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Buzz Barometer: NYT Posts Russia TV Tour
February 22, 2015 15:48

Photo: Sasha Rudensky for The New York Times
Just like most of the world’s media, The New York Times continues to explore Russia in an attempt to understand and predict Moscow’s behaviour and designs amid the troubling Ukraine crisis.
The newspaper has published the result of Gary Shteyngart’s week-long vigilant studies of Russian nature uncovered through television programming.
“Ninety percent of Russians, according to the Levada Center, an independent research firm, get their news primarily from television. Middle-aged and older people who were formed by the Soviet system and those who live outside Moscow and St. Petersburg are particularly devoted TV watchers. Two of the main channels — Channel 1 and Rossiya 1 — are state-owned. The third, NTV, is nominally independent but is controlled by Gazprom-Media, a subsidiary of the giant energy company that is all but a government ministry. Executives from all three companies regularly meet with Kremlin officials,” reads the research paper by Shteyngart, an exiled Soviet citizen who has found his literary fame in the US.
He documents his physically and spiritually tiring experience on a day by day basis, at some point reaching a moment when he was forced to call in this therapist.
“Russia is a country blessed but mostly cursed to endure years of civil war, global upheaval and dissolution of empire so transformative that other countries would have just given up and called it a day: 1917, 1941 and 1991 come to mind as moments when the very nature of Russia changed,” muses the author.
“I’m noticing a trend of movies about Russians in their mid-30s who are not yet married, a phenomenon confounding to most Russians who prefer to marry, have 1.61 children and then divorce early in life (according to the United Nations, Russia consistently has one of the highest divorce rates),” Shteyngart goes on to say.
“It’s rare to find a society with a more contradictory approach to sex. A new conservatism, led by the Orthodox Church, is constantly at odds with whatever progressive notions the Soviet Union instilled… Today, you can barely find explicit sex in a commercial film like “An Ideal Pair,” but watching one of the dance numbers on television makes you want to reach for a body condom just to be safe,” reads another of his observations.
Still having Russian as a mother tongue, Shteyngart chooses to tune in “to the progressive news site, praising it as one of the truth bastions. “Two other favorites, (gazeta means “newspaper”) and, have lost their impartiality,” he adds.
Now the two key takeaways from this wining and dining at Four Seasons Hotel are as follows:
1. “What a powerful weapon Putin’s television is. How skillfully it combines nostalgia, malice, paranoia and lazy humor; how swiftly it both dulls the senses and raises your ire.”
2. “To suffer and to survive: This must be the meaning of being Russian. It was in the past and will be forever. This is the fantasy being served up each night on Channel 1, on Rossiya 1, on NTV.”
Shteyngart seems to be proud and happy he escaped before the country degraded into modern Russia.

Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and came to the United States seven years later. He is the author of the novels Super Sad True Love Story, which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and was selected as one of the best books of the year by more than forty news journals and magazines around the world; Absurdistan, which was chosen as one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review and Time magazine; and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, winner of the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction.  

Author: Mikhail Vesely

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