12/30/2023, 10.09
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The irony: Russian New Year's Eve

by Stefano Caprio

Television in Russia serves to 'close ranks', to feel like a member of the military parade in front of the Kremlin, which is broadcast on every solemn occasion, including New Year's Eve in various formats, especially in these times of war.

Russian propaganda in favor of war against the entire world finds its greatest expression in state television programs, particularly the flagship channel Rossiya-1, which on New Year's Eve broadcasts the major events that catalyze attention of the majority of the population.

This is followed by the greeting speech of President Vladimir Putin, the blessing of Patriarch Kirill (Gundjaev), the patriotic songs of pop stars Shaman, Yevgeny Petrosyan, Grigory Leps, Filipp Kirkorov and others.

And above all, almost an unmissable nocturnal liturgy, the 1976 film Irony of Fate by Eldar Rjazanov, based on the 1969 theater comedy Have a good Sauna!, a parody of the life of the Soviet people which has remained in the collective conscience, which describes the true nature through misunderstandings of Russia.

The film was already very popular in the Soviet years, but became a cult show in the Putin years, with its obligatory New Year's Eve rerun. It tells the story of a middle-aged bachelor, Zhenya, who intends to finally declare himself to his girlfriend on New Year's Eve, but first he goes to the sauna with his friends, and as usually happens in Russia, he ends up getting so drunk that he boarded the plane to Leningrad in place of one of his drinking buddies, who in turn had to go to the northern capital to visit his girlfriend Nadia.

Ironically, the address is identical between the two cities, the "Khrushchevite" style house is identical, and even the key opens the apartment where Ženja collapses on the sofa, creating a series of further misunderstandings with his girlfriend of the friend and other people involved. In the end he returns to his home in Moscow, his girlfriend leaves him, but Nadia joins him from Leningrad, creating a new reality, identical and opposite at the same time.

The comedy reflects a vision of Soviet sociality based on the equality of social conditions, the same architecture of popular buildings and the analogies between cities and family situations, and at the same time the contradictory nature of the expressions of the soul.

This model of paradoxical identity has remained rooted to the point of being an allegory of the transition between Soviet and subsequent Russia: Zhenya's journey from one city to another expresses the contradiction and similarity between historical periods, making Russians feel of today still within the community of yesterday.

It was a country that felt different from the rest of the world, proudly isolated in the internal replication of feelings and aspirations distributed over the immensity of the territory, in the consonance of the dimensions of each of its parts.

It is no coincidence that television has remained in Russia the main means of control and diffusion of "traditional principles", those that make Russians feel united among themselves and different from everyone else.

Boris Yeltsyn had already argued in 1994 that TV was the "atomic bomb button" that delivers absolute power, and in 2000 Putin forced his mentor, the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, to hand over to him control of the Ort channel, which later became the first channel, because "its signal reaches 98% of Russian homes".

Berezovsky, master of Russian information for a decade, was forced to sell the channel to Putin's loyalist Roman Abramovich, and had to leave the country, only to die a few years later of a mysterious suicide in London.

Over the last twenty years, Russian television has greatly accentuated its control over the entire world of information, eliminating relatively independent channels one after another, and accentuating the pressure on IT media, so much so that now only a few Telegram and YouTube channels manage to pass through contents that are not entirely aligned, and only thanks to particular accesses of the VPN system.

Russians watch television for 5-6 hours a day, an amount that has become even wider in the years of the lockdown that merged with those of the war, and of increasingly heated patriotic propaganda.

The link with television is obviously fundamental for the older part of the population, stunned by the screams of the "analysts" and talk-show presenters, the hosts of popular games and the reporters of sporting events, all variations of the same "spirit of group” to unite the masses.

These are much more effective liturgies than those of the Orthodox Church itself, where only a few very devout elderly women remain standing during the long litanies, while the majority of those who set foot in the church - a very limited part of the population - remain just enough time to light a light on the icon of the Madonna or your favorite saint.

Anyone who does not watch television in Russia can at most become a marginal and inadequate being in society, which confirms the global unitary truth, which penetrates the consciences even of those who try to escape propaganda.

There is no digital medium or artificial intelligence that can subvert this dominion of souls, and it will remain so for many years to come, especially if sooner or later the Runet, the Russian internet, is imposed in place of the universal one.

“Digital tribes” also exist in Russia, but they are unable to impact the collective conscience, rather they provide it with alibis and arguments to further impose itself. And this phenomenon, moreover, is not exclusive to Russia: information sociality flattens the awareness of individuals and social groups throughout the world, imposing preconceived models of reading reality.

In this too, Russia anticipates the future of a large part of humanity, fusing the most modern technologies with apparently antiquated ones, robotics and the sofa at home, trench warfare with space drones, virtual chats with medieval litanies.

The new reality that awaits us throws us back in time, into dimensions similar to serfdom, in which the servant does not know how to live without the master, and the new year merely repeats the past one, opening new fronts in a war without beginning and without end.


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