Devoted fans of American crime shows like Criminal Minds or Law and Order (and who isn’t?) know the pattern. A troubled individual after watching violent movies decides to emulate the disturbing adventures he has seen on screen. Judging by his latest actions–meddling in Ukraine’s presidential affairs last December, then annexing Crimea in March and, despite the Kremlin’s denials, surely standing behind pro-Russian separatists in East Ukraine–Russian president Vladimir Putin has been watching Hollywood films.
I’d say, Hollywood made him do it. To a degree at least. Not that Putin had been a shining example of democracy all along.
Shortly after he came to power in 2000 he began jailing some “dishonest” oligarchs, clamping down on the “irresponsible” press, suppressing critics of his regime and flexing military muscle, in a brief 2008 war with Georgia, former Soviet republic. Still, despite its enormous size–from Finland to Japan–Russia was no longer communist or isolated USSR. Yet this fact got overlooked by the US movie industry even then.
Perhaps because the 1991 Soviet collapse has not brought about a better enemy to portray. There was just not enough of the commercially required “boom.” Cuba’s Fidel Castro has been aging rapidly. And as fun as it has been to watch North Korea’s Kims, late Jong Il and now Un, threatening to annihilate the Western world, could they really deliver.
Communist China is an excellent adversary, but having an Asian enemy isn’t always politically incorrect. Moreover, China owes the American debt, produces American toys and Jacky Chan is beloved by the adults and kids alike.
The Arab enemy is not only politically incorrect but scary to portray—we still shiver at the memory of 1994 True Lies’ Crimson Jihadist Palestinian Salim Abu Aziz (Art Malik). Today it’s got worse—Al Qaida branching into ISIS, sowing destruction on its way.
Iran surely has had some sound success with 300, its 2014 sequel Rise of an Empire or Argo, but once again, too negative of a depiction can be dubbed as politically incorrect. Besides, let’s be honest, their Persian empire vanished centuries ago.
In 2004, 13 years after the Soviet demise–i.e. there were no more red flags or dour chess players, and the Kremlin was a partner in George W. Bush’s War on Terror–judging by the ad industry (not Hollywood but close enough) Russia was still a very bad guy. See, Holiday Inn Express Shower head.
My favorite was The Golden Compass that in 2007 showed the enemy as we knew it, looking like Grigory Rasputin and shouting in Russian. Why, one might ask? The answer had remained mute at the time. (And BTW, there was an evil Rasputin in Hellboy II).
By 2010 we were no longer asking. US reset policy with Russia has gone awry and Putin announced his (rather unconstitutional) return as president (after serving as Prime Minister while Dmitry Medvedev, current Prime Minister, in 2008 was put in to warm Putin’s Kremlin seat).
That year gave us Salt, which vents conspiracy theories and long-term plots by the Russians to become totalitarian and destroy America. In 2011 there were Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol about the IMF’s shut down when it’s implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin; Limitless with a Russian money launderer/thug/criminal gangster; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy based off a book about Cold War era spying and X-Men: First Class where the plot revolves around alternate history of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Putin himself though has been asking for it–parading half-naked across Siberia, sometime with a rifle in hand, saving tigers and bears–exploits that no entertainment could (or should) ever ignore. He has been a Russian cross between ridiculous Kim Kardashian and real-life James Bond.
All the media brouhaha notwithstanding, remarkably (perhaps not so much) as it was after the Cold War in the 1990s, Americans generally are not interested in Russia (its actions in Ukraine, a faraway place on the outskirts of Europe, is not enough of a threat to America yet? Or the Russian threat is just so familiar it is boring?), but they are certainly fascinated with all things Putin, the anti-Bond in their view.
Let me clarify, Putin’s current turn to authoritarianism is surely not America’s fault. More so, it is the logical result of his KGB background and his following the Soviet models of centralization of everything.
Yet the question remains, has Hollywood been profoundly prophetic, proving an often overlooked maxim, Culture never lies about politics? Or by overstating the threat had Hollywood have a hand in Putin’s final transformation?
Just like those outcasts in Criminal Minds Putin might say he simply had to fill in the “bad guy’s” shoes, to become as menacing as the movies had made him look. He’d say he actually likes swimming with dolphins instead, and indeed looks forward to watching Dolphin Tale II, but Hollywood simply made him do it.