Whips, Cossacks and a Flashing Torso by Paul Handley

(this essay previously appeared, in a different version, in The Cossack.)

For me, the lasting image of the Winter Olympics is Pussy Riot (PR) getting bullwhipped by Cossacks.  Like most of you, I had to read this twice when I first saw it. They say there are no frontiers left, but apparently these women have achieved time travel pre the technical ability to achieve it the boring scientific way.  Cossacks summon up images of the Crimean War and long boring movies based on Tolstoy novels.

The terms Pussy and Riot in combination sound threatening.  Do we want to breakdown the threat level when those terms are broken apart?  No, we already know.  The Pussy Rioters are not so much into music as for using it as a vehicle of political expression.  Which is another way of saying their music is god-awful or horrible because they are Russian, hence atheists.

Back to the important stuff.  What kind of cooperative venture is required to get Cossacks on the payroll?  Where do you find them?  Are they like our modern cowboys?  Out on a sprawling, government subsidized ranch in Wyoming, contemplating the abs of a certain bunkmate?

Wait a second.  That’s a work of fiction.  And Putin has outlawed gayness, but certainly not the flashing of abs which sounds a little contradictory.  Except that Putin is a topless ingénue and has taken the concept of Russian icons and dictators another evolutionary step.  How much more exciting would it have been to watch a video of that giant statue of Saddam Hussein being dragged down and cracking a pectoral in half?

I admired the Pussy Riot setup and I believe American bands would do well to emulate them.  Enough of the endless plunking of one string for a sound check with intermittent one, twos, and three’s or some silly substitute.  PR all donned ski-masks, which given the rest of their scantily clad outfits was incongruous.

From a scene out of a Tarantino movie one of the Pussy Rioters made the eyes too far apart on her ski mask and her nose and eyes were peering defiantly out of the mouth hole.  That alone would scare the hell out of me, although, I give her credit for the tie-in with the Olympics.  Years from now people watching the video might forget the context but the ski-masks would create recall.  Maybe that was another statement.  “Skiers are one step away from being terrorists.”  Just give them a bullwhip and who knows how far they will go.  Maybe some of the Cossacks were disguised as skiers to blend in.

The Russian Defense Minister said something like “They want what they get and they get what they want,” which makes sense in a certain sing-songish playground bullying way.  He said the attack was provoked.  Of course it was.  You’re in Sochi, the Olympics; the center of the world for a couple of weeks.  Weren’t the Cossacks given bullwhip restraint tactics?  If I heard Pussy Riot was in the neighborhood and the world’s cameras were also in the neighborhood it might be prudent to come up with a plan.

In the end, Pussy Riot made U.S. Riot Grrrls look like playboy bunnies from the sixties.  Give PR the gold medal.  Talk about performance art that you can’t pay for.  What Bob Dylan wouldn’t have given for some Cossacks with bullwhips to kick his ass while playing “Maggie’s Farm”.  Ever see Once, the multimedia semi-hit about Irish buskers?  If they could have added that scene to the musical version it would have made Book of Mormon money.

***

paul picPaul Handley’s work has appeared in HobartMetazenGone LawnMonkeybicyclePulp Diction IIIAptMcSweeney’s Internet Tendency and is forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine.

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