DALE McFEATTERS: Russian girl band asks U.S. for help
Most publicists would kill to have three-quarters of The Washington Post’s Style section front devoted to their client. That’s the part of the newspaper devoted to A-list celebrities, arts and leisure and, when Style is lucky enough to happen upon a scandal, salacious details of the doings of the mighty.
However, the Russian propaganda department would probably like to ship off to remotest Siberia both the Style editor and the page designer who devoted that much space to the renegade Russian girl band Pussy Riot. Two of the band’s members are in jail for singing what the Post described as “a raucous, pro-feminist song” railing against then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (now the president) from the altar of Moscow’s Orthodox cathedral, Christ the Savior, in September 2011.
We’ll take the Post’s word for it, because the song lasted only 40 seconds before the police hustled the group off and, even if we did speak Russian, we suspect the song, available on YouTube, was largely unintelligible.
Not to disparage Pussy Riot’s musicianship, but almost any garage band picked at random could play better. Perhaps the group’s flaws haven’t been resolved because Russia lacks an ample supply of garages for rehearsal.
Like many garage bands, Pussy Riot makes up in volume what it lacks in clarity.
This particular performance netted the group two stories in the Post last week, with a multicolored headline, “The Riot that shook Russia,” along with a photo of eight members of the band (although they actually describe themselves as a collective).
Nothing the women did was technically illegal under Russian law, but anything that annoys the authorities is a crime of some kind, and three band members were charged under the all-purpose rap of “hooliganism inspired by religious hatred.”
One of the three — Yekaterina Samutsevich — was released in October because she never actually got to the altar. But the other two — Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova — were sentenced to labor camps, even though each had a preschool-age child.
The Post, in another dubious coup for Russian propaganda, ran a photo of the three, who look like K Street receptionists on their lunch hour.
They are guarded by a pair of beefy women whose appearance harks back to the days of the Soviet Union.
One has to sympathize with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., when he opened his paper that morning and knew that momentarily the phone would be ringing.
Kislyak has been in the U.S. long enough to give the Kremlin good P.R. advice: Let the two women out of prison; just shut up about the whole thing; and it will quickly blow over. This is far from the breakup of The Beatles.
But Putin, for such a tough guy, or one who portrays himself as such, is surprisingly thin-skinned. Pussy Riot’s guerrilla performance happened the same day that Putin and then-President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to switch jobs in a maneuver too slick by half.
Worse for Pussy Riot was that their June visit to the United States by two band members to lobby Congress for their bandmates’ release and promote what the Post called a “captivating and profoundly dismaying documentary” coincided with the Putins’ announcement that they were divorcing after 30 years of marriage.
The signature look of Pussy Riot is that the band appears anonymously in brightly knitted full-faced balaclavas. Who knows? A Putin daughter might be a member of the band, whose numbers appear to range from 12 to 18. In the old days, the Kremlin would have rounded up all of them.
The band’s music is available on the Internet.
After a few minutes of listening, it’s obvious the group likely won’t be going on tour anytime soon, but with Putin doing the band’s publicity, you never can tell.