As I was writing the draft for this blog post, the Wagner Group — the Russian mercenary group led by former Putin stooge Yevgeny Prigozhin — was staging a mutiny against the Russian military and government. Events were being documented on Twitter as they happened, including this sitdown between Prigozhin and Russian defense officials. No one knew what would happen and if it would affect Putin’s reign and the war in Ukraine, but they were doing it in a city that’s over a thousand kilometers from Moscow. In any case, I’m taking this opportunity to talk about something that has always bugged me about all things Russian.
Russian culture and history creates a certain sense of fascination that makes people get that weird in-between feeling of wishing they were born Russian and thanking divine providence that they were not born Russian. The former is due to thinking that Russian culture and language are so cool and legit as fuck; the latter is due to what we know of Russian history. From FPSRussia to Life of Boris, from War and Peace to Roadside Picnic (and maybe Lolita), and from World of Tanks to S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the Internet had been growing Russophilic until 2022.
I’m going to try decoding the reason why Russian stuff attracts people and why you should be wary of them. There are Russian things that are undoubtedly great, like literature and music. However, it also has a lot of crap, which I can call so throughout my years of following this stuff.
What Causes Russophilia?
Russian culture has the right blend of pragmatism and esotericism that makes anything from it seem credible and yet exotic at the same time. There are few people groups that have suffered more throughout history than Russians, so it’s bound to be reflected in their language, art, and culture. The Soviet era also put a pronounced political spin to it. When you have multiple generations lining up for bread, that’s definitely going to make a mark on your culture.
Remember that story about space pens?
NASA spent millions to develop a pen that can write even in zero gravity conditions.
Russian cosmonauts just used pencils.
It aims to make Russians look pragmatically smart and the rest of the world look like dumb dogs chasing their own tails due to being blinded by technology and their own hubris.
On the other hand, do you know that you can buy the Fisher Space Pen? It’s a favorite among everyday carry enthusiasts, regularly featured in EDC loadouts. It’s a pretty good pen, but maybe you’re actually satisfied with a No. 2 pencil.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that Russians are usually portrayed as more logical, even-keeled, and infinitely adaptable in a minimalistic way due to what they presumably have to go through on a daily basis. They make Eastern Europe sound like an uncivilized, post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Like in Fist of the North Star. Well, it had been like that for quite a while, but not now.
It’s like the legend of the AK-47, a rifle designed and made during the communist era by a tank commander. It would become world famous for its simple design and incredible durability, and it would spawn a whole family of weapons with the same foundation.
His son would then design the PP-19 Bizon, which is like the P90’s alcoholic grandfather.
While the Kalashnikov is indeed durable and a pretty okay assault rifle, it’s neither invincible nor omnipotent. Its latest iterations still seemingly refused to adapt to modern warfare, providing limited options for optics and accessories and not significantly improving its accuracy.
I’m not saying the M4 is undoubtedly the best, but Russoboos seem to have a blind adherence to a one-size-fits-all solution that blows everything else out of the water, especially anything from America. Asians have a similar thing, fishing for cultural tidbits that make them superior to the west. I myself have a bit of that bias, I admit.
Due to this attraction to Russian culture and media stemming from that mystique, there was a growing online niche of what can be called Slavsploitation.
This was what FPSRussia exactly was. It was an American dude doing a faux Russian accent while firing guns. That gig kept paying the bills in early YouTube until the ATF knocked on Kyle Myers’ door and took him to jail. Nowadays, he just hosts a podcast without a Russian accent.
Going further back, you have John Malkovich eating cookies while playing poker in Rounders, speaking with the most ridiculous and fake-sounding Russian accent of all time.
There’s also Life of Boris, which a lot of Russian content creators throw shade at for perpetuating stereotypes, but that’s more like a legit Slav doing Slavsploitation. That’s like Nigel Ng doing Uncle Roger, which I personally don’t find funny because it hits a little too close to home. Perhaps that’s how it is for other Slavs when they see Life of Boris.
I would put Life of Boris videos in the background while working or working out because it’s one of those comforting things that help me drown out the negative voices in my head (which are plenty). I can’t do the same with Uncle Roger or Steven He videos because they hit a deep, visceral part of me that is still very much traumatized.
Life of Boris is likely at eye-rolling levels of cringe for real Slavs, but I can’t help but be entertained by it, even if I know it exploits Slav culture for content.
(I was also going to write about Bruceploitation here, but it then grew out of control and is now going to be a separate blog post.)
Systema and Other Fake Russian Martial Arts
This is where I can really open up the taps and go for the jugular. Systema, or what I like to call Russian Tai Chi. At first, it’s the perfect example of that combination of being both pragmatic and esoteric at the same time — a Russian military martial art.
But then, the more you find out about Systema, the more it shifts from pragmatic to absolutely esoteric and even abstract. Perhaps impressionistic as well. It starts looking more like interpretive dance than a fighting style.
Here’s a video of me talking a bit about Systema and other hokey martial arts. Do note that I’m at my worst behavior in this video from two years ago, as you’ll be able to see in the comments. I may delete it in the near future.
When you try to analyze it, Systema starts making sense in terms of biomechanics. However, you then remember that fighting happens in real time and under adrenal conditions. This thing suffers the same disease as many other martial arts that like to demonstrate techniques by slowing things way down, making it almost like “turn-based combat”.
Many years ago, I had to sit through a demonstration by a former student of our head Jeet Kune Do instructor, which was full of trapping and disarming techniques. Our instructor was notable for having removed that hokey stuff from our curriculum — a move I still applaud to this day.
There’s also this thing that went viral around 5 years ago. I’ve talked about Choriok in a past video, back in the thick of the pandemic. (The video quality is bad because it was downloaded from Facebook and reuploaded to YouTube.)
RIP Mikhail Ryabko
As you can see there, it’s goofy as all hell. While Systema is bullshido that’s propped up by its military origins, Choriok is something made by one guy who took an idea as far as it can possibly go on his own. Perhaps you can say Choriok is more of “outsider art” that makes it quite the novelty, but it’s still created and mostly practiced by a single individual.
Even in Russia, if you really want to go somewhere, you’ll need help.
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
It’s time to talk about the world’s current boogeyman — Vladimir Putin. The other guy is more like a bugbear, when you think about it, so Putin is definitely the boogeyman.
Putin has the mystique that comes with being a former KGB agent who rises up to become president of the largest country in the world. He likes taking his shirt off all the time, he rides horses, he does judo, and he likes to scare German chancellors with his big dog.
In reality, Putin was a pencil-pushing bureaucrat who kissed the right asses at the right time in St. Petersburg to rise up the political ranks of a still-fresh Russian Federation. He had a group of friends from the same city he could count on, and some of them were able to rise with him.
The more you observe Russian politics and media, the more you see that it’s no different from everywhere else. Propaganda in its mainstream media functions the same way as everywhere else. There’s no moral or cultural superiority, similar to how Italian politics and media is also a fascinating trash fire on its own.
But the difference between Russian media and UK media — which is also full of tabloid-style intrigue — is that the former has seen journalists poisoned and bombed, while UK journalists tend to get killed outside the British mainland. There’s even the famous case of a former KGB agent who defected to the UK being assassinated with radioactive poison in his tea.
Whether you’re pro-authoritarian or anti-authoritarian, wouldn’t you agree that getting killed just for doing your job isn’t right? If your answer to that is, “It’s right if they’re spreading lies and fake news,” you’re part of the problem.
While I’m indeed ragging on the seemingly obsessive Russophilia I’ve observed throughout the Internet, I don’t see anything wrong with appreciating Slav things.
I’ve played Slav games such as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (made by Ukrainians) and War Thunder (formerly based in Moscow and Belarus). I’ve read Russian literature by Doestoevsky and the Strugatsky brothers. I’ve watched Russian films like the Brat duology and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. They tend to give off a certain atmosphere that I’ve grown to like.
It makes me feel like I’m eating a can of Tourist’s Delight by the campfire in the Zone.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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