Speaking Putinist

The use of Astakhov Sergii as symbol for the Putinist audience results in a particularly damning view of the population.  Framed as mentally defective, Astakhov is essentially always already zombified. He is also the ideal subject for the outmoded Media Effects model, and an ironic inversion of Steve Kotkin’s notion of “speaking Bolshevik,” in that, as he tries to “speak Putinist,”  he is dealing with a language that he has not mastered.  Whether or not he is on the autism spectrum, he does belong on a spectrum with fellow viral video star Sveta from Ivanova, the naive, cow-eyed young woman whose tongue-tied attempts to explain her support for Putin’s United Russia made her an Internet sensation:

My name is Sveltana, from the city of Ivanovo.  ”United Russia” [Putin’s party] had made very many accomplishments: they’ve raised put the econo..economy, we’ve started to…dress more better, and there wasn’t what there is now—these are very big accomplishments!  In agriculture everything’s good. …There’s more…land..more, well,…I don’t know how to say it… more land sown…and, yeah, vegetables, rye—-all of that.  What else…Since our country is multinational, we have lots of people in Moscow who help us a lot…from other cities…Yes, it’s a big accomplishment!  Very good, even!  See, well… See, back in Ivanovo medicine has gotten good…uh, what else…the cities are well-maintained…housing…no problems with that.  People are helping very well.

It is telling that her signature phrase shows her to be inarticulate: that, under Putin, things have gotten “more better” (более лучше).  In Sveta’s case, her video fame also led to a career in reality TV, a career that could not have been successful if her fan base were limited only to those who appreciated her as kitsch or camp. 

Sveta and Astakhov indirectly point to one of the political inadequacies of the zombification model: both speech and the reception of speech are assessed entirely according to the standards of rational, intellectual discourse.  When individual subjects (or, worse, large segments of the population) produce speech that is logically and ideologically incoherent, it is easy to dismiss the speakers for their presumably faulty standards of judgment.  Both Astakhov and Sveta remind us of the extent to which political beliefs and their expressions are not the products of an idealized Cartesian subjectivity.  More often than not, such pronouncements are the product of emotional rather than intellectual reasoning: do you have a reflexive sympathy for the underdog, for the oppressed? do you find group solidarity of paramount importance? Zombification is not just based on false psychological and informational premises: it is based on the belief that politics are the product of rational thought (and that intolerable political beliefs are founded in faulty rationality). Zombification looks plausible in a conflict between competing affects, devaluing not only the content of the speech, but the feelings that supply the content.  Those feelings are the metamessage, and we belittle them at our own peril. 

Next: Conclusion: Stop Making Sense