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.

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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)

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

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Khrushchev: Stuck in the Past

Nikita Khrushchev was a very “forceful”, as James von Geldern would put it, critic of the arts. He was quite threatened by any new or unfamiliar styles of art, and would immediately present those thoughts to the artist, egged on by his colleagues. With the vast new styles of modern art and music developing in the early 60s, Khrushchev, worried and confused by these trends, would give his crudest opinions to the artists right there at the exhibitions.

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Khrushchev (1963)

At the Manege Exhibit on December 1, 1962, here are just a few of Khrushchev’s opinions on music and art he encountered:

“I would say that this is just a mess…It consisted of some messy yellow lines which looked, if you will excuse me, as though some child had done his business on the canvas when his mother was away and then spread it around with his hands.”

“I don’t like jazz. When I hear jazz, it’s as if I had gas on the stomach. I used to think it was static when I heard it on the radio.”

“Or take these new dances which are so fashionable now. Some of them are completely improper. You wiggle a certain section of the anatomy, if you’ll pardon the expression. It’s indecent.”

“As long as I am president of the Council of Ministers, we are going to support a genuine art. We aren’t going to give a kopeck for pictures painted by jackasses.”

“He can paint and sell these if he wants, but we don’t need them. We are going to take these blotches with us into communism, are we?”

“But who ordered it? And why? This painting shouldn’t have been hung in the exhibition.”

“It’s a pity, of course, that your mother is dead, but maybe it’s lucky for her that she can’t see how her son is spending his time.”

“People tell me that I am behind the times and don’t realize it, that our contemporary artists will be appreciated in 100 years.”

The last quote stuck out to me, because it was what I was thinking the entire time reading his thoughts. He is stuck in the past and has zero respect for any new types of art forms, but to him and others art was all about staying within the tradition of Soviet socialist art. We see this all the time even today that the older generation, not all but a lot, want to stay within tradition and anything else is too out of the box and wrong.

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Breakfast by A. Vasnetsov

In a different article, the December 1st exhibition is mentioned to be “in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Moscow branch of the Artists’ Union.” This exhibition had more than 2,000 works of art on display, and was created by Moscow artists over a 30-year period. The art varied in theme, style, and technique, and were created by masters of art as well as newcomers. More than 100,000 people had visited the exhibition and there was great interest in it. However, we’ve already seen above some of the comments Khrushchev made that night. The more traditional crowd discussed how many works deviated from the Soviet socialist art. When asked what he thought of the exhibition as a whole Khrushchev’s response was:

“In a number of cases it would appear that the organizers of the exhibition have fallen under the sway of those who defend weak and unacceptable works, who have manifested liberalism. Such a policy cannot lead to a further upsurge Of the Soviet art of socialist realism.”

At the end of the night Khrushchev stated that yes these artists are creative, but people don’t understand it, and therefore will reject it. If we can’t tell if a man or a donkey created this art, the artist needs to “work for the people.” A few months later in March 1963 he did a similar thing with music. He created a “Declaration on Music in Soviet Society,” where he essentially said we’re not going to ban your music, but we’re going to tell you what’s bad about it and what you should be listening to:

“No one proposes to declare a ban on any of these styles and genres. But we want to stipulate our own attitude towards music, its tasks and its creative direction.”

“Of course, I have no pretensions to claim that my feeling for music should become a general norm for everyone. But we refuse to encourage people who pass off cacophony for real melody and who regard music universally loved by the people as obsolete.”

Overall Khrushchev says that though he isn’t banning what we can listen to, we should really be careful because anything new and modern is hard to take in and indecent. That we need music that is going to inspire soldiers to be heroes and that we need this political stand in our art and music.

Khrushchev was just really stuck in this traditional mindset that life and art were so linked together that people couldn’t be creative and create something other than Soviet socialist art. Khrushchev actually ended one artists’ career and lost him his studio. After Khrushchev’s death in 1971 his family actually hired that man, Ernst Neizvestnyi, to create the memorial for his grave.

 

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Gravestone for Nikita Khrushchev by Ernst Neizvestnyi (1971)

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