Heading East, gazing West

Opinion by Kevin Rouff
July 17, 2013, 9:52 a.m.

There are many who maintain that ideologies are dead. I have a hard time believing that (and if you are of the same opinion, check out what Slavoj Zizek has to say about his movie, in which he also tries to underscore that ideology is strong and alive).

I’m writing this on an iPod, sitting in a cramped room aboard an apparently fully functional brothel boat in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. The link to ideology is not the fact that I unfortunately hear sounds of the “the world’s oldest profession” — an industry unperturbed by worldwide economic malaise — at night, but that I’m using an iPod. It’s an item that a strikingly large amount of Russians use (and overuse – I was asked the other day whose statue I was standing next to, and when I replied that I didn’t know, the lady took out her iPhone and said, “No matter, he’s golden!”) and it is an aluminum emblem of unrestrained globalization.

I feel uncomfortable adding my voice to a debate on a matter as meticulously dissected (or even vivisected) as globalization, as I am not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I feel compelled to examine the Russian example more closely to see how much of globalization is really a look Westward or, for some, further East, to Gangnam’s style.

I’ll give you another example. I was speaking with a young literature professor in Tomsk (Siberia) about the “mini Moscow” cult in his city. He comically demonstrated the dancing styles of the youth (a combination of a military march and MTV) and the Instagram poses, and ranted on about the obsession with the nice cars, the clubbing and so on, all in some ersatz imitation of the Moscow scene. Why were the youth in this desolate Eastern outpost of Russia looking towards Moscow? Money.

As with the pre-revolutionary and the Soviet eras, Russia leans heavily to its left, from where a small balding man with a goatee once spoke atop an armored car and from where today all the oil from the East is processed.

“We are literally sitting on oil,” he told me, “and yet we pay Moscow prices for the liter! Our oil goes to them to then come back to us!”

So what appears as globalization is actually an ideological turning of heads. Before, it was the voices of social reform through megaphones that defined the ideology of the day, and today it’s the blurred HD images of speeding cars and minimal amounts of clothing. Globalization reaches far, but what people first see is their own cultural center, their big city to render miscellaneous “mini-“s, and these cultural capitals are the ones generating the ideology.

Our chat took place in an Irish pub, which had its walls decorated with real license plates from every US state. The supreme irony of this situation (which surpassed the rarity of the pub’s decor) was that the origin of these decorations was not some foreign country, but Moscow, as it was Moscow who was generating these…cocktails, the cocktails of culture, taste and style. And the Apple products? Well, these were the ideal device to access the Russian social network, VKontakte, based in Petersburg.

I watched night after night — and in many various cities — speedsters doing wheelies, drifters screeching about and others simply lurking in groups around bumping bases under the nose of Lenin (Lenin Street and Lenin Square, one of which is in every city, are ideal places for observing today’s ideologies), and I couldn’t help myself from noticing that there is indeed a living ideology, and one that comes from money.

Their money is from oil, so the tire-burn marks on the streets are justified. I was coincidentally told by a golden-toothed man at my hotel, the same night that this revelation occurred to me, that ideologies, no matter which one or from which era, were all really just manifestations of a larger, more enduring ideology, that of his-fingers-rubbing-together (and the flash of his tooth). Globalization is a face, the propaganda in a way, of the bling-bling ideology of financial gain and materialism, just as constructivist-designed cafeterias were for the past ideology.

So what I’ve come to realize is this: what appears to be globalization can be broken down by the direction of a nation’s gaze, and this direction is often determined by the amount of ideological noise coming from a city’s speakers. One factor that dictates this volume is surely (and obviously not only) the size of the city’s wallet (Beats by Dre > flimsy airplane headphones, if you will – on that note, by the way, Beats would do me well tonight…).

Now, when I see American flags on odd and often curvaceous places, a restaurant named Santa Fe next to ones named Amsterdam and New York, or the pizza/sushi/French pastry hookah bars, I think less “Darn globalization!” but more “what’s Moscow mixing?”

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