Free Pussy Riot (From the Prison of Your Little Mind)

April 14, 2014 • Beauty

 

Photo courtesy of Amnesty USA

Photo courtesy of Amnesty USA

Some mornings in Los Angeles drivers forget how to merge.

There are odd starts and stops at on-ramps and doglegs, and where cars usually manage to dance and weave seamlessly, they end up looking like Bill de Blasio attempting to b-boy it (#smackdown).

During this brake dance most motorists don’t know whether to wave someone in or cut someone off (or rage, RAGE against the dying of their Southland commuter souls) and somewhere in between first cups of coffee and the numbing boredom of the morning rush, all vehicles come to a standstill, an impasse at an overpass, or worse: an accident. While these accidents are typically small fender benders (though, gently tap an S-Class and it’s going to cost you a stack of C-Notes), they have epic bottle-necking ramifications, as every car slows from snail-paced to stopped.

Last Monday night, after former members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya) and Maria Alyokhina (Masha) of Russian protest band Pussy Riot attended a dinner in Hollywood hosted by Independence Day (ironic, or no?) director Roland Emmerich, the women were shuttled to Mack Sennett Studios in Silverlake to speak on a panel discussion hosted by Hunter Heaney and Chris Holmes of the Voice Project.

They were joined by Wayne Kramer of Jail Guitar Doors, Anne Litt of KCRW, Shepard Fairey of Obey, and Piotr Verzilov of Voina (Tolokonnikova’s husband and translator). The group ambled on to the stage to presumably, as the event promised, discuss the ability and power of music to effect positive social change.

Except like the 101 on a bad morning (or the 405 on any morning), none of these speakers coalesced quite in the way expected. It was all a little awkward, a little too obsequious on the moderator’s part, and, in many ways, did not rightfully recognize or discuss the women’s sacrifices, courage, their humanitarian work for LGBT rights in Russia, the current state of Putin’s dealings, the gulag-like conditions and the infringement of the labor rights of convicted Russian prisoners. There was so much meat to work with; instead, the whole thing felt like a plate of vegan platitudes.

To start, the “technician” tasked with hitting play on the introductory video couldn’t figure out how to get the player controls off the screen–which is as simple as moving the mouse. As such, the English subtitles were covered with the play bar, and despite one man from Moscow (who made himself known during the three-question Q & A portion of the night), the other non-Russian-speaking members of the audience were left to blindly interpret. An audience which, for its own part, was less than lackluster. There was a half-assed–literally half of the asses stayed in their seats–standing ovation when Nadya and Masha took the stage. There were light, polite claps when one of them said something virtuous. But even the energetic Russian in which Nadya intoned her answers could not save the tone of the evening.

“They were a little glib, no?” a woman dressed in all black remarked to her friend upon exiting the building.

“That was kind of boring,” said another.

In truth, it was boring… though no one will say this because–as uninspired as the evening was–it was an honor to hear the women, in their own voices, in person. But even they appeared unimpressed. (Hence, the “glib”—which they were not.) The women don’t pander, presumably because this revolutionary business is serious. It’s a cause they’ve sacrificed their freedom for, their families (both women have young children), and their physical well-being.

Founded in August 2011, Pussy Riot set its balaclava sights on being “part of the global anti-capitalist movement, which consists of anarchists, Trotskyists, feminists and autonomists.”

And this is where Los Angeles might be having trouble. These women don’t play by anybody’s rules but their own.

Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky believed in the Marxist theory of Permanent Revolution (though he adjusted it to fit his own agenda). It was a theory that relied on the working class to not only overthrow an imperial state, but also expose the rottenness of bourgeois liberals and their counterrevolutionary role in bourgeois democratic revolution. “The People” for Pussy Riot are–in true Marxist form–the proletariat and the peasantry. That doesn’t include Hollywood, a sect that Marx would have considered “far more dangerous to the workers than the previous liberals.”

The United States, and Los Angeles in particular, isn’t quite sure what to do with this. Hollywood wants to make a biopic of their lives, where 20-year-old Angelina Jolie plays Nadya and Mamie Gummer takes on Masha. And Los Angeles—basically, the crux of bourgeois liberalism–wants to know what inspired the women… as if it isn’t painfully clear.

In 2000, when Putin came to power, both women were about ten years old.

In 2000 when Putin became the official second President of Russia, he swore to ”respect and guard the human and civil rights.” In 2012, the New York Times reported that human rights were no longer an issue to Russia. Quoting Putin’s press secretary, Dmitri S. Peskov, as saying: “Everyone is sick and tired of this issue of human rights.”

“It’s boringly traditional, boringly traditional,” said Peskov, “and it’s not on the agenda.”

Both Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina grew up in this political climate, a weather system so unknown to Los Angeles the room couldn’t possibly understand why the women were not moved by banal platitudes like “Music can change the world,” an adage that was repeated more than once. And then there was Wayne extolling what felt like rehearsed lines like “Music is a tool for abilitation,” “Art and music is anger management,” and “Artists are always the point of the spear.” How many times he’s given the same pitch, who’s to know. This doesn’t discredit his work, but it does highlight the extreme difference between the two entities: Wayne sticks to the script; Pussy Riot doesn’t have one.

When Anne Litt asked Tolokonnikova if the music or the political activism came first, Tolokonnikova reprovingly queried, “Is there any difference?”

But it wasn’t quite a question on her end; it was a challenge, a quiet rebellion, her state of permanent revolution that not so slyly hinted that we’re not getting their message–a point eloquently articulated by Alyokhina in a recent interview with Pitchfork. When asked if the US has misrepresented their cause, she says, “They [the US] want to listen to what they already know. And actually sometimes it’s hard to show people something new, if this new thing doesn’t have something bright or remarkable, something that you can remember very fast.”

And though they were in Hollywood to raise money for their newly formed N.G.O, Zona Prava, an organization advocating for prisoners’ rights, they won’t pander or pout their pretty lips for petty bourgeois democrats–a fact that Bill Maher was unable to overlook earlier in the evening. During the dinner at Acabar (owned by the director, because everyone’s a slashie), the two were greeted and toasted by the likes of Jim Carey, Jeff Goldblum, and the aforementioned Maher who, according to Vanity Fair, quipped, “Even if you don’t overthrow Putin, your career is going to be in great shape, and that’s what matters in America.” Neither women laughed. He then led the room in a chant of “Fuck Putin,” ending his speech with “Any country that would make women this beautiful wear a mask over their head, that has to be a crime.”

And the two couldn’t appear less enthused. Glad-handing and laughing at misogynist jokes is not part of their makeup. Champagne toasts and Jurassic Park do not make these girls bubbly. It’s not possible to translate the problems at hand—i.e.  living in a country hell bent on promulgating orthodoxy, state surveillance, Cossack militias, restriction, KGB tactics, and government propaganda. For them, that fact that there is no difference between the art and the politics, means that America can’t find a democratic entry point. But that didn’t stop the panel from trying to connect, to get a bleeding heart answer… or at least a usable sound-bite (i.e. something we can remember fast, tweet out, and move on).

When Fairey asked the women if they were worried about becoming too mainstream–a trait he has been accused of more than once (like when he collaborated with The Black Eyed Peas on their Monkey Business album), the answer was a definitive “no.” The Russian government would, in no uncertain terms, ever collaborate with them. Putin would never use the girls’ music in a propaganda video for Russia. “Free Pussy Riot” will never become a national symbol of Hope.

Because freedom is not achieved by Hollywood magic. It is fought for through activism, and at times the form of that activism may not coincide with your own beliefs.

In the morning, when everyone in LA is trying to avoid an accident, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina want to cause one. And whether music does or does not have the ability to change the world is not the point.

They don’t want to merge seamlessly. Ever. They want the bottle-neck, the smackdown, and they’re willing to stick their necks out to get it–a point Los Angeles feels compelled to dramatize, but will never understand.

Read more:
The Death Of Business Casual
Killing Originality: Between Foucault and Balenciaga
Close
close

All Aboard.

Get The Style Con shipped to your inbox.