The United States is concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences handed down by a Moscow court in the case against the members of the band Pussy Riot and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia.
We urge Russian authorities to review this case and ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.
This is a direct quote from Victoria Nuland at the U.S. State Department, as announced today, and then cited by ambassador Michael McFaul on his social media device.
Pussy Riot is a group of young female artists and activists, recently sentenced to two years in prison. They were deemed to offend Orthodox followers because they staged a musical protest February 21 inside of an important cathedral. Many believe that the harsh punishment is part of a larger and more pernicious crackdown on dissent in Russia.
Their name alone is offensive to some. The band claims its statement was a comment on Vladimir Putin, who is backed by the religious right in his country.
In Palo Alto, contemporarenous to Ragady Anne and The Donnas, there was briefly a band called Pussy Mansion; a writer for the Chronicle wrote about them based mostly on their name. I think the drummer for P.Mansion (as they sometimes called themselves) also played in The Babysitters Club, with Rachel Metz and Matt Sussman.
Jessie Oppenheimer, here profiled in PA Weekly. She was the drummer for P.Mansion, which is also archived for their flyers. There is or were also bands called Nashville Pussy and Harry Pussy, but I don’t think they played in Orthodox Churches, in foreign countries.
Robert Hayes the San Jose-based manager of Smashmouth managed a successful band comprised of Russian females called t.a.T.u. on Interscope that had famously graphic and suggestive videos, if that is precedent for Russian Riot Grrls.
I’ve written previously that I met Michael McFaul when he was an undergrad at Stanford and recall that he was a music fan; his father is or was a high school teacher in Montana; McFaul famously gave an address at a symphony concert in Moscow.
This Pussy Riot case is drawing world-wide condemnation. It reminds me of Ai Weiwei in China.In China, Ai Weiwei claimed, via his art and more direct pronouncement, that his government was culpable in the death of more than 5,000 children, who died in an earthquake at a school built by the government that he said was shoddy “tofu” construction. He was jailed for several months and the international community rallied to try to affect his treatment, and he was ultimately released.
Huffington Post, New York Times and Rolling Stone all cover the Pussy Riot story. David Herszenhorn of the Times, who like myself got his training at the Daily Dartmouth, provides the most insightful take and a link to the actual video. I offer this still capture as well, in case the video gets taken down. What I saw was four young ladies doing what looked like a cheerleader routine, and chanting. Their legs were covered, they wore sparkly dresses, and the ski masks.
As a concert promoter, I brought to Palo Alto a band called Fuck, for instance, but was hesitant to book one called Sex Mob.
I believe there are some limits to free speech, but I tend to side with freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and Sullivan v. New York Times statutes about criticizing our leaders. But all bets are off regarding what I know about what Russians can or cannot do, or what U.S officials can say. McFaul probably cannot criticize, but he knows Americans and others are following Pussy Riot and hoping they get through this.
edit to add: this is off topic slightly, but in today’s Palo Alto Weekly, Gennady Sheyner has a blurb about the insurgency candidacies of Tim Gray and I under the heading “Rage Against The Machine”.
Thanks, Gen. Rage Against the Machine? I’m more about AFI, who played Cubberley in 1996, in terms of style. Or Ozomatli, or Steve Earle. AFI stands for “a fire inside” or “asking for it.” fyi The biggest news right now in terms of agitprop is Pussy Riot: Web Link
In a very broad sense, all the energy I have put into defending the musicians at Lytton Plaza, like Sue Webb and Dave Hydie, is related to my strong opinions about Pussy Riot and freedom of expression.
According to the Times, this is the offensive and sacrilegious agitprop music act by Pussy Riot:
There is also a finished video that has some kind of rock/punk/pop performance and edits of the first video. That video has been viewed 1.8 million times on Youtube and has about 11,000 “likes’ and 12,000 “dislikes” which clearly indicates to me that many do feel the statement was offensive to the sense of worship. See also the “piss-christ” and “ants-crawling on crucifix” and “elephant-dung madonna” visual arts controversies here, for example. I also recall meeting a cartoonist from Florida, Mike Diana, whose work was considered obscene and he served jail time, four days, plus a two-year term in 1991 that was reduced to probation and counseling. I bought a Mike Diana comic at a signing, but eventually threw it away.
I thought the song on the PR video (which seems to be completed by a confederate while the principals were in jail) sounded like a mix of Queen, Patti Smith and the Dead Kennedys, although I have not seen translations of the lyrics. Reports say the group is attacking the religious Right’s backing of Putin, and presumably therefore decided to stage their event in the holy place of worship. It’s hard for me to judge whether the name itself is part of the problem, although I have to admit it helped draw me into the story. The musicians look harmless enough, and two of the three have children.
SF Jazz has produced jazz concerts in liberal Christian churches, although that is a different matter. I saw Carlos Santana sing inside a synagogue for Bill Graham’s memorial — but again the intent and content is quite different. And Muslims clearly get upset, rightfully in many cases, about depictions of their god. I guess because we think of China and Russian as modern business allies and trading partners, we hope that they are more like us in terms of expression and tolerance (and keeping cognizant of the concerns of fundamentalists and their free right to worship).
I think this case is important for Americans to understand, but the bottom line is I feel quite thankful to live in a country with our Bill of Rights. And not to second-guess myself after 1,100 words written, but the Ai Weiwei case is fifty times more important than these young Russian artists, who were AFI.
edit to add, Saturday morning: Pussy Riot on public transportation (literally): #@&^
edit to add, Oct. 27, 2012: Pussy Riot is far from central to my local campaign for public office, but I did catch part of a roundtable at Stanford on its significance yesterday. I also was researching but have not posted yet an idea suggested by The Economist about “Russia’s Palo Alto” — as the rest of the world becomes like us — for instance, trying to incubate high tech innovation companies — how do we likewise become more like them for better or for worse. Question mark.