SOCIETY: WHAT RUSSIAN YOUNG PEOPLE WANT
5. GOING TO THE MOVIES
SOURCE. I. Poluekhtova, "Amerikanskie fil'my kak faktor sotsializatsii molodezhi v Rossii 90-kh godov" [American Movies as a Factor in the Socialization of Youth in Russia in the 1990s], pp. 57-81 in Sotsial'nye izmeneniia v Rossii i molodezh. Vypusk 9 [Social Change in Russia and Youth. Issue 9] (Moscow: Moskovskii Obshchestvennyi Nauchnyi Fond, 1997)
Alongside pop music, movies are the most popular art form among Russian young people. Three quarters of cinema goers are under 30, and the majority of these are in their teens. On the basis of surveys of young Muscovites, the author assesses and interprets the domination of the contemporary Russian cinema by American movies.
In 1985 only 3 percent of the movies shown in Moscow cinemas were American. In October 1994, 73 percent of cinema visits were to see American movies; 17 percent were to see other foreign movies; and only 10 percent to see Russian or Soviet movies.
The same pattern holds for movies shown on television. It is illustrated in a table of the ratings of the top ten TV movie programs in April 1996, the ratings being the proportions of the population of Moscow in the 11-15 age group who have seen the program in question. First place (with 41 percent) is occupied by a Soviet comedy, but the other nine programs are all American (6) or French (3). An American detective serial has second place (33 percent), then come a French youth serial and a French comedy, followed by two American combat movies, another French comedy, another American combat movie, an American serial (Santa Barbara), and finally yet another American combat movie.
Surveys show that 80 percent of young people say they like American movies (to varying degrees), while 10 percent say they dislike them. (1) The author makes a systematic comparison of these two groups. Fans of American movies are impressed by sensational features like beautiful shots, fast- moving action, and special effects, while their opponents are concerned primarily with content. Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation with general social values. Fans of American movies appreciate qualities like physical strength, drive, aggressiveness, and outer attractiveness; American movies repel those who value intellect, humaneness, sensitivity, and devotion to justice, the social good, and other high ideals.
Of particular importance as character models for the young are the types of hero who star in movies. The typical hero of an American movie is a lone young man who is cheerful and optimistic, usually with a sense of humor and an attractive exterior, enterprising and inventive in getting out of difficult situations, strong and often aggressive, a winner. He doesn't talk a lot but acts. He may be engaged in defending law and order as a police officer, detective, sheriff or lawyer, or he may be on the other side -- a criminal, mafioso, fighter or prostitute (the last one is a she). So even the idealist may find certain appealing qualities here (cheerfulness and a sense of humor at least).
In partial contrast, "the heroes of the majority of contemporary Russian movies are criminals, drug addicts or simply strange 'dark' personalities, often with psychic and behavioral abnormalities. Their life is portrayed as "a tragic, catastrophic chain of events. They have no prospects; they are doomed and defeated, and most often they perish." Few young people find such heroes (anti-heroes?) appealing.
The author points out that many young people who like American movies on the whole do recognize that their heroes have negative as well as positive qualities. At the same time they don't like the Russian heroes on offer to them. What they are looking for is a new type of Russian movie hero who will share some of the appealing qualities of his American counterpart without directly imitating him. Would volunteers for the role please apply to the "Novyi geroi" movie studio?
(1) Note that this study is restricted to Moscow, probably entailing a significant bias. The proportion of young people who dislike American movies is presumably somewhat greater in the provinces.