Here is a great video I saw recently that celebrates the Russian Army in music and images. It’s propaganda, of course, but it’s obviously high-quality propaganda. In other words, it’s just as good as American propaganda.
It’s also very effective in delivering its message – but only if you’re a Russian. Take a look at it.
Russians no doubt feel all warm and patriotic after watching that stirring video. When my Russian-born wife watched it, for example, nothing struck her as wrong on a cultural and political level. She didn’t care for the music, but it didn’t diminish its effectiveness as propaganda for her.
I’m an American. While I can appreciate the video’s high quality and production standards, it left me unmoved – at least not in the direction of being more pro-Russian. Instead, it pushed certain buttons that produced alarm, unease, and even suspicion.
Let me explain.
The opening images are very good. It’s nice to see a military father spending time with his young son. That’s very American! But the music is wrong, and it stays wrong throughout the entire video. One reason is that the musician sings in Russian, so whatever he’s singing is completely lost for the average American. It would be better to have no lyrics at all.
Another problem with the music is its tone. Yes, it’s rock, and Americans like rock. They invented it. But in this case, it’s the wrong choice. It needs to be romantic.
Romantic? Yes! One of the biggest elements of American culture is its obsession with romanticism, and it so happens that Americans often look at war and competition through a romantic filter. That’s why in so many war and sports films the filmmakers often choose sweeping orchestral music instead of hard-driving music that robs the movie of its veneer of romanticism.
Why do they look at these things romantically? Probably because war and sports are spectator sports. We Americans don’t see them as real; after all, most Americans don’t go to war or play professional or even college sports. Because they don’t have experience with these things, they tend to romanticize them. So, it’s very important to get the right music.
This also means you have to get rid of the images of the musician dancing in front of helicopters and the troops. He’s an unnecessary distraction who sends Americans the message that Russians don’t take war seriously. Of course, Americans don’t really take it seriously either, but they THINK they do! War is a very serious business, and you mustn’t trivialize it by dancing in front of military helicopters.
Next we see the lad, now grown up, jumping on and around graffiti-covered walls. That’s OK, because he looks very American by doing that. He has friends who admire his athletic prowess, and then we see him gripping the arm of a military figure. Also ok! There’s nothing wrong with joining the army; Americans do that all the time, too.
We can assume that the first soldier he hugs is a commanding officer, but who is the second, older man? Is that the cadet’s grandfather? Is he someone even higher up in rank? It looks wrong because, if the man is his grandfather, how could he still be active in the army? If he’s not the grandfather, then he must be an old fogey who should have been retired long ago. The problem with this image is that it reinforces the Soviet-era stereotype of Russia being governed by a bunch of old guys. Tired, worn-out, without fresh ideas. I can guess that message being conveyed is that the baton of protecting Mother Russia has been passed from one generation of warriors to the next. But for an American, that’s not the initial interpretation he or she will have. Instead, it just invites ridicule and lack of respect for the Russian military.
Another mistake is to show all of those medals that are pinned on Russian uniforms, starting with the soldier who was playing with his son. For American eyes, lots of medals don’t look impressive; they look frivolous and vain. No one, especially a young soldier, is going to have been awarded so many medals, so for Americans it looks pretty ridiculous.
The next alarm is to see the cadet marching in front of the Kremlin with his many comrades. Sorry, that looks too much like Soviet-era or even Nazi-era soldiers goose-stepping before the Führer on their way to occupy Czechoslovakia or Poland. Russians see proud cadets marching to protect Russia, and Americans see a BIG Russian army that’s threatening to overrun someone. They also look proud. They’re even more dangerous!
Now we see the training. There’s nothing wrong with this segment, since Americans love watching people train. Watch “Rocky.” Watch “Rudy.” It’s a heroic activity because it leads to romantic confrontations between good and evil.
A nice surprise is to see our hero discover that one of his fellow soldiers is a beautiful, long-haired girl who clearly thinks he is cute, too! It’s funny and effective. It’s also faintly politically incorrect, but not enough to neutralize the video’s propaganda value.
Eventually we see our young soldier board a cargo plane and get parachuted into combat. That is very heroic and romantic! Americans will love it.
Once on the ground, he is almost wounded by shrapnel, but the watch he received from his father in the beginning is still in his pocket, and it absorbs the impact of the shrapnel. This is a brilliant moment, but it is instantly destroyed by images of World War II combat that culminate in seeing Soviet officers embracing Red Army soldiers. The intent is to show a parallel between today’s soldiers and the Russian soldiers of the past who had to defend Russia from Nazi Germany, but for Americans it creates a parallel between the Red Army and today’s Russian Army. Americans believe the Red Army was an instrument of oppression and Soviet expansionism, so this encourages Americans to see the Russian Army as oppressive and expansionistic, too.
Russians also need to understand that Americans are much less interested in their history than Russians are in theirs. We don’t think that much about World War II, aside from Pearl Harbor and D-Day, and we think that Russians are a little bit whiney about the whole World War II thing. OK, Leningrad was bad, Stalingrad was bad, and you captured Berlin, but it’s time to get over it! The appeal to history has only a negative impact on Americans watching this video.
In the final segment, our hero goes on what appears to be a commando mission. While clearing a bombed-out building, he happens upon a small, frightened boy. He removes his ski mask, which calms the boy and humanizes him for the viewing audience. He then delivers the boy to his grateful mother and gives him the same watch that his father gave to him at the video’s opening. The heroic defense of Russia has thus been passed from one generation to the next.
That we are looking at a war in defense of Russia, and not a Russian war of aggression is clear because the boy and his mother are obviously Russian. Like his ancestors, the cadet-soldier is fighting unnamed and unseen foreign forces that have invaded the Motherland. Not all Americans will catch that, however. Oh well.
To make the video an effective propaganda message for Americans instead of Russians, we need to make just a few small changes.
First, as mentioned earlier, we have to change the music. It needs to be something romantic and heroic. Let’s try part of the soundtrack from the movie “Rudy,” in which an underdog must fight for his dream of being part of a college football team.
If we remove the images of the Russian rock singer and the World War II scenes, which are jarring and incomprehensible for an American viewer, we should have a pretty good piece of propaganda. So, let’s see what we get.