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Soviets Pursue an American Dream : Trends: Once cursed in the Soviet Union, U.S. pop culture--from 'Tarzan' to rap--is where it's at.

August 01, 1991|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Television, which reaches most of the Soviet Union's 290 million people, has played a major role in dispersing American culture to almost every remote village in the country's 15 republics, as well as to the big cities.

The hourlong Walt Disney show is by far the most watched. For a year, the program featured "Duck Tales." Now, Soviets tune in weekly to watch the antics of "Chip 'n' Dale."

Four-year-old Andrusha Ostroukh has watched the program faithfully since it went on the air. "He can't hear anything when it's on," his mother, Irina, says. "He lives in these films. For a few weeks, he even thought he was one of the little ducks in 'Duck Tales.' "

Earlier this summer, the once wildly popular series "Dallas" made a big splash when state television broadcast it for six days straight. Even grandmothers abandoned their usual spots on benches outside their apartment blocks to get a glimpse into the lives of Texas millionaires.

"I would watch it every day if it was on TV," says Igor S. Zablyudin, a 30-year-old salesman. "Our television producers don't do that type of show well. We were really wowed by their lifestyles."

NBA basketball, sermons by evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and "Adam Smith's Money World," a longtime staple on U.S. public television, have been regular features on nationwide Soviet television this year. MTV music videos are broadcast once a week, and American jazz performances are frequently aired.

"We broadcast so much American television that we don't even notice that it's American television anymore," says Viktor I. Oskolkov, head of programming for the State Television and Radio Co.

And not only modern American TV shows attract audiences, he adds. Even films from the early days of Hollywood, like "Tarzan," are widely enjoyed.

"We missed a few decades of American movies, so everything is interesting to us," Oskolkov says. "We're not worried about Americanization like the Italians and the French. We welcome it."

Movie theaters and video clubs offer more American films than those made by their own studios. Favorites are action films like "Rocky" and "Rambo," as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger movies--prime targets of official criticism a few years ago.

Radio is further spreading U.S. mass culture. " 'The American Top 20' is probably the most popular show on radio," says Nellie Alikperova, director of music programming for the two state stations. "Last year it got more than 130,000 letters. No other show gets nearly that much."

Without audience surveys, it is impossible to know how many people listen to the program, which has been on the air for more than a year.

"American music is very popular here, and we did not have much of it on the radio before," Alikperova says. "We don't have records on sale in our stores, so this is a great source of information on new music for our youth."

Many of the high school and college-age listeners who write letters to Clayton Simons, the American deejay on the show, say they tape "The American Top 20" every week.

"I've been listening to your program for almost a year already," Valeriya Butorina wrote from the Siberian coal-mining city of Novkuznetsk. "These hot hits lift my spirits. . . . I put the radio on the highest volume and dance all day long."

American music also has strongly influenced Soviet rock, giving birth here to bubble gum pop, heavy metal and even rap groups.

Advertising, perhaps the quintessential American art form, is another key part of the cultural invasion.

Moscow's city buses sport huge ads for Colgate toothpaste and other American products--which, incidentally, cannot be bought in Soviet stores. A mechanized Pepsi sign looms a stone's throw from the Kremlin wall, and splices of American television ads are used in rock videos and as jazzy introductions to Soviet variety programs.

Back on the Arbat, 22-year-old Nikolai Baranov sells Russian souvenirs to tourists--but he looks more like an advertisement for America. With short-cropped blond hair, a U.S. flag bandanna around his neck, black Levi 501 jeans and Reebok high-tops, Baranov could fit in on any Midwestern college campus.

"I have an American flag above my bed," says Baranov. "I like everything American--American philosophy of life, American politics, the American work ethic. Maybe it's because that's where I really want to go."

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