Western Styles Infect Soviet Youth

Rock music had been known in the Soviet Union pre-1972, but it was a western phenomenon followed mainly by young people. As James von Geldern mentions, like opera is usually thought to be sung exclusively in Italian, rock was thought to be sung exclusively in English. The thought of hearing rock music sung in Russian seemed crazy and definitely not as cool. With western culture on the rise among so many young people, parents, teachers, and the media expressed their concerns with letters and even magazine articles mocking the westernized youth.

Soviet educators were alarmed by how western influences were affecting their students. A teacher in Moscow in June 1972 wrote a letter expressing his or her concern for the students. It talks about how girls wear too much eye makeup and boys have shoulder length hair. How students need to be wearing school uniforms and be deterred from wearing foreign patches. It also mentions that teachers need to be protecting these young people and that more literature needs to be published for teachers and parents on this issue. That parents who are supporting their children in wearing what they want to wear should

“consider that youngsters sometimes go from trying on foreign fashions to trying on foreign ideas.”

In 1973 the satirical magazine Krokodil wrote a piece called In The World of Cockroaches, mocking the westernized youth of Soviet society. It’s a story about a guy named Goga who lays on the coach all day, has been rejected by collage three years in a row, and just listens to his tape recorder for hours. A cockroach comes to him and says based on his life for the past three years the cockroaches have decided to accept him into the Grand Fellowship for Domestic Parasites. He brings along the girl next door and they become cockroaches. At first the new life is cool because it’s all about going out at night to get food. Goga and his girlfriend would stay out and listen to music all day. Over time they got lazy and wouldn’t even go out for food and instead took crumbs from others. Soon other young cockroaches began to act like them and the elders disliked it. They decided they no longer wanted Goga and Sonka and returned them to human life. This article is really saying something about how Soviet society feels about westernized youths if even cockroaches that live in rot and decay didn’t even want them living with them.

krokodil
Krokodil Magazine from the 1940s

Overall these sources show how most adults in Soviet society were worried about how western culture was affecting young people. That parents and teachers needed to protect their youth or else they’d end up like Goga and Sonka, which would ultimately reflect poorly on their society.

Below is a video demonstrating how young listeners of popular music used the black market to distribute records.

Shadows on the Sidewalks (1960)

Sources:

This post earned a “comrades’ corner” award from the editorial team!

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6 thoughts on “Western Styles Infect Soviet Youth

  1. Interesting how the Soviet Union used the metaphor of cockroaches to compare western culture to their own. The government viewed this transition by the youth as one that would hurt their way of life. It’s surprising to realize how much influence the West had on the USSR even though the USSR strove to be better than the West in every aspect.

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  2. This was a great post! I really liked the story of the man turning into a cockroach that you included in your post. The United States faced similar discomfort with the new forms of music as you mentioned. The elders in the States did not like the newer music of rock-n-roll when it was first introduced. Elvis was a great example of this discomfort in the USA since parents did not want their kids, especially daughters, listening to or watching him sing. Again, really interesting and informative post!

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  3. I wrote about the same thing. To me, it was interesting to see how resistant the older generations were regarding the new music. The fact that the music was being influenced from the West did not help at all.

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  4. Wonderful post this week! It is very interesting to me that the Soviets carried some of the same concerns regarding rock and roll music that the U.S. did when it first became popular. Despite the difference in cultural and ideological norms, both societies were hesitant to accept the more liberal and progressive change that the music ushered in with the youth culture. It is interesting how despite the differences in the nations, on a familial level, concerns were relatively the same. Parents did not want their children to grow up and be poor representatives of their nation and upbringing. Good work!

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  5. People are often judged based on the genre of music they listen to. This is because music has a profound impact on who we are. Certain genres have certain cultures that surround them (think country v. hip hop). It is no lie that music can affect our very behavior. Plato was convinced that bad music nurtured base desires, while good music cultivated virtue. The sexual revolution in the 1960’s and 1970’s mainly revolved around the rock n’ roll culture in the United States, which is a strong correlation between the promotion of looser morals and the practice of looser morals. The Soviet Union was worried that rock music and its rebellious tones would cultivate characteristics opposed to their system.

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  6. Great post! I find it interesting how you used the word “infect” in your title. The word defiantly carries a negative connotation which is exactly how the Soviet thought about Western ideas and influences. The cockroach story was funny but also eye opening to how they viewed Western culture.

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