Pussy Riot, Media Martyrs

Pussy Riot Poster
Posted by Ariella Miesner

Pussy Riot, an all-female punk band from Russia, has received a lot of attention from the U.S in the past two weeks. Masha Alyokhina and Nadia Tolokonnikova, two of the band’s former members, were recently released from prison for “hooliganism” associated with their performances.

This month they have been interviewed on popular U.S. media outlets such as the Colbert Report and NPR.  All of these conversations tend to shine a light on the band for a public disruption in Cathedral of Christ the Savior two years ago. Pussy Riot stormed the cathedral for a video shoot of their song “Punk Prayer,” in protest of the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The media have been quick to make assumptions about the Russian government and its totalitarian views of individual speech, but few in the media have bothered to investigate the reactions of Russian citizens.

According to a Russian survey (English version), a majority of Russians felt punishment was necessary for the band’s actions. Surprisingly, only 5% of Russians felt that “no punishment” was fitting. These numbers reflect frustration from the Russian people, 75% of whom are Russian Orthodox Christian.

I’m obviously in favor of free speech, or I wouldn’t be writing a blog right now. Thus I can see, and even feel a need to support these two young women. However, if I put myself in the shoes of Russian people (particularly those that were worshiping in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior) I couldn’t help but be offended.

The question is not did Pussy Riot go too far, but have media gone too far to make them martyrs of free speech? More specifically, are Western media guilty of superimposing their values of free speech over what actually happened in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior?

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8 responses to “Pussy Riot, Media Martyrs

  1. Very interesting stance on this issue. Your post raises questions of natural rights, free speech being one ingrained in ourselves as Americans, and the notion of imposition of Western ideals on a situation in which the constituents of the government agree with its action in punishing the wrong doers. The question becomes then, how do we, both as members of a global society and as journalists, disregard our ideals in assessing foreign situations and take on stories such as these, where entire populations are against one of the founding principals of our national mindsets?.

    • No journalist should disregard their ideals. What they should do is be proactive in keeping context to their stories. In this case journalist could be doing a better job reporting the Russian government’s and citizens’ ideals and reactions to Pussy Riot instead of focusing primarily on the Western reactions.

  2. I love the fact that you pushed beyond the western view to try and get a grasp on what it would have actually felt like to be there. As westerners, we seem to superimpose our values, ideas and perceptions a lot. I think it’s incredibly easy for us to assume that because we do something a certain way, that must be what everyone else does to. Not so!
    Actually, our interviews with the journalists from the Middle East came to my mind, because the way they view the world and even free speech looks very different from us. I’d be curious to know their stance on this specific incident.

    • Allowing ourselves as journalist and citizens to view national issues in this way can only make us a more educated and caring people, I hope. I’m not saying changes aren’t needed, but respect should be involved somehow.

  3. I am all for free speech, but it is my belief that there is a time and a place for this kind of speech. There is a way to express yourself without being disrespectful to others. I believe that Pussy Riot could have made their point without disrupting the cathedral or the people that worship there. Because they stormed the cathedral as part of a music video, I question their true motives a bit. Do they really care about the issues that much or are they just trying to drum up publicity?

    • ariellamiesner

      I agree with you Spencer. If Pussy Riot really cares about changing circumstances they probably should choose a method of protest that allows for better communication. I think publicity will only get you so far. Eventually people will get tired of it, and then what?

  4. Jennifer Gardner

    I hadn’t heard the reasoning behind their arrests so this was a fascinating article for me to read. I love that you brought up the point that each culture has their own viewpoints and that we can’t always judge the actions of other countries based on our perceptions and beliefs. They definitely could’ve chosen another outlet to make their point, and I definitely see how people could’ve seen their actions as offensive. I’m not religious myself, but I can imagine how disrespected people would feel if someone stormed into their sacred place to film a video.

  5. This to me was a complete publicity stunt. I do not feel they had the right to do what they did. I am all for free speech, but like mentioned above, there is a time and place for everything. This was highly disrespectful and tacky of them. Some people take things a bit too far, this being one of them.

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