Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pussy Riot, patriarchy, and fear


Notwithstanding this embarrassingly dumb and condescending review in the Guardian,*the new documentary showing on HBO, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, is well worth watching.

The most powerful aspects to me were, first, the statements made by the representatives and supporters of the Orthodox Church, who casually discuss how centuries ago these defiant “witches” and “demons” would have been hanged or burned at the stake, while today the men show more forgiveness and “punish them through the law.” You really couldn’t invent such perfect embodiments of patriarchal extremism: they wear t-shirts that read “Orthodoxy or Death,” and one of them explains that the word “pussy” means “deranged vagina.” They’re horrifying to watch, and they have real political power.

Second, the three members of Pussy Riot on trial are articulate and inspiring. Maria Alyokhina’s** statement prior to the reading of the verdict was a rousing work of art, leading those in the courtroom to break out in applause (after which they were scoldingly reminded by the court, in a moment of supreme irony, that the courtroom was “not a theater”).

Alyokhina’s concern for her son and the demands from the representatives of authority that these women accept their role in traditional hierarchical institutions reminded me of a piece I mentioned just yesterday over at Mano Singham’s, in which Corey Robin counters the claim that modern authoritarian terror and control rely on atomized individuals by showing that they really work through these authoritarian institutions and through threats to people’s loved ones. (This is a summary of the major thesis of his book, Fear, which I recommend.) I was appalled that Catherine Shoard at the Guardian would write “Difficult questions – about the young children of two of the three – are skirted around,” as though this were about irresponsible mothers rather than the reality of authoritarian regimes. This sort of presentation works to naturalize and depoliticize authoritarianism. The government threatened to turn her child over to social services after she participated in a political protest. That’s what shouldn’t be skirted around.

With the recent news about the passage of an anti-gay law in Russia, the situation appears even more dire.

* I think I’ve enjoyed comments by “Truculent Sheep” in the past.

** I learned at WP that Alyokhina is also a vegan. The problems vegans face in prison should be a subject of great concern.

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