Pussy Riot, Madonna, High Court Hijinks and What it means to be a Hooligan

Madonna at her August 7, 2012, concert in Moscow

Like most of the world – judging from the number of Pussy-Riot-relard requests in our inbox – we have spent the last week watching The Trial of Pussy Riot, a tragicomedy that plays more like something from the files of OBERIU than a study in contemporary justice. As Slavoj Zizek writes in a piece for Chto Delat?, “What is a modest Pussy Riot obscene provocation in a church compared to the accusation against Pussy Riot, this gigantic obscene provocation of the state apparatus which mocks any notion of decent law and order?”

Like most of the world, we’ve also been wondering what relevance Madonna still holds in an era where cone-bras and stage-kissing pop tarts no longer shocks culture into action.

It turns out, when the issue is human rights in Russia, Madonna matters a lot more than any logical argument. Her statement last night in support of the three girls immediately exploded over the Internet, surpassing even the wild search queries triggered by Anthony Kiedis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, when Kiedis donned a Pussy Riot t-shirt for his performance a few weeks back.

Granted, Kiedis wore a shirt, while Madonna bore the name of the “band” (these people do realize PR – wow, how did it take us so long to catch on the irony of the initials?! – are not musicians, yes?) directly on her skin. She spoke out about freedom, calling Pussy Riot “courageous.” While she was clear she “means no disrespect to the church,” she also concluded, “I pray for their freedom.” Watch her full comments below:

Of the myriad, somewhat incredulous reports on the peculiar absurdities of the trial – the constantly aborted questions, the denial of any witnesses for the defense, the use of blue-eyed, blonde, potentially “professional” witnesses – we recommend the always insightful Julia Ioffe, who submitted a report for the New Republic.  Just an excerpt (though its enough to understand the OBERIU reference):

Because Sokologorskaya was claiming “moral damage,” one of the defense lawyers, Nikolai Polozov, asked her if she had turned to a doctor or a psychologist to address her suffering.

“I’m an Orthodox believer,” Sokologorskaya said. “The gracious power of the Holy Spirit is a million times stronger than any psychologist!”

“Then why didn’t the gracious power of the Holy Spirit assuage your moral suffering?”

“The question is struck!” snapped the judge.

“Have you seen the video of the punk prayer?” Polozov asked.

“Yes.”

“If the performance caused you such moral suffering, why did you decide to poison your soul again?”

The judge struck the question.

As Mark Feygin, the girls’ lawyer pointed out in his closing statement (which you can listen to, in Russian, here), his clients did not commit any crime. Well, at least not the crime with which they were charged, which is hooliganstvo – ie, being a hooligan, which is defined by the law as disrupting the social order. As Feigin points out, had these girls performed on Novy Arbat Street – arguably a case study for The Social Order – nothing might have happened, other than the girls maybe collecting a hatful of loose change. What the “witnesses” brought in testified to was the personal offense of Christians, which cannot be hooliganstvo considered by the law as it stands.

So where does that leave things? Michael Idov tries to piece together the various implications in his column for the New York Times (we love this line: “This has nothing to do with the quality of their music; judging it on artistic merit would be like chiding the Yippies because Pigasus the Immortal, the pig they ran for president in 1968, was not a viable candidate.”), but at the end of the day, it comes down to the Russian Court recognizing and upholding its own laws.

So now it’s just a matter of waiting the 10 days for the court to hand down its sentence? We’ll keep you posted. (Though maybe, so will Madonna.)

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3 Responses to Pussy Riot, Madonna, High Court Hijinks and What it means to be a Hooligan

  1. Pingback: Politics and P.R. (Pussy Riot, Punk Rock, PRokhorova, and, well, just PR) | Baibakov Art Projects

  2. Pingback: “The End of Fun” for the Russian Art World?: A Look Back at 2012 | Baibakov Art Projects

  3. Pingback: “Pussy Riot: Punk Prayer,” honored at Sundance, and coming soon to HBO | Baibakov Art Projects

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