Henry Rollins: The Column! When It Comes to Cracking Down On Protests, Are We Any Better Than Russia?
[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
I have been thinking a lot about the three members of the band Pussy Riot and the two year jail sentence imposed upon them for their action at the Cathedral in Moscow in February. The women are likely to get two years in a prison camp for what seems to be nothing more than public disturbance; their formal charge was "hooliganism." Makes you remember the great Bill Hicks routine.
From what I have read about how and where they perform their music, I have nothing but admiration for them. Intruding upon a religious ceremony to stage an action would never be something I would want to do, but their boldness in Putin's Russia is incredibly brave. It probably had less to do with where they staged the action and more their content.
What did the members of the band think was coming their way when they chose to tread on the tiger's tail by calling out Russian president and ex-KGB ghoul Vladimir Putin? I imagine the members of Pussy Riot are anything but stupid and knew full well how Mr. Putin plays. The great Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya has a book, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya, which contains the kind of journalism that gets you killed on the job. Ms. Politkovskaya was critical of Putin and put it in print. In October of 2006, she was shot and killed in the elevator of the apartment building she lived in. At this time the case is unsolved, but it should be obvious that Putin doesn't like to be called out.
Those who think Putin should have stepped in and pardoned the members of Pussy Riot or had their sentences lightened don't know Russia. Giving the three women a break would be seen by many in Russia as a sign of weakness. He can't afford such a slip.
Basically, I can't believe that the members of Pussy Riot didn't know what they were up against and what the outcome could be. I don't know if that makes them stupid or Mujahideen tough. I read some postings at the bottom of articles on the case and was surprised at the amount of people who stated that they wished the sentences the women received were much longer. At the time of this writing, two other members of the band have escaped Russia and have not publicly disclosed their locations.
I imagine that at the end of their incarceration, the band could re-unite and, if it were possible, get out of Russia and have some success in the world. I reckon the European festival circuit would welcome them as well as some of the higher end American multi-day gatherings. Since their arrest weeks ago, Pussy Riot have become the poster children for protest and defiance all over the world.
The 2012 presidential election is getting more and more intense, personal and divisive with each passing day. Too bad that Paul Ryan confessed to being a fan of Rage Against The Machine. By doing so, he not only begged for a bucketing by many of their fans but actually got one from the band's guitar player, Tom Morello. I can't think of someone from the music world I would like to be in the crosshairs of less than Tom. His mind is a laser logic guided, hyper articulate, lightning fast truth delivery system equipped with a bullshit detector that will peel the paint off your car. Poor Ryan -- who is defined perfectly by the word "twerp" -- got some personal orifice rippage from Morello in a Rolling Stone editorial.
I think about all this because last night, I watched footage of Democracy Now host Amy Goodman getting arrested at the 2008 Republican National Convention. I have always admired her guts and how she takes on all the incredibly grim, no-fun aspects of the American political underbelly as a matter of course. Viewing Ms. Goodman getting jammed up made me wonder what the blowback would have been had Pussy Riot staged their action in an American church. We might characterize Russia as a pretty rough place; my question is, are we all that different?
The gross insult of a "free speech zone," the almost casual use of pepper spray at Occupy sites, the use of drones, enhanced surveillance all says to me that something very hard and forceful is afoot in the America. Perhaps the biggest tear in Pussy Riot's sail will be the commercialization of their image. An American Apparel balaclava could happen. What about a band using the Robert Palmer "Addicted To Love" motif, but the listless models will be clad in the aforementioned garment? Of course, there has to be a film. Might be in development now. That could very well could be where the two Pussy Riot members went. Moscow to London to LAX into a town car and right to CAA to talk screenplay/video game/book/clothing/fast-food tie in. Jennifer Lopez one line one, Tarantino on line two.
Pussy Riot, Anna Politkovskaya and Amy Goodman are all women who stand up to power, which is to say they stand up to men. Some men become ferociously angry when women are not impressed by their power. What they can't control, they want to silence. From a thug like Putin, to the ones in the US Gov. until 1920 before seeing fit to allow women to vote, to the ones today who have the unmitigated gall to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body.
I think it's great that music is still a vehicle for the message and that it still brings a wallop. Putin, who can count George W. Bush a fan, has just made Pussy Riot international folk heroes, while he will never get above "scary monster, super creep" status. While I am not happy about the sentence handed to Pussy Riot, the rest is working for me. Keep on rockin' in the free world, indeed.
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