Thursday, February 19, 2015

‘Out of My Mouth Comes Unimpeachable Manly Truth’

What I learned from watching a week of Russian TV

By GARY SHTEYNGART, NYT, FEB. 18, 2015

On a cold, sunny New Year’s Eve in 2014, I am sitting at the edge of my king-size bed at the Four Seasons hotel in New York, munching through a stack of Wagyu beef slices and demolishing a bottle of pinot noir while watching a woman play a man playing a bearded woman on Russian state television. Standing on a stage lit by gleaming chandeliers before an audience of Russia’s elite celebrities, the parodist Elena Vorobei sings to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” in a crude impersonation of Conchita Wurst, the Austrian drag queen who won the 2014 Eurovision song contest. Vorobei is dressed in a sparkling gown, winking cheekily, scratching at her bearded face and swishing her lustrous wig around. “I have a beard!” she belts. At one point she throws out a Hitler salute, a gesture that’s meant to evoke Austria, Conchita’s homeland. The camera pans the laughing audience, cutting for a moment to a well-known actor-singer-writer-bodybuilder and then to one of the show’s M.C.s, Russia’s pop king, the also-bearded Philipp Kirkorov (widely assumed to be gay). The men, who are almost all tanned, in sharply cut suits, grin with unconstrained glee. The bejeweled women wear tight, knowing smiles. Everyone sways and claps.

With the exception of fishing, soccer and the Orthodox Church, few things are taken more seriously in Russia than Eurovision. Indeed, much of the sequined musical fare on Russian television looks like an endless Eurovision rehearsal. When Conchita won, back in May, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist in Russia’s Parliament who is roughly equivalent to Michele Bachmann, said her victory meant “the end of Europe.” The deputy prime minister and the Orthodox Church issued statements essentially denouncing the collapse of Christian civilization as we know it. On tonight’s show, broadcast to millions of Russians, the message is clear: Europe may have rejected homophobia, a value it once shared with Russia, by giving a musical prize to a drag queen, but Russia, like Gloria Gaynor herself, will survive, never to succumb to the rest of the world’s wimpy notions of tolerance. A country where gangs of vigilantes who call their cause “Occupy Pedophilia” attack gay men and women on the streets of its major cities will now carry the mantle of the European Christian project.

(More here.)

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