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Ah, Progress--Russians Finally Get Their MTV

October 04, 1998|ANNE BEATTS | Anne Beatts is writer who lives in Hollywood

As part of this column's self-appointed ongoing obligation to keep you, my readers, abreast of major cultural events in this, the last decade of the fast-waning 20th century, I want to make you aware of a significant seismic shift in the zeitgeist: They have MTV in Russia now. Yo, check it out! It's the bomb. (And I don't mean atom bomb.)

Last weekend, at midnight Friday, Moscow time, MTV Russia launched its broadcasting effort with a concert taped live in Moscow in '97 by the group Prodigy, known for the controversial song "Smack My Bitch Up." (No Russian women's groups protested, however. Apparently, long hours spent shoveling snow under the equal division of labor mandated by the previous Soviet regime have left most Russian women quite capable of smacking anyone up who tries to smack them up.)

The first music video aired to more than 10 million subscribers in Moscow and St. Petersburg was "Come With Me" by Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page. Puff is the move, man. He be hanging in the Hamptons all summer and then, snap! On TV in Russia! Slammin'!

The first Russian video to premiere on MTV (and very possibly the first Russian video) was Mumy Troll's "Vladivostock 2000." I don't know much about Mumy Troll (are they Goth or what?), but from their video's hip title--2000, wow, that's like the future--obviously they are on it.


Russian viewers will also be introduced to such music channel staples as the MTV Video Music Awards and, yes, Beavis and Butt-head. (What's Russian for "hyuh, hyuh"?) And MTV Russia plans to produce and program "locally relevant" content from its Moscow production base. Projected shows include "Vitamin MTV," a review of events in the worlds of Russian art and pop culture; "Muzikalnoye Chtivo," which will feature trivia about an artist or song--call it "Pop-off Video"; and, my personal favorite, "Dnevnoy Kapriz Weekend," a surprise show where VJs randomly call viewers at home.

This last, at least for those at the top end of the channel's 14- to 34-year-old demographic, may awaken memories of a time when another multi-initialed organization, the KGB, surprised people by randomly calling them at home. Another show consists of an anti-hit parade. That's so Russian and deep, don't you think? Just like Dostoevsky.

No doubt other innovative programming will follow, perhaps even, as my friend Mike Dugan suggests, a Russian version of one of MTV's most popular nonmusic shows. I envision "Real World Chernobyl," where a group of ethnically assorted young people (including at least one Chechen) are installed in a lavishly remodeled nuclear power plant to have inappropriate sex, complain about each other and squabble over foodstuffs.

But whatever the location, here's the good news: Chances are that anywhere in Russia, the hidden cameras are already in place!

For those of you who think that Russia might be lacking in the kind of artsy sensibility necessary for the production of original music videos, I draw your attention to the following from an article in last week's New Yorker on writer Isaiah Berlin's visit to Moscow in 1945: "Film director Sergei Eisenstein . . . wistfully . . . recalled a night in a Moscow theatre when grease-smeared pigs had been let loose in the audience." Oh, yes, Russia is ready! So ready!


In order to replicate as closely as possible the experience of the average Russian viewer exposed to MTV for the first time, I turned the air-conditioning up to high, shut myself up in my room and watched American MTV all day, subsisting entirely on boiled potatoes (actually a big treat for this girl, since my strict I-have-to-lose-10-pounds-now-or-I'll-kill-myself diet doesn't normally permit me to eat potatoes in any form). Of course, for more accurate housing conditions, I probably should have arranged for a couple of other families to share my room with me, but that wasn't possible to set up on short notice.

In the course of my experiment, I discovered several things. First, watching MTV all day long really does destroy your brain cells. I have barely enough left to write this column. Second, after you've seen the same top 10 videos 20 times, you long for something more stimulating, like C-SPAN. Third, boiled potatoes taste better with plenty of salt. (No wonder people in the old days in Russia were always getting sent to the salt mines.)

While watching I asked myself, suppose MTV was all I saw of America, what would I think? Well, for one thing, I would be led to believe that there's a much higher percentage of African Americans in the general population than is actually the case, and that most of them are very, very buff, not to mention incredible dancers. I also would draw the conclusion that most women in America wear skimpy outfits, tormented hairstyles, and prefer never ever to cover their navels, except perhaps when there is a fluffy white cat available to do the job.

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