Pussy Riot Cracks the Whip of Social Change

Founded in 2011, Pussy Riot has achieved the kind of international fame, especially here in America, that only a massively financed marketing campaign or an appeal to our romantic notion of revolution and protest can do. But the performance artist rock group, that has had a variable membership since its inception, would probably not approve of revolt as fashion. America’s institution of protest and social counterism is, by definition, against the principles that Pussy Riot appears to represent. It is very difficult to know exactly what the group always stands for, because they are open to members with many different political view points. What can be said about them is, that they believe in the freedom to address grievances, revolt against any government and insist that any protest that exists within the legal boundaries of government is not truly an anti-government protest. “Our performances are always ‘illegal,’” a recent letter from the group stated “staged only in unpredictable locations and public places not designed for traditional entertainment.” Therefore, these punk rioters only perform illegally, without permits and in places that deliberately put them in conflict with the law.

Last week in Sochi, the site of the Olympic winter games, two protest attempts by Pussy riot, including former guests of the Russian penal system, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were thwarted by local security officials. The first arrest was a case of supposed theft, where no charges were filed, and the other was an attack by whip swinging Cossacks. Cossacks are a sort of civilian militia that has been authorized by the government to work with Sochi police during the Olympics. Cossacks are by and large politically and religiously conservative citizens, which may explain the violence of their attack against the group that is considered, by the religious right, to have desecrated the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. In keeping with their belief, that only illegal action can be representative of their message, Pussy Riot pursued their protests in Sochi in restricted areas knowing full well that the heightened security of the games would not only bring more attention to their performances but also bring down the hammer and sickle, or in this case, whip of the Russian authorities.

Say what you will about their politics or their admittedly socialist views, the Pussy Riot is unfaltering in its determination to break the system by breaking the rules. Living in the United States, where the protest culture is itself an institution, it is difficult for us to appreciate the subtle differences between what we consider leftist counter movements functioning within the system and the aggressively counterist approach of these punk protesters. They would certainly view protest rallies with city permits and police protection to be contradictory to any attempt to overthrow the system that is being protested. And yet, many Americans are in love with the Pussy Riot image and prove it by wearing their logos on t-shirts and Facebook posts. We love a rebel and, even if that rebel would spit in our eye for daring to co-opt their image for our commercialized and socially acceptable acts of rebellion, we still celebrate them for actually being what we imagine ourselves to be. That’s why we can soon expect many a twenty-something in America will put a Pussy Riot pin onto a Che Guevara shirt for only $3 more on their Amazon.com purchase.

 

Music for protest's sake

Music for protest’s sake

Pussy Riot punk rock show, Sochi Olympics, illegal, protest,

Pussy Riot whipping up a storm in Sochi

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