Monday, May 23, 2011

how the post made "hip Moscow" totally un-hip

"I've been hip since 1969, you fool!"
The Washington Post has a way of angering me like nothing else, which reveals two things: 1) I absolutely hate it; and 2) I obviously hate myself, too, as I keep reading it. I don't know, I guess it's my metaphorical form of "cutting." (For more information on that very serious psychological disorder, please to see this very informative and dramatic episode of the incredibly well acted Seventh Heaven.)

And while I usually concentrate my vim, vigor, and vicious vulgar verse (say that three times fast) on the Post's totally inept local and opinion sections (seriously, this is just factually wrong), today it's on their usually inconsequential Style section. Poor thing...

I just can't get over this article, which seeks to "uncover" Moscow's hip side through the kinds of "duh"-inducing observations that anyone under the age of 50 had already made 10 years ago. It's this kind of decade-late corny sh*t that makes DC seem like a city full of unsophisticated suburbanites to the rest of the world.

The problem is, that's exactly the audience that the Post always seems to be going for. (ZOMG, DID THEY EVER FIND THAT GOAT?!?!) But serious question: when was the last time an article in the Post's Style section related to anything going on in the life of a 20- or 30-something living in the actual city (or even in the more denser populated areas of Arlington)? I can't think of anything off the top of my head.

That's sad. A paper with all those resources can't seem to hire a few writers who can do more than state the obvious... But let's return to the article about Moscow for a minute to see what's going on here:
[Moscow's] an amazing, intriguing and rewarding place -- I never tire of urging friends to visit -- and I thought I knew it pretty well, until I discovered another Moscow, nearly hidden somewhere between excess and deficiency, a very cool city with cutting-edge galleries, cafes and clubs, all informed by an urbane sensibility and designed on an intimate scale. Call it hip Moscow.
I will not call it "hip Moscow" because that sounds like just about the most un-hip way to describe anything, especially something that's pretty obvious. Moscow is cool. It is cutting edge. And it has been for quite some time. And what's weird is, ironically, this writer seems to have actually known that. She pointed out the underground art in Soviet Russia in the 1920's, rightfully calling it hip. However, then she makes a pretty obvious mistake in saying that that was the last time Moscow offered anything neither drab nor decadent, and indicated that the years between 1930 and 2011 were nothing but lame.

And with that, any leftover miniscule modicum of credence I may have given this writer to actually tell me something new and relevant to my life and interests instantly vanished. Some of the world's coolest, most hip art sprung out from underneath the most crushing years of Communism in the 1930s and beyond. Take literature for example. If Mikhail Bulgakov, who wrote what I believe is still one of the most cutting-edge novels of all time, The Master and Margarita, in the 1930's, which was banned but published anyway in the underground press in the 1960's, wasn't/isn't f*cking hip, then that word means absolutely nothing.

But I get it. Moscow is also filled with all kinds of tacky, definitional "un-hip" sh*t. Walk down any street and you're sure to see a slew of taller, blonder, skinnier Snooki's waiting in line to purchase more lace, leopard print and lip plumper than most people can imagine. However, unless Moscow's actually become less hip in recent years, I can't believe someone who lives and works there today can have such a hard time seeing past that veneer. When I was living there almost 10 about eight years ago now (although the last time I visited was in 2006), it wasn't hard to find the cool, artsy spots and the cool, artsy kids. (To give you perspective, it was a lot easier to find cutting edge places and people there than cutting edge places and people here.) And anybody who has visited and gone out there, or perhaps hasn't but has just seen one of the many kids in Williamsburg, Brooklyn or even a local party here in DC sponsored by Brightest Young Things (and Vitamin Water) wearing a CCCP shirt, most people realize that Moscow -- and actually, just the very idea of Russia -- has been hip for a while.

But of course, the Post failed to note that because they're writing for people, I guess, who still seriously think of Russia as a place where you're either poor peeling potatoes or rich with so much opulence to haz. Which explains this ridiculous paragraph that came after the above-quoted last one:
Moscow, hip? Hip, after all, speaks to the individual, the personal, the idiosyncratic, and it should involve some fun, a word that doesn't even translate well into Russian. [Anti DC note: This actually makes the Russian version of Rebecca Black's Friday better.] I'd lived here some years ago and returned last fall to report from The Post's Moscow bureau. I thought I knew Moscow 2011, but it took visitors from Washington to help me discover hip Moscow. You know how it is -- you can walk past the Smithsonian every day for years but never know that the Hope Diamond lies sparkling inside until a cousin comes to stay. 
I don't even know where to start with this. Is she calling the Smithsonian hip? The f*cking hope diamond is cutting edge? I suppose if she means that literally... (HAR!) But seriously, it took people from Washington to show you "hip Moscow"? Really? Right there should tell you how the rest of the article goes. It turns out the hippest parts of "hip Moscow" are a well-known photography museum, a design and architecture institute run by oligarchs, a gallery owned by an oligarch's wife, an art museum that's been around for over a century, and a handful of other things that are worth going to, for sure, but probably don't deserve the moniker "hip," nor to be categorized under the headline "Moscow's hidden secret." That's like calling American Apparel and Urban Outfitters secret shopping spots. They're fine, cool even in the non cutting-edge sense, but they're certainly not "hip."

See, using the Post writer's own definition of "hip" -- "individual, the personal, the idiosyncratic" -- just like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters, which are ubiquitous in any mall, I'm not sure this list of major Moscow art spaces that any given travel book would include on their city maps qualifies. The definition of "hip" to me means something must be somewhat underground, cutting edge, not yet mainstream. That's why we make fun of the word "hipsters" now. With the popularization of stores like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters, what people used to think of as cutting edge is now the mainstream. Every kid these days dresses like the lovechild of Roger Rabbit and Tom Cruise in Risky Business. (God, you should see my outfit today, p-b-b-b-blease!)

But look, despite my critique, this article wasn't actually horrible. Beneath the rather misguided conceit and totally wrong headline, there's actually a lot of good, basic information in there. And really, had the article just been titled, "Some worthwhile art spaces to visit in Moscow," I wouldn't be writing this right now. But alas, once again, with the promise of telling me something I already don't know the Post came up short for my demographic...

This is hip Moscow. Sorta. What's really hip wouldn't be on the Web yet.


Marissa said...

A reader named Davin Black has tried twice to post a comment, but for whatever reason it's not posting. And even though it's a scathing critique (a taste of my own medicine, I suppose), I am just so excited that someone took the time to write anything at all that I want to make sure it gets posted. And so here it is, copied and pasted from the email alert I got about the comment:

"I'm having trouble drumming up the same level of disdain you have for this WaPo article. Ignoring your general ire for the paper (which you immediately discredited - "obviously hate myself", indeed):

"1. Moscow isn't, in fact, known as a "hip" city. Certainly not in the casual way that NYC or London are. That overwhelming focus on excess that you correctly pointed out is the prevailing sentiment about Moscow in America, nevermind D.C. They only make their way into regular conversation if (a) Putin or Abramovich do something, (b) another billionaire makes the Forbes list, or (c) some Internet forum makes a stupid "In Soviet Russia" joke. I promise you, the vast majority of DC does not care all that much about Moscow, and certainly not its hip subculture - or whatever you want to call it, since I'm guessing that putting a name to it would be as unhip as calling it "hip". To posit that this article is preaching to the choir is silly at best, and intellectually dishonest at worst.

"Unless said choir represents your demographic, but if they're anything like you, they don't read the Washington Post anyway...oh.

"2. You casually mention how you lived in Moscow ten years ago, as if that had no barring on your righteous indignation. To provide that little factoid, while insisting that Moscow's hip culture was a discovery "anyone under the age of 50 had already made 10 years ago," completely undermines anything you have to say before even reading the WaPo article. No offense, but you come across as one of the very hipsters you seem to ridicule.

"But this blog post wasn't actually horrible. It got me to read the WaPo article being lambasted, and thus casually interested in something about Moscow that wasn't (jokingly) related to mail-order brides. -- Davin Black

Marissa said...

And now I will respond:

First of all, thank you for the comment, Davin, although I apologize for Blogger's fail on letting you post it yourself. Anywho, it was well written, verbose (a good thing in my book, obviously) and most of all contentious. I love debate.

That said, however, I still don't agree with you.

As to your first rebuff, I'm not sure how my hating the Post and sarcastically noting I hated myself (c'mon, pointing to 7th Heaven automatically notes some sort of joke, right?), somehow cancel each other out. Can I not hate myself for loving to hate the Post?

Regardless, I obviously have problems with the Post. The main one being that the paper does an absolutely horrible job engaging a growing segment of DC's urban population, which is creatively minded 20- and 30-somethings (and actually probably creatively minded 40-through-90-somethings, too). This article was a perfect example, because it assumes all those things that, I guess, you also assume: that everybody only thinks of Russia as a place filled with either potato-peeling poors or caviar-eating opulence haz-ers. I suppose some people still think that (do you really?), but I think this demographic I speak of -- this more creatively-minded, cosmopolitan group of people whose lives aren't defined by the nametags they wear during the day -- knows better. Any knowledge of the country's rich artistic heritage is a tip-off that there's obviously more than meets the eye. So, despite what you seem to think of as "fact" -- that Moscow isn't known as a "hip" city -- seems to actually be more of an opinion because the people I meet with whom I speak about Russia most always say, "I hear Moscow is a really cool city," especially when they find out I lived there (a fact I noted because I think it serves to let the audience know that I do, in fact, have a clue about what I'm talking about when it comes to Moscow and its actual hidden culture.)

And so, I don't buy your point 1. Perhaps I simply expect more than you from the educated population of DC -- the population that should want to read the Post, but you're right, may not because there exist better sources elsewhere.

The bottomline is that the Post article missed the point. I mean, wow, what a cool idea to write about the "hidden secrets" of such a dynamic city! Unfortunately, that's not what the Post writer did. She wrote about what was already well-known, perhaps not explicitly off the top of someone's head, but stuff which one can easily find in a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. I mean, the Pushkin Museum? Really? It was built in 1898. COME ON! This article went nowhere that any other article about art in Moscow hasn't gone before. Not to mention, by headlining it "Moscow's hidden secret," it falsely set up a conceit of a cultural anthropologist seeking out the hip corners of Moscow that aren't commonly found in mainstream media. #FAIL. Instead, it was written from the perspective of a regular tourist. Literally! Remember, it was her friends from the USA coming to visit for a week or whatever who apparently tipped her off to all these "hidden" "secret" spaces. That's some bullshit.

But hey, if you got something out of it, congrats. I hope this only signifies the beginning of your interest in Moscow, which was, is and always will be hip beyond what meets the tourist's, er, Washington Post's eye. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go buy some more jeggings at American Apparel.