy Riot is of the first kind, while the cynicism of those in power — why not call their authoritarian brutality a Prick Riot — is of the much more ominous second kind.

Back in 1905, Leon Trotsky characterized tsarist Russia as “a vicious combination of the Asian knout and the European stock market.” Does this designation not hold more and more also for the Russia of today? Does it not announce the rise of the new phase of capitalism, capitalism with Asian values (which, of course, has nothing to do with Asia and everything to do with the anti-democratic tendencies in today’s global capitalism). If we understand cynicism as ruthless pragmatism of power which secretly laughs at its own principles, then Pussy Riot are anti-cynicism embodied. Their message is: IDEAS MATTER. They are conceptual artists in the noblest sense of the word: artists who embody an Idea. This is why they wear balaclavas: masks of de-individualization, of liberating anonymity. The message of their balaclavas is that it doesn’t matter which of them got arrested — they’re not individuals, they’re an Idea. And this is why they are such a threat: it is easy to imprison individuals, but try to imprison an Idea!

The panic of those in power — displayed by their ridiculously excessive brutal reaction — is thus fully justified. The more brutally they act, the more important symbol Pussy Riot will become. Already now the result of the oppressive measures is that Pussy Riot are a household name literally all around the world.

It is the sacred duty of all of us to prevent that the courageous individuals who compose Pussy Riot will not pay in their flesh the price for their becoming a global symbol.

—Slavoj Žižek

Žižek speaking in Zuccotti Park during the occupation there.

Žižek quotes Brecht’s Beggar’s Opera and asks the world to consider this one “obscene” act in light of the systemic obscenity and injustice perpetuated by the state apparatus: “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a new bank?”

What we can take away from this whole affair is the alarming similarity of governments the world over: Russia might seem backwards (because we’re all kind of indoctrinated with McCarthyist drivel), but don’t we see similar abuses here? The difference in the US is that “blasphemy” is replaced with “terrorism” and “national security threat;” this is evident everywhere from the highly illegal incarcerations of rebel combatants in Guantanamo Bay to the farcical detentions of OWS activists. What is notable is that political performance pieces are the target of repressive kangaroo courts worldwide: effective satire best exposes the hypocrisy of oppressive structures.

While marches and protests are useful releases of revolutionary pressure, they are highly susceptible to capitalist co-opting, often evolving into docile causes calling for modest reforms. Indeed, Žižek has spoken about the folly of this sort of capitalist charity: destroying with one hand what it builds with the other, it merely entrenches repressive practices and stifles revolutionary sentiment. All that buying Tom’s shoes or Starbucks coffee really amounts to is a comfortable way to repent for the angst of being a consumer.  On the other hand, incisive political satire, like the work of Pussy Riot or Voina, forces every spectator to consider the implications of his or her complacency.

Žižek has been on the front lines of academia for several years now, gaining a substantial following. His rhetorical style, bursting with pop-culture references and caustic conclusions, compels readers and audiences to look beyond the ubiquitous veil of capitalist propaganda and to perceive the manipulation of advertising. The difficulty in performing critiques of contemporary global capitalism, however, lies in finding an external observation point. Žižek describes the Russian flavor of authoritarianism as “capitalism with Asian values,” a term for which he has received considerable flak in the past. This response itself mirrors that of state-capitalist propaganda machines the world over: he is a philosophical instigator who is, in a sense, enacting the same types of performances as our dear Russian musicians. The message lies not in the actions themselves (the Orthodox Church gig is merely a medium, a platform), but rather in their relation to totalitarian structures and state’s response to the ‘perpetrators’. This, I think, is the key to understanding the role of radical punk-art groups as well as to understanding the cold cynicism and absurdity of the state’s response to them.

 

GOOSEBUMPS “SCARED TO SEE A DOCTOR” RECORD RELEASE SHOW AT 538 JOHNSON (FULL SETS FROM GOOSEBUMPS, AJAX, MERCENARY, LIBYANS, AND LA MISMA)

Like an episode of Jerry Springer, but with more fireworks.

FIGHT CLUB: THE BEST OF FRIDAY NIGHT THROWDOWN

Following the news of Throwdown’s return at SXSW this year with a Texas vs. NYC event, it seems only appropriate to take a look back at the history of Friday Night Throwdown, and the coverage we’ve had of it here on Superchief over the years. For the uninitiated; Friday Night Throwdown wasn’t just NYC’s best underground boxing event, it was NYC’s best underground party.

TEXAS VS. NYC: THROWDOWN RETURNS AT SXSW THIS YEAR

The organization that brought Ford models, Marines and Bloods together for New York’s best underground party is bringing their business to Austin, and bringing with them a Texas vs. NYC event…and Superchief will be covering the whole thing, from start to finish.

THIS APRIL: SUPERCHIEF GALLERY NYC PRESENTS JOHN FELIX ARNOLD III’S “EXCORRIGIA | THE SCOURGE”

From the world of UNSTOPPABLE TOMORROW, Superchief Gallery NYC returns this spring with John Felix Arnold III’s EXCORRIGIA | THE SCOURGE, an exhibition of new works in painting, drawing, mixed media, installation, and sound. The exhibition will run from April 3 through April 13, and there will be an opening reception on Thursday, April 3 from 6-10pm at CultureFix on 9 Clinton Street.

HIGH ON HUNGER: JANE CHARDIET

“High on Hunger” is Jane Chardiet’s new zine, featuring personal essay, photography and interviews with 12 artists, including some of our favorites, about their 2013 and their artistic goals in the new year, along with photographs of each licking fire. It’s good stuff, so I asked Jane about her 2013, because turnabout’s fair play and that’s how the game works.

12 O’ CLOCK BOYS (BALTIMORE STREETBIKE REALNESS)

Whatever your city is doing, what the homies out in B-More are doing is 10x as crazy. 12 O’ Clock Boys is one of the hardest movies we’ve seen in a long time, hands down, exploring a city and a culture that just doesn’t give a fuck (and featuring Baltimore himies like Schwarz on the soundtrack) the film gets more done in it’s 75 minutes than most documentaries do in twice that.

TAPE BAG #1: I HAVEN’T GOTTEN OFF MY COUCH IN DAYS.

Talking shit on random tapes cuz I wanna. Round one: Mongrel, Skinny Puppy, Madonna, Gowanus Mutant Kommandos, Temple of the Dog and MORE.

R.I.P RICKY LUANDA OF CHAIN GANG

Ricky Luanda of the experimental NYC punk band Chain Gang, one of the coolest bands ever, passed away earlier this week from esophogeal cancer. Watch 10 minutes of the bands’ rare, legendary, batshit crazy 1980′s film “MONDO MANHATTAN” right here.

ALWAYS KEEP THE CAMERA RUNNING: MAKS SUSKI’S VIDEOS OF THE NYC MUSIC SCENE

Maks Suski has been hard at work documenting live music in NYC on video for the last 4 years; we asked him to compile a list of some of his favorite videos that he’s shot, a list that includes Japanther, Action Bronson, Death Grips, Culo, Crystal Castles, Limp Wrist, Black Pus and more.

THERE IS A TINY LEG A QUARTER OF AN INCH BELOW YOUR TENTH RIB.

“Although Tiny Leg’s sound owes much of it’s inspiration to the Oakland glucose and thumbtrack scenes of the mid-nineties, and has been called by HotFridge magazine ‘a thumbcore homage to the sound of Velvet Curtis and Taco’ and ‘a slick-stale, neo-juicy, post-hipster alchemy, somewhere in between gluke-wave and puke-base’ by PeckerwoodsToday, those sentences are too journalistic and not souague enough, if one may permit my french.”

DAWN OF HUMANS, HANK WOOD & THE HAMMERHEADS, AND PHARMAKON PLAYED PS1 SATURDAY NIGHT (FULL SETS)

PUNK NOT ART NOISE NOT MUSIC ACK ACK ACK ACK

TOD SEELIE’S “BRIGHT NIGHTS” BOOK RELEASE & PHOTO SHOW AT SUPERCHIEF GALLERY AT CULTUREFIX (VIDEO)

Tod Seelie’s book release and photo show at Superchief Gallery at CultureFix was a celebration of the last 15 years of New York’s underground, for sure; but it also kept an eye on the future.

FUCKED UP CLOSED OUT 285 KENT’S LAST SHOW (FULL SET)

285 Kent finished it’s run last Sunday night; check out full video of Fucked Up’s headlining set right here.

SUPERCHIEF GALLERY AT MIAMI ART BASEL 2013: WILL SMITH CAN SUCK IT.

Superchief Gallery’s showing at Select Fair 2013 is even bigger, better and more batshit crazy than our 2012 showing was – check out photos here, and for homies in Miami, we’ll be at the Catalina Hotel all this week!

STACY KRANITZ’S SKATOPIA (50+ Photos From a Burnout’s Paradise)

Photographer Stacy Kranitz recently journeyed to Skatopia, a famed 88 acre skate park/commune in Ohio which was founded in 1995, documented in the 2010 film of the same name, and once described by writer Kevin Duffel as “a demented mess that meets halfway between an anarchistic Mad Maxian Thunderdome and a utopian skateboard society.” Goddamn if it isn’t one of the best things we’ve ever seen.