Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Perestroika and the end of the Soviet Union transformed every aspect of life in Russia, and as hope began to give way to pessimism, popular culture came to reflect the anxiety and despair felt by more and more Russians. Free from censorship for the first time in Russia's history, the popular culture industry (publishing, film, and television) began to disseminate works that featured increasingly explicit images and descriptions of sex and violence.

    In Overkill, Eliot Borenstein explores this lurid and often-disturbing cultural landscape in close, imaginative readings of such works as You're Just a Slut, My Dear! (Ty prosto shliukha, dorogaia!), a novel about sexual slavery and illegal organ harvesting; the Nympho trilogy of books featuring a Chechen-fighting sex addict; and the Mad Dog and Antikiller series of books and films recounting, respectively, the exploits of the Russian Rambo and an assassin killing in the cause of justice. Borenstein argues that the popular cultural products consumed in the post-perestroika era were more than just diversions; they allowed Russians to indulge their despair over economic woes and everyday threats. At the same time, they built a notion of nationalism or heroism that could be maintained even under the most miserable of social conditions, when consumers felt most powerless.

    For Borenstein, the myriad depictions of deviance in pornographic and also crime fiction, with their patently excessive and appalling details of social and moral decay, represented the popular culture industry's response to the otherwise unimaginable scale of Russia's national collapse. "The full sense of collapse," he writes, "required a panoptic view that only the media and culture industry were eager to provide, amalgamating national collapse into one master narrative that would then be readily available to most individuals as a framework for understanding their own suffering and their own fears."

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6345-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    (pp. 1-23)

    Less than half a year before Russia’s relations with the United States were soured by the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the Russian State Duma began a war of words about an issue of no apparent significance, although its subject was literally earth-shattering: the Hollywood blockbuster Armageddon, whose depiction of a Russian cosmonaut wearing a fur hat as he frantically repaired the decrepit Mir space station was perceived as an unforgivable insult to Russian national pride. The fact that the movie was a runaway success in theaters throughout the Russian Federation only made matters worse, especially considering the sorry state...

  7. Chapter One ABOUT THAT: Sex and Its Metaphors
    (pp. 24-50)

    Walk into any sex shop in Moscow, and with enough cash or the right credit card, you can buy a perfect plastic replica of international porn star Jeff Stryker’s erect penis. Clearly, the penetration of the Russian market has been a success. To make an analogy unlikely to grace the pages of a college entrance exam, Stryker’s member is to the Russian sex industry as Snickers is to snack foods: while both guarantee “satisfaction,” the organ is a naked demonstration of the barely hidden erotic connotations of post-Soviet Russia’s humiliating status as a weakened, passive importer of prepackaged cultural and...

  8. Chapter Two STRIPPING THE NATION BARE: Pornography as Politics
    (pp. 51-76)

    A Soviet primal scene for post-Soviet times:

    Stalin moaned.

    Khrushchev carefully unbuttoned his pants, pulled down his semitransparent black shorts, freeing the leader’s swarthy, straining phallus. Spitting on his fingers, the count [Khrushchev] began to tug tenderly at Stalin’s nipple and moved his lips down the leader’s body—to his blood-engorged phallus. . . .

    “Give me your ass, my sweet boy,” Khrushchev commanded him softly, gripping Stalin firmly by the balls. . . .

    Khrushchev unbuttoned his own pants and took out his long, uneven penis with its bumpy head, its shiny skin tattooed with a pentacle. The count...

  9. Chapter Three PIMPING THE MOTHERLAND: Russia Bought and Sold
    (pp. 77-97)

    As Western ships approached a port in Sevastopol, Ukraine, in late April of 1997, a group of prostitutes lined up to greet them. Given the long-standing connection between shore leave and sex for hire, this was hardly unusual in and of itself, but these women planned a welcome with pickets rather than open arms. The sailors were part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Operation Sea Breeze, a set of practice maneuvers in the Black Sea. NATO could not have picked a worse time or a more troubled spot: the Russian government was outraged over plans for the organization’s imminent...

  10. Chapter Four TO BE CONTINUED: Death and the Art of Serial Storytelling
    (pp. 98-126)

    Violent crime in popular entertainment is first and foremost a question of storytelling. On the most basic level, violence demands more story than does sex. Consider, for example, the extreme cases in popular entertainment directed at roughly the same demographic (men): in pornography, storytelling is kept to a minimum, since anything that is not overtly sexual is simply a distraction, and thus sex scenes can be strung together with the flimsiest of narrative threads (“Is that the delivery boy?”). In stories of violence, there is no precise narrative equivalent to pornography, as graphic violence tends to be much more motivated...

    (pp. 127-158)

    At first glance, the blood-soaked landscape of 1990s popular entertainment would appear numbingly monotonous. How many different ways can people be beaten, assaulted, and killed in the course of fifty minutes or four hundred pages? The cultural hegemony of violent crime in virtually all media (prose fiction, television, and film) creates a self-perpetuating confidence in the corruption and criminalization of both the country and its representations, a hyperreal projection of a terrorized populace consuming narratives about their criminal state. However novel the myth of the criminal state might be in content, it is immediately familiar in form, replicating the false...

  12. Chapter Six MEN OF ACTION: Heroic Melodrama and the Passion of Mad Dog
    (pp. 159-194)

    Readers of the first volume of Viktor Dotsenko’s memoirs, Mad Dog’s Father (2000), had to wait over four hundred pages for the author to describe the turning point in his life: the birth of his fictional son, Savelii Govorkov, better known as Beshenyi (“Mad Dog”).¹ Dotsenko’s paternal pride fits a common model of male authorship, but it is particularly noteworthy in Mad Dog’s case, for both specific and generic reasons. Dotsenko’s public proclamation of paternity is ironic and appropriate in that Savelii himself, like so many action heroes before and after him, is an orphan. A ward of the state...

  13. Chapter Seven OVERKILL: Bespredel and Gratuitous Violence
    (pp. 195-224)

    In 1999, the reading public was treated to a new addition to the emerging canon of Russian pulp fiction: a potboiler by Sergei Pugachev entitled You’re Just a Slut, My Dear! Even in a market where lurid paperback covers are taken for granted, You’re Just a Slut, My Dear! stands out for its explicit sexualized violence: a man smiles as he holds a beautiful woman by the hair and forces her to suck on the barrel of a gun. When the novel begins, a young woman, Rita Prozorova, has just been fighting with her mother, whom she holds in utmost...

  14. CONCLUSION: Someone Like Putin
    (pp. 225-240)

    In the summer of 2002, an unknown female duo called Singing Together (Poiushchie vmeste) released a surprise hit, literally singing the praises of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the man who became president of the Russian Federation after Boris Yeltsin’s unexpected resignation on the last New Year’s Eve of the 1990s. The group’s name was modeled on that of a patriotic, pro-Putin youth group calling itself Moving Together (Idushchie vmeste), which had recently begun crusading for moral purity and national pride. Even at the height of Yeltsin’s popularity, bolstered by the image of Russia’s leader standing defiantly on top of a tank...

    (pp. 241-258)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 259-266)