Media Review- “Putin Lights up the Fires”

“Putin Lights Up The Fires,” single dropped on August 17, 2012.

Feminist punk collective Pussy Riot released this track right after their three members were sentenced to 2 years in prison for “hooliganism” and “offending religious believers.” The video is a tribute montage edited by staff at the U.K. paper The Guardian.
My gut reaction the first time watching it was, “This is too fucking incredible. Amazing.” Clearly, the editing is very persuasive, especially some of the beginning photos featuring close-ups of Riot members with upraised eyes and melancholy expressions. On my second watch, I took issue with those photos. They seem placed to garner sympathy as well as admiration. Pussy Riot, from the performance clips and news coverage, do not need either. Also, the members specifically designed the group to be anonymous. The fact that they are beautiful individuals is irrelevant when they don their trademark balaclavas.

I wanted to know what the group members themselves had to say to explain and justify their actions.

From this article:
“We understood that to achieve change, including in the sphere of women’s rights, it’s not enough to go to Putin and ask for it…this is a rotten, broken system.”

In answer to the question ‘Why Pussy Riot?’                                                                          “A female sex organ, which is supposed to be receiving and shapeless, suddenly starts a radical rebellion against the cultural order, which tries to constantly define it and show its appropriate place. Sexists have certain ideas about how a woman should behave, and Putin, by the way, also has a couple thoughts on how Russians should live. Fighting against all that—that’s Pussy Riot.”   (From VICE)

Hmm. “Fighting” and “rebellion against cultural order”….. not a lot of room for sympathy there. While The Guardian video is well made, its agenda is showing. In addition to rioters, it wants us to see the members as beautiful sufferers. I reject that out of hand.

Support for the arrested members has come from various sources: Madonna, Paul McCartney, FEMEN, and the London feminist choir Gaggle to name a few.
Gaggle founder Deborah Coughlin said in this article, “It’s not fundamentally important that Pussy Riot are musicians, but it is important that we learn from their ideas. They are a living illustration of what needs to change in their country, because we can see them suffering for it. I’m in awe. We’ve been discussing what we would risk for our beliefs.”

Instead of offering pity, Coughlin asks herself a tough question.

What would we risk, indeed. Since we Americans can’t seem to get past the word “Pussy,” the likely answer is “as little as possible.” Even the Times and the Post didn’t print the name Pussy Riot in their headlines.

On the other hand, when Pussy Riot’s sentence was announced, protestors in NYC staged a punk prayer session outside St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral. It functioned as a show of support, while raising the question what form of political art gets attention in America? If an organized group of artists criticized and mocked members of our government in a real public space, what would be the fallout?

The key to Pussy Riot is their physicality. They take over public space, even if it’s for 40 seconds, and they make noise. They make a scene. Not on the Internet, in a select conference, or on a printed page. In front of your face, where you can’t click a box to turn them off. (Yet!) This is good old-fashioned confrontation, coming in a time where people have to break up via text message. And coming not from men with guns, but women with guitars, voices, and pussies!

The next question on my lips is how do we answer them? Not with pity, that’s for damn sure. (I doubt if they would accept it anyway.) Do we transition from actions in cyberspace to actions in real space? Is there a point when discourse isn’t enough?

What can we learn by doing, that we miss by speaking?