What’s wrong with this picture?
What follows is an excerpt from the seemingly endless series of “grassroots” exposés of the irremediable “stupidity” of twentysomethings, “most ordinary” Russians, Ukrainians, amerikosy, etc., that are posted in such abundance on the Runet these days.
At work, I have a personal assistant, a young woman, Nastya, a Muscovite, 22 years old [sic], who is in her final year at law school. She asked me a question.
“Wow, why do they build the metro so frigging deep? It’s inconvenient and difficult!”
“Well, you see, Nastya, the Moscow metro originally was dual purpose. It was planned to be used both as public transportation and as a bomb shelter.”
Natasha grinned incredulously.
“A bomb shelter? How stupid? What, is someone planning to bomb us?”
“Have you been to the Baltic States?”
“I have. I’ve been to Estonia.”
“Well, how was it? Was it a hassle to get a visa?”
“I was there under the Soviet Union. We were one country then.”
“What do you mean, ‘one country’?”
“All the Baltic States were part of the Soviet Union! Nastya, did you really not know that?”
“Now you’re going to totally freak out. Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova were also part of the USSR. And Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. As well as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia!”
“Georgia! You mean those assholes there was a war with?!”
“The very same. You do know that the Soviet Union existed then collapsed? You were even born in it!”
“Yes, I know there some kind of Soviet Union that then collapsed. But I didn’t know it lost so much territory…”
I was riding in the metro and looking at the people around me. There were lots of young faces. All of them were younger than me by ten years, a dozen years. Were they all just like Nastya?! The zero generation. Ideal vegetables…
Among the numerous comments to this Zadornovesque anecdote, most of which empathize with the author’s blunt point and bewail the allegedly vegetable-like state of the “zero generation,” I couldn’t find a single comment pointing out that if silly Nastya were now indeed twenty-two years old, she would have had to have been born in 1992 or 1993, that is, one or two years after the actual Soviet Union actually collapsed in 1991. But in this shaggy-dog story, the first-person narrator tells dumb Nastya that she was somehow born in this magical land about which she is so woefully ignorant.
This logical gaffe makes me think the whole thing has been made up. Like half the “tales from real life” about the laughable simplicity of “ordinary blokes,” twentysomethings, pindosy, ukropy, women or, alternately, the gritty folk wisdom of cabbies, roaming the mighty virtual steppes of the Runet nowadays.
The kids are alright, really. It’s just that they have been left to their own devices. Which, like all the other discriminated and marginalized groups left to their own devices over the last twenty-four years by the state, the ruling classes, the mainstream media, and their allies in the newfangled virtual Kadet parties and Unions of the Russian People, makes them ideal figures of “fun,” scorn, and fear. And perfect stalking horses for transparent exercises in post-imperial melancholy like this one.
Putin’s Russia (how it pains me to type this phrase) is not just a pollocracy. It is also an “anecdotocracy.” Researchers of “post-authoritarian” societies like Russia really should be delving deeper into how polls and anecdotes have been used to help people to oppress themselves and make common cause with others impossible.