Superior The Poet as Citizen

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The battle between those who argue that “either the Internet will destroy the [Russian] regime or the regime will destroy the Internet” (journalist Yulia Latynina) and those who believe that it seems quite naïve “to expect Internet civil society activities in Russia to have a significant impact on the offline world” (sociologist Boris Dubin) has been going on over the last couple of years. Anyway, the meeting against ‘election fraud’, which took place in Moscow on Болотная площадь, whether it was a political event, or more of a flashmob, showed a steadily increasing increasing ability of the Internet that become not only a source of the news, but alos a generator. Undoubtedly, RuNet has challenged a state monopoly on information in Russia.

Here I introduce a web-based project Гражданин поэт, which has a high popularity and influence in intellectual and literary circles in Russia. This project offers a series of segments covering the news that many Russian mass media outlets downplayed or even ignored. The segment that hit on a hot button issue and got people talking was broadcast of the episode entitled “Женская доля” Verse on Woman's Lot, which echoed a famous poem by 19th-century poet Nikolai Nekrasov. It is a three-minute satire that lavishes praise on Vasilyeva, "who saved us from dishonor," and honors all Russian women in general with the declaration that "everything that has been done worthwhile [in Russia] has been done by women; children are proof of that.” In the segment the “inimitable imitator” Mikhail Efremov bears a remarkable facial resemblance to the author of the original poem; and the visual pleasure of the spectacle to a large extent came from one’s ability to register formal similarities between the authentic poetry and its contemporary parody. The segment was aired within days after the Russian court employee Natalya Vasilyeva publically declared that the second verdict convicting former Russian oil tycoons Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev had been dictated from above.

By now there are about forty episodes recorded, and the project intrigues everyone as a ‘living political history’, stressing life as a process, and emphasizing the unfinished character of the described events, while reflects on the semiotic models of the behavior of the certain demographics. This project was conceived in January 2011 by the media intellectual Dmitrii Bykov, the actor Mikhail Yefremov and the producer Andrei Vasiliev. It had first commissioned by the progressive Internet television station Dozhd, then moved to the Internet and received the support of Editor-in-Chief of F5 (f5.ru) Yuri Katsman who publishes the segments on his web portal. The project has also been sponsored by the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, whom the authors have lampooned in the segment “Дядя Степа – миллиардер”, when he announced plans to form a new liberal party, see http://f5.ru/pg/post/356639 .

The unique discourse of this project contains diverse speech genres such as sayings, jaw-dropping quotes, witticisms, repartees, and snatches of anecdotes circulated in the circles of literary intelligentsia and framed to capture the mood, milieu and personalities of the celebrated social figures. The real life political figures are playing principal roles, but they do so as mere caricatures. While following the meter, rhyme, rhythm and language of the original poems, parodies suggest a trajectory of critical engagement, with the original classic example is nothing but a pretext, the formula on which the account on a current event depends and conjures up the original poem in a humorous way. Bykov’s playlets include spoken genres ranging from ordinary everyday complaints to philosophical discussions, to ideological and literary debates, and to various dialogues between celebrated personalities, whose language usage sometimes seems to be a spicy mixture of 19-century coinage with iffy language and slang or argot. For example, Kharms’ character Ivan Toporyshkin inspires Bykov/Efremov create an episode entitled “Отче Ваш” Your Father that hints at the title of Lord’s Prayer “Our Father.” The title acquires irony within the context of a decision of Ivan Okhlobystin, a Russian actor and screenwriter, a Russian Orthodox priest, though temporarily defrocked from priesthood, who announced that he would run for President of Russia in 2012, see http://f5.ru/pg/post/372617

In the last segment http://echo.msk.ru/blog/g_p/840745-echo/ entitled Свежий закон джунглей based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Efremove appeared as python named “Pouh” and repeatedly appealed to Bandar-logs (monkeys) (making a double pun on the word "blogs"). This episode was recorded after broadcast of Putin’s annual marathon call-in show. At one point Putin addressed his opponents “Come to me, Bander-logs,” and one Facebook user responded: “We heard you Kaa… but it seems you didn’t hear the people…”

The performative discourse created by Dmitry Bykov and Mikhail Efremov presumably rests on ‘three S” – spoof, stiob, and satire, with classic poetry as both reservoir and reference points for the circulation of the classical allusions that permit the introduction of symbolic subtext. This project is undeniably committed to the goal of mobilization of civil society activists and supports an alternative social universe in the Russian media landscape.