Fake Putin, Real Pussy Riot, Fake Obama, Real Diplomacy

by Frank Verici


 Frank Verici is an American currently living and working in the Russian Federation.

 

House of Cards‘ satire of Russian-American relations portrays what Russians see as reality.

“It’s always a cause to rejoyce when Russian politics gets attention,” I used to think, before Russia annexed Crimea. Well, hell, anyway, it keeps coming, and Season 3 Episode 3 of Netflix’s House of Cards is a story ripped from the headlines. President Viktor Petrov, a Putin surrogate, and Pussy Riot– the real Pussy Riot – have a stand off at President Underwood’s White House. The result is a portrayal of diplomatic wheeling and dealing that I think could explain to Americans how Russians see international relations.

First things first: satire. The real Pussy Rioters apparently forwent the normal dissident requirement of pandering to the Western media by learning English. This opportunity was not lost on House of Cards writers. Making fun of accents is cheap, but Masha Alyokhina’s inability to speak English is almost suspect and the jokes in this episode are funny. Watching Fake Putin go around being a charming bully is funny (as they say, because it’s true.) Watching the US President ignore gay rights protesters in the face of a diplomatic mission is funny for the same reason.

And then there’s reality. A number of news outlets have commented on the already 2 month-old series. Think Progress notes that House of Cards got it right about gay rights. According to Business Insider, Pussy Riot says that real Putin is worse than Fake Putin.

It is an absurd thought that any White House might invite Pussy Riot, the biggest and most famous dissident of Russia right now, to dinner with Putin. This is not nearly as absurd as fake Putin’s fake Russian (Please God, strike me down if that’s what I sound like in Russian.) Anyway, part of the plot revolves around drinking vodka, and real Vladimir Vladimirovich doesn’t partake in real life (much).

What struck me, though, is that the portrayal of diplomacy – specifically, behind closed doors machinations manipulated exclusively by political ambition and personal feelings with no interest in public good – is how Russia sees international politics. Our TV is their reality.

Plot Spoiler:

To make a long story short– President Underwood decides to publicly insult President Petrov and embrace Pussy Riot because Petrov kissed his wife in front of the whole school State Department.

Nothing to do with human rights violations or peace and prosperity. International Relations of pure egotism and it almost causes a war.

This is how people really think politics really work.

I do not speak for a whole nation, but time and time again I have been told by Russiasphere people that the Ukraine crisis (and before that, other issues like the missile defense systems in Europe, also satirized in this episode) is nothing more than a few giants wrestling for personal glory. People say, “We understand it’s Obama, not the American people who don’t like ours.” Whoever “ours” refers to. “Ours” seems to sometimes be former USSR people, sometimes Russian citizens, sometimes ethnic Russians and it changes constantly depending on mood and context. This sounds utterly absurd to me, that Obama sits in the oval office brainstorming a list of ways to crush the Russian spirit because Putin made him look small in Syria.

(Maybe it seems absurd to them that any President, especially one who condones drone strikes on civilians in far-away villages, doesn’t constantly make such lists.)

People think Obama has it in for them and governments are just gonna do what they want, I imagine, because:

  1.  It exculpates them from responsibility of trying to make change as the matter is completely out of their hands. It may be, of course.
  2.  That personal whims and manipulation steer their own government, especially how it worked in the Soviet Union, so all governments must work this way.
  3.  It gives them a sense of belonging– if all rulers are petty, then our petty ruler is no worse and,
  4.  Couldn’t it be (at least partly) true?

As a result of this attitude toward politics as fully personal ambition, the people seek a strong leader, someone who will not be pushed around, who will say and do anything to get his way and not embarrass his countrymen. Since nobody is going to really fix everything, why that’s impossible, they look for somewone else. They want to look strong, in charge, in capable hands. What they want is a Putin and a Lavrov.

If you thought (or think) all international relations are personally-motivated, wouldn’t you want a representative who was unwilling to compromise? Someone who won’t fall for the guile of others?

This would explain the attitude people have that, “Obama just wants to throw his weight around.” Strange, of course, because in US media Obama is often portrayed as soft and unwilling to take a stand. Obviously, people who see the President as a machinator are not watching US media. What comes out in the US as, “Sanctions are not enough,” in Russian television plays out as, “Why is Obama a bully trying to stick it to you?” In other words, this anti-Obama attitude is partly manufactured for them by the media they watch.

Sympathizing with this is not difficult. President Underwood is a backstabbing, ruthless careerist. It is damn satisfying to watch someone (Petrov) outsmart him and give him a taste of his own medicine, even if it is dishonest.

The greatest irony is that at the end of the House of Cards episode, President Underwood (that’s Kevin Spacey) adopts Pussy Riot as allies not because he believes in them, but he’s all frustrated because Fake Putin flirted with his wife. He is willing to start a war over personal vendettas. He practically screams at a press conference, “He started it!” The resolution to the story takes place only when Fake US President takes a page from both Fake and Real Putin. There’s no compromise when doesn’t get his way. He hits back.

One response to “Fake Putin, Real Pussy Riot, Fake Obama, Real Diplomacy”

  1. fake rolex says:

    I’m impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.

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