Today, and also Tomorrow, I introduce an author who needs no introduction. Lyttenburgh is our much-beloved Russian media critic who makes the supreme sacrifice: He watches that decadent bourgeois American TV so that you don’t have to!
On a previous occasion, you enjoyed Lyttenburgh’s critique of the American TV show “Madam Secretary”, and how it portrays Russians. In this installment of his ongoing, but not necessarily regularly scheduled series, Lyttenburgh dissects a submarine episode of a competing American show called “State of Affairs”. Which, sadly, has been cancelled, but that surely won’t stop Lyttenburgh from skewering it anyhow. Just because somebody is dead, doesn’t mean you can’t give them a good beating. And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, without further ado, here is Lyttenburg!
DECREPIT YET SINISTER RUSSIAN SUBMARINES!
Hello, hello and welcome to the second episode of our edutainment show, that will tell you everything you’d ever wanted to know about the bizarre and hallucinogenic world of Russia’s portrayal in Western TV series!
Tonight we will touch upon a subject of the ancient (as the Cold War itself!) Western fear about insidious Russians and their mindless and tireless quest to subvert and harm the Free World. We will talk about clear and present danger to the “Fortress America”, protected by large swathes of the water mass from any apocalyptic invasion by all potential enemies. I’m talking about the dreaded Russian Submarines!
This image of a shark-like, “hammer-and-sickle” sprouting engine of apocalypse lurking somewhere in the deeps of the glum and uncaring ocean, always ready to carry out an order to launch its doomsday payload towards unsuspecting, peaceful American cities – its really old and terrifying one in the Western mass culture. It borrows very generously (to the point of confusing things and making them too unbelievable) from the even more ancient fear that existed in the West but which was produced by the German u-boats, especially shocking in the years of the Great War.
So it’s little wonder that such a powerful and image-conjuring trope as the “Soviet Submarine” has been used in some of the most iconic movies about the Cold War filmed both during that time period, and after it.
In the 1966 comedy The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, a grounded Soviet submarine and its crew raise all sorts of panic and paranoia among the population of a small New England island – probably (un)intentionally drawing parallels with the “alien craft crashes and its crew tries to contact earthlings” plot device.
And of course there was a film adaptation of The Hunt for Red October, a thoroughly Reagan-era (in spirit) flick based on thoroughly perverted real life events and mixing up Russian and German military stereotypes. And how can we not mention the more recent 2002 movie by sometimes “drama for the sake of drama” queen, sometimes – shameless propagandist Katheryn Bigelow’s K-19: The Widowmaker which, to quote one review from the Rotten Tomatoes, rather mildly puts it as “a gripping drama even though the filmmakers have taken liberties with the facts.”
Influence of Kursk Tragedy
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the West’s perception of the Russian military took a 180 turn – where previously they’ve seen an impeccable and tireless enemy warmachine, now they saw the pitiful remains of once great structures, incompetent personnel and rusted carcasses of the great nuclear leviathans. The highly resonant tragedy of the Russian ”Kursk” submarine in 2000 helped to crystallize this new “norm” of Russia’s stereotyping, contributing more than enough for the triumph of the Russians with Rusting Rockets trope in the minds of TV shows’ writers, directors – and the Western audience itself.
In an interesting twist of the mass conscience that happened before the living eyes of just one generation, an old terrifying stereotype and artistic technique which exploited it changed radically. Yes, malign Russian subs were still lurking in the fathomless deeps of vast oceans plotting and scheming, still threatening the Free World. But by now they are so crappy and their crews are so sloppy, that they are more a threat to themselves rather than to anyone else.
And that’s what we are gonna talk about in our new installment of the “One Russian Episode”. We gonna talk about presentation of terrifying (and falling apart as they move through the water…) Russian Submarine, and it’s portrayal in a western TV series!
[to be continued!]