Imagine, for a moment, that someone from another planet landed in the United States and wanted to understand what the country considered to be important. However, this alien wanted to do this without ever speaking to anyone. Where would this alien turn for such information? The most basic answer is television. Some of the most popular television shows in the US are about crime, so, obviously, crime is very important to this culture. Then this alien changes the channel and begins to watch “Real Housewives of ….” Watching this show would give the alien the impression that this culture idolizes shallow, materialistic, self-absorbed people.
This alien can also see educational shows about history or other topics, as well as, shows about religion or the arts. However, on the major television networks this alien would be able to “feast” on a daily diet of crime shows and other shows which serve to numb the mind more than anything else.
Now, let us assume that this same alien decided to travel to the largest country in the world, Russia, and observe what this country considers important. Once again, this alien decides to watch television in order to obtain such information. What does this alien see? A steady stream of television shows about criminals or people who drink too much. This alien can also find religious programs or shows about history, but if he or she decided to limit his or her viewing to the major networks, they would be exposed to shows about criminals or people who drink too much.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that the same culture which produced Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910), Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), and Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986), to name a few, also inspired television shows about criminals and drunks.
The fact is that these people were not the product of the culture. These people were the product of traditional Russian culture, but what people are exposed to now to Soviet culture, which is something completely different. Even Andrei Tarkovsky, who lived his entire life during the period of the Soviet Union, was not a product of Soviet culture because of the influence of his father, the famous Russian poet Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky (1907-1989).
After the October Revolution of 1917, V.I. Lenin (1870-1924) began slowly destroying traditional Russian culture, beginning with the destruction of countless Orthodox churches, and attempted to replace this culture with glorification of the state. The year after Lenin died, Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) wrote a wonderful story about the rise of the “new Soviet man” which was entitled Heart of a Dog (Сердце Собаки).
In this story, Professor Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky and his assistant, Bromenthal, can be understood to represent two different views from traditional Russian culture, while Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov, a dog who is turned into a man by Professor Preobrazhensky represents the “new Soviet man”. Professor Preobrazhensky and Bromenthal both have major problems with Sharikov’s behavior, but they choose to deal with these problems in two completely different ways.
Professor Preobrazhensky begins by taking pity on Sharikov and blames his bad behavior on the fact that Sharikov had received the testicles and pituitary gland of a drunken man in order that he might become a person. However, Bromenthal wants to inject Sharikov with arsenic and destroy him. Eventually, Sharikov is returned to his natural state and lives out the rest of his life as a dog. It should not surprise anyone that this story was banned from the Soviet Union until 1987 since the premise of this story goes directly to the heart of the very society that Lenin and his followers were trying to create.
When television was first created it had the enormous potential to be able to educate and inspire people. However, it has never lived up to that potential. There is no reason why people should have cable television service with over two hundred (200) channels available and these same people then complain that there is nothing to watch because the shows available are “garbage”.
Instead of uplifting cultural standards, television appeals to the lowest common denominator in order to insure that Sharikov is happy. For many years a friend of mine has said, “In order to keep their people quiet, Rome gave them bread and circuses, while we give them drugs and television.” There is a great deal of truth in this statement. The ability to read is a rather late development in human history, but people read less now than in many generations.
While fewer people read than in previous generations, Russian television does offer more films based upon classic Russian novels than American commercial television does about classic American novels. It has been decades since any of the major networks presented a movie about “Tom Sawyer” or some other novel. I love watching films about classic Russian novels, but is there something wrong with presenting a film about a story by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)?
It would be very easy to say that what is presented on television is simply a form of
entertainment; however, it actually directly reflects cultural values. If this is a form of
entertainment, then Americans and Russians must find crime and alcoholism to be very
entertaining. When it comes to television, we continue to sleep with dogs and continue to
be very surprised that we wake up with fleas. After all of these years of appealing to
“Sharikov culture” in the United States and Russia, why are we still surprised?