Emotional therapy here organically merges with hysteria and the preaching of a nuclear apocalypse, while blind faith in the leader of the nation is based on the cynical idea that the world is ruled only by private interests.
It is in its link with reality that the radical difference between Putin’s and Soviet state media lies. Soviet television took the position of an educator, trying to instill high moral ideals and constantly working on the “moral character” of its audience. This lofty position constantly exposed the gap between expectation and reality, and therefore inevitably looked imposed and fake.
Contrary to the well-known thesis of
Boris Groys about the totality of the Soviet language, which completely subjugated reality, in late Soviet times there was a gap between them that in large part drove the general cynicism of Soviet citizens. The position of the “outsider” (vnenakhodimost’
) that Alexei Yurchak wrote
about – escaping from the framework of the official language, the meanings of which were constantly redefined within specific life situations – was a phenomenon of a non-market society that is irretrievably gone today. The Soviet language was not total because time itself was not total, not subject to the rationality of the market, leaving a lot of room for “unproductive” leisure.
The Soviet state retained its “moral” character until the very end, viewing society as material to be constantly improved. The desires of society itself – for personal comfort and more consumption – generated ambivalence on the part of the state, which, on the one hand, proclaimed the “rising well-being of workers” as its goal while, on the other, subjecting “excessive” interest in consumption to constant moral criticism.
This state spoke on behalf of high ideals and culture, and ordinary citizens were expected to rise to this level. In this sense, the late Soviet Union bore certain similarities to the Western welfare state, in which the individual was the object of care and control.
The era of neoliberalism that began in the West in the early 1980s left the individual to his own devices – now, following the changing conditions of the market, he had to endlessly reinvent himself. Post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s was the most radical manifestation of this trend.
The transition from the control-seeking state to the market was rapid, and the need for personal transformation turned into a matter of basic physical survival. Still, the hard law of necessity was accepted without much resistance, since at the same time it offered unlimited possibilities for desires to be realized. A key role in these changes was played by the new mass media, which, unlike the Soviet one, did not try to elevate the citizen to the tasks of the future, but, on the contrary, went down to the level of the present – the emotional experience of “here and now.”An image of happiness that denies morality
The best example of the fundamentally new role of television is the show Pole Chudes
(a Russian version of Wheel of Fortune
) – the main and, one might say, formative program of post-Soviet media. Its constantly changing characters are random people from the crowd whose wishes can become reality thanks to an unknowable, magical sequence of circumstances. Pole Chudes
gives a concrete material image of happiness – a mountain of money that can become yours – while simultaneously asserting the impossibility of any material algorithm for achieving it. Wealth and success are an unrealistic end to which no means lead.