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The Coast of Utopia

The Coast of Utopia is Tom Stoppard’s new trilogy about 19th century Russia and its radicals: Bakunin, Belinsky, Herzen. Nina Raine has joined Stoppard for rehearsal of the trilogy in Moscow and has written an article for the Guardian. Nina Raine describes a scene that happened during the rehearsal:

Herzen, his wife Natalie and their friend George are discussing Marx:

H: But Marx is a bourgeois from the anus up.

N: Alexander! I won't have that word . . .

H: Sorry, middle class.

‘I don't understand when you're having fun and when you're being sincere,’ Stoppard interjects.

Ilya [the actor playing Herzen] is baffled: "Is it a joke?"

The Russians then explained to Stoppard that the joke doesn’t work because they until recently they didn’t use the phrase “middle class”. There are no spaces between the opulent palaces and the old, dilapidated factories on the banks of th Neva River in St. Petersburg. However, materialism is on the rise in Russia. The Russians (and the Czechs) have successfully distanced themselves from the communist propaganda in the past. They paid lip service to it only when needed: in public, at work - and then they laughed about it and its promises of happiness and future paradise, in the privacy of their homes. During communism people took refuge in jokes, alcohol and classic Russian literature.

The Russians also laughed later on when they saw, in the beginning of the 1990’, the first TV ads and the promises of happiness through shining hair, miraculous yoghurts and life-transforming fruit juices. And then they succumbed. It was stronger then them, their minds were invaded by shining hair and radiant skins. The image of artificial woman with applying anti-aging cream with an empty smile, strangled the subtle portrait of the lady with a dog. They have their Chekhovs and Tolstoys on the bookshelves but I bet that the jars with the anti-aging creams get opened hundred times more often than the books. (The bottles of vodka seem to get opened at the same rate through the centuries).   

Actor and director Sergei Kokovkin says, in the Guardian article, that something is missing in the Russian actors. “The spiritual fire has been blown out,” he says.

The spiritual fire burned through Russian literature. The literature and theatre have always been about passions and excesses – high and low, heaven and hell (sorry, middle-class).

Most of the Russian (and Eastern European) advertising has no fire or passion in it. It is boring and obvious. Unlike in the UK, there seems to be thick, dividing lines between the academic, artistic and the advertising/marketing communities in Eastern Europee. The advertising community alone is not willing or able to challenge their clients and create engaging, emotional and unique communication that would tap into the “Russian soul”.  Ads are being created mechanically, according to old formulas; divorced from the wider and deeper circle of culture (There are exceptions to this, obviously).

This is an example of a crude and obvious ad that exploits passions without creating any:

(via Russian marketing blog)