Failing to cover the Christ Our Savior video riot

YouTube Preview Image

As you would imagine, I have received a few notes seeking my take, as a journalist and as an Orthodox Christian, on the events involving that crudely named feminist band in Russia. You know, the one that drew this headline the other day in The New York Times: “Anti-Putin Stunt Earns Punk Band Two Years in Jail.”

What? The band’s actual name didn’t rate large type?

Before I address the journalism issues related to this, I would like to note that, from my point of view, this matter has at least three layers and it has been easy for folks to go rather bonkers (Hello, Madonna, and you too, Sir Paul) without really separating out the layers. So, before people get confused about where my loyalties are in all of this, let’s walk through a few specifics.

So, raise your hand if:

* You think Vladimir V. Putin is a corrupt political thug who continues to feed on Russian nationalism.

Mine is up.

* You think that, in the complex post-Soviet Russian Orthodox Church, there exists troubling corruption, mixed with flashes of courage and truly radical faith. In other words, this is a complex matter (please click here for a flashback).

Mine is up.

* You support the free speech rights of the members of P***y Riot and think that, while what these protesters said and did was foul, they had every right to demonstrate in public places in Russia.

Mine is up.

* You think that the government overreacted and, while crimes were in this case committed under Russian law (ironically, laws hailed by some on the left because of their intent to prevent offenses against Islam, Judaism, etc., as well as to majority Orthodoxy), the sentence was too harsh. The Orthodox hierarchy seems to feel the same way.

Mine is up.

* You think that crimes of some kind were committed in this case and that they should be enforced if and when when vandals invade and threaten religious sanctuaries, such as, just thinking out loud:

– Aryan Nations thugs invading Holocaust-era synagogues in Germany.

– Anti-Muslim extremists of left or right attacking mosques (say the Dome of the Rock) in order to shout profanities against the faith and the Prophet Mohammad.

– Conservative Anglicans (I am making this one up) losing their minds and attacking the altar of the liberal Cathedral of St. John the Divine during a pantheistic Gaia Mass.

Mine is up.

* You think it was bad, unbalanced and inaccurate journalism for the mainstream American press, in story after story, to essentially ignore the details of what the protesters said and did and where they did it. Thus, these stories were painfully flawed and millions of readers have no idea what actually happened.

Yes, mine is way up.

Folks, we are living in a sad age in which it is, at times, easier to find out what actually happened in major news events by watching YouTube than it is by reading the world’s major newspapers. What was this event all about for the Times team? It was politics, pure and simple — with only one layer that deserved informed coverage. The source of the strong global reaction, saith the Times:

This was partly because of the sympathetic appearance of the defendants — two are mothers of young children — and partly because their group uses music to carry its message. But it also set them in a David-and-Goliath struggle against a formidable power structure: the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Trust me that I know that elements of the Church are close to Putin and the state, while others, frankly, are not. The Orthodox Church has — think invasion of Georgia — stood up to the state in public, and in other cases, behind the scene. But to say that Putin and the Orthodox hierarchy represent — on all issues — a singular, united “power structure” is radically simplistic. At the very least this is a statement that should have been reported and debated, not simply stated as secular gospel.

So what actually happened here? It is a long way into the story before readers are given any details:

… The Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement that referred to Nazi aggression and the militant atheism of the Soviet era, and said, “What happened is blasphemy and sacrilege, the conscious and deliberate insult to the sanctuary and a manifestation of hostility to millions of people.”

The case began in February when the women infiltrated the Cathedral of Christ the Savior wearing colorful balaclavas, and pranced around in front of the golden Holy Doors leading to the altar, dancing, chanting and lip-syncing for what would later become a music video of a profane song in which they beseeched the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Mr. Putin.

Security guards quickly stripped them of their guitars, but the video was completed with splices of footage from another church.

I have yet to see a mainstream story (please inform me if I am wrong) that offers more details about what the women did and said. Did anyone actually go inside the icon screen? It is clear that the “dancing” itself took place inside the rail of the altar area and, thus, in an area reserved for clergy and those who serve the church. It’s crucial, in terms of accusations that these performance desecrated the cathedral, to know what they actually did. Once again, these are details that journalists should report in any similar case involving a synagogue, mosque, cathedral, etc. God is literally in the details.

We also live in an age in which some governments have passed laws (which I have consistently opposed, as a First Amendment absolutist) to crack down on all acts that can be seen as attacks on major faiths. These laws are, for example, often promoted as a way to prevent acts of Islamophobia.

YouTube Preview Image

How is this reflected in the story?

… Judge Syrova, delivering her decision, said that the political comments were spliced into the video later, and that the action in the church was therefore motivated by religious hatred. … In Washington, where Obama administration officials followed the trial closely, seeing it as a measure of Mr. Putin’s new presidency and its own troubled relations with Russia, the White House and the State Department each criticized the verdict. The State Department all but called on Russia’s higher courts to overturn the conviction and “ensure that the right to freedom of expression is upheld.”

It appears that, for the judge, this case was about the anti-religious content of this act and, literally, its sacred location — not simply a matter of freedom of expression. It appears that this judge thought that a Moscow cathedral should be protected in some way, rather like the laws that police enforce to protect American shopping malls. (Let me stress once again that I think the sentence here was way too high, yet it is clear that the judge was enforcing laws that were, in fact, violated.)

How would American police respond to the anti-Muslim equivalent of the following being screamed in, oh, a mosque on Manhattan?


… Holy sh*t, sh*t, Lord’s sh*t!
Holy sh*t, sh*t, Lord’s sh*t!

St. Maria, Virgin, become a feminist
Become a feminist, Become a feminist …

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
Bitch, you better believe in God
Belt of the Virgin is no substitute for mass-meetings
In protest of our Ever-Virgin Mary!

St. Maria, Virgin, Drive away Putin
Drive away! Drive away Putin!

Other major newspapers took an almost identical approach on this story. The Washington Post, however, did include this reference:

The judge’s recitation Friday dwelled on what sounded like an offense to the church rather than the state. She quoted at length witnesses who said they were believers deeply offended by the one-minute performance.

One witness said that the young women violated the Cathedral of Christ the Savior dress code with their short dresses and that women were expected to behave modestly in church. Another said public prayers were not permitted in the cathedral without the presence of a priest. If that wasn’t bad enough, one witness said, the performance occurred just before Lent.

OK, that’s simply a joke, a form of journalistic mockery. I have not doubt that some worshipers said that. However, anyone who has seen the video knows that the concerns mentioned by the Post were very minor, in contrast to what the protesters actually said and did. Did the judge list serious offenses? Did her remarks include actual details of what happened inside the altar area? How would we know?

The Los Angeles Times report was even worse. It seems that no one involved in the story was the least bit interested in the religion element of this story. What we have here is politics and more politics. Nothing more.

A Moscow court convicted three young punk rockers, members of the provocatively named group Pussy Riot, of “premeditated hooliganism” and sentenced them to two years in prison. The crime: a February “punk prayer” at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in which the balaclava-clad, mini-skirted rockers appealed for the downfall of President Vladimir Putin. …

Friday’s verdict followed a brief trial last week in which the rockers were accused of sacrilege and insulting the mores of Russian Orthodox believers.

Can readers read this and then understand the reactions of the judge and many, certainly not all, Russians? Can readers understand without knowing what was said and where it was done? Would it also help to know a bit about the history of this cathedral, which was imploded by the Communists and then rebuilt after the fall of the Soviets?

For those who want to comment, please focus, focus, focus on the content of the journalism stories themselves — or the lack of content. Links to additional info about the crimes that were committed would be appreciated. Again, do not bug me with the politics of this story. I trust that it is possible to oppose the desecration of sacred places without automatically being a supporter of Putin or an opponent of basic human rights. Right? Carefully read the top third of this post, again.

Stick to journalism, folks. Did the mainstream coverage include the crucial information readers needed to know?

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • deiseach

    At the very least, it was trespass. If a group entered the reception area of any newspaper (much less a conference room or even the boardroom), set up their instruments, and starting dancing and videoing without clearing this beforehand or asking permission, would they be be permitted to continue uninterrupted or would security be asked to remove them? And might there even be charges brought afterwards?

  • Jerry

    Folks, we are living in a sad age in which it is, at times, easier to find out what actually happened in major news events by watching YouTube than it is by reading the world’s major newspapers.

    When news breaks, I rely on twitter and youtube not the old media with one exception. If it’s dramatic and there’s a CNN camera pointed at it, then I’ll give that my attention. But in case after case, the media falls down and being able to see the real events and hear from people directly involved weaves a context that is missing elsewhere.

    Side comment: I really hope that we can get the HTML directives back rather than having to remember them. And the automatic preview function would be helpful as well. Sigh.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Jerry, we’ll look at some commenting system alternatives after we’ve worked through a couple other issues.

      There were definitely some things I really liked about the old GR commenting system.

  • K. Ford

    Tim,
    Don’t all these papers have ombudspersons? You should contact them and ask for a response to these questions– challenging bad journalism is supposed to be one of the reasons that job exists.

  • http://bevnalabbeyscriptorium.wordpress.com/ Bev. Cooke

    This is the first coverage of this event that gives ANY kind of coherent story for me to follow – whether it’s mainstream media or alternative or opinion or tweets or YouTube or FB posts. I don’t think any of the coverage has dealt with anything but the particular axe the reporter or commentator wants to grind, and so it’s been amazingly difficult for me to figure out just what the offences and crimes here were (as well as separating out my own feelings about the venue they choose vs. was this a crime? Just because they chose to perform on the ambo in church doesn’t make it against Russia’s laws, necessarily, much as I might like it to be! ). As a practising, converted Orthodox who is unfamiliar with Russian laws regarding worship, public protests and religion, I’m grateful for you to have covered this, and to have given me the information that yes, this did break Russia’s laws.

    Having said that, you’re right – the journalism in this case has been incredibly biased and uninformative. The reportage hasn’t been much different than the opinion pieces I’ve seen, which is unacceptable journalism, whether it’s about the Orthodox faith, the Orthodox church, democratic freedom of speech or appropriate venues. If I’m to be an informed citizen, I need to trust my media to give me enough facts for me to make up my own mind about what happened, and none of the media I’ve seen has done that. NONE of the media. Unfortunately, in the last several years, this has been happening more and more often, across the board. I haven’t trusted the media for years, ever since, as a child, I experienced the misquoting of my dad on a local, narrow issue – but it’s gotten bad enough that it is obvious to me that journalism in general is so biased as to be completely untrustworthy – and I’m talking here about liberal as well as conservative, mainstream and alternative, religious and secular media. Don’t know if this helps you, but that’s my reaction to your post and your question. I’m sorry I don’t have links, since none of the links I followed ever managed to report the story in anything but a biased manner, so I wouldn’t share them.

    • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

      I absolutely agree. I’ve only been aware of the story in the background of my mind, newsblurbs. It never even occurred to me that the spectacle was produced *without the permission* of the Cathedral’s authorities. I assumed – from limited coverage – that it was a Cathedral-sponsored event. Maybe I failed to pay close enough attention, but it’s hard to say the fact was exactly highlighted in the MSM.

      My central thesis about why the MSM is shriveling and disintegrating is this: people are tired of being lied to. The MSM doesn’t generally manufacture wholesale falsehood, but the manner and matter of its reporting are very much tailored to the tastes of the reporters and not their viewers. The manner and matter also conform to their particular worldview and not necessarily to any external reality. They literally think that they can tell the rest of us what to think, and that their version of things can be only tangentially related to what actually happens, and that we’ll go on like that forever, regardless of reality.

      Something similar happened in Poland in 1979. Pope John Paul II returned to his homeland for a public Mass. The first of its kind in more than a generation. It was swamped. By some estimates *10%* of the nation was in attendance. And the state-run media? Well, a blackout wasn’t feasible. So instead, they reported that some “tens of thousands” of people attended, and made sure to keep all the photos and videos on the pope, nice and tight – not on the crowds that stretched for *miles*. A Polish professor of mine told me that, from that day forward, every Pole knew that the media was nothing but lies.

      We haven’t had an event here, but over the course of some years or decades, I think more and more people watch the news because that’s just what they do, but without trusting or believing it in their conscious mind. Just ask people whether they believe what they hear on the news.

    • str

      “Just because they chose to perform on the ambo in church doesn’t make it against Russia’s laws”
      Of course it does. And not just Russia’s laws but every law everwhere (at least implicitely) – they have as much a right to perform on the ambo as they have to perform in your living room.

  • fatherpep@gmail.com

    Sorry Matt. The “rioters” got what they deserved. They knew what they were doing; they selected the place for their “protest” deliberately-to get the maximum publicity for their act. Oops-it didn’t go over so well. Too bad. Let us not even begin to compare their act with others doing the same thing in a truly public place-like outside on the sidewalk. Even in this country, under current circumstances, they would have been prosecuted. The last section of the so-called federal “Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances” law has a provision that penalizes those who travel interstate to obstruct or interfere with religious services. As for the lamestream media, what do you expect? Don’t worry, though. They are slowly but surely going out of business and then we won’t have to worry about them.

  • Pingback: Religion and the Newspapers of Record – Justin Taylor

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    The Wall Street Journal’s editorial (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443324404577597113375612958.html) on this completely missed the reality of what happened. It’s hard to right a convincing editorial when you’re not looking at all of the facts.

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      Sorry — brain freeze: It’s hard to WRITE a convincing editorial when you’re not looking at all of the facts.

  • Erin

    This mainstream story offers many details about what the women said and did in the Cathedral.

    http://www.tnr.com/print/article/politics/105846/how-punk-rock-show-trial-became-russias-greatest-gonzo-artwork

    I have been to the cathedral where this occurred, and it’s essentially a public space where anyone can walk in to look around and visit the cathedral. Women are admitted without wearing “appropriate” attire such as shawls and skirts/dresses. There are no signs posted indicating that it’s forbidden to walk on the altar, to dance in the cathedral, etc. At worst, the members of P*ssy Riot were disruptive, but they were disruptive for only about a minute and left when instructed to leave. They did not actually sing or play instruments in the church. The homeless men who sleep in my parish’s pews are more disruptive. Further, this was a protest against the Russian Orthodox hierarchy’s close involvement with Putin, appropriately (IMO) held in the most prominent Orthodox church in the country. Was it an act of trespass or vandalism for Martin Luther to nail his theses to a church door? Is it an act of trespass for supporters of gay rights to wear rainbow sashes while attending Catholic Mass? If it wasn’t, then why should 30 seconds of slightly disruptive behavior be criminalized?

    • str

      Turn it as you will, a Cathedral is not a public place, even if no signs state the obvious and even if some minor rules like dress code re not enforced. Not creating a disturbance and not entering the altar space, however, is not minor. And a disturbance is a disturbance even if short. And it was only short because the rioters were escorted out. No, they did not come quietly.
      While your “Saint Martin Luther can do no wrong” defense (citing a probably legendary and in any case off-topic event) is pathetic, your “gay rights” defense is worse: you know that “gay rights advocates” have done worse in churches.

  • Ben

    I would recommend reading the punk rockers statements in court excerpted here: http://zenpundit.com/?p=12906
    There you will find some interesting religious content. Here Is a sample:

    … “To me, this transition, or rupture, is noteworthy in that, if approached from the point of view of Christian culture, we see that meanings and symbols are being replaced by those that are diametrically opposed to them. Thus one of the most important Christian concepts, Humility, is now commonly understood not as a path towards the perception, fortification, and ultimate liberation of Man, but on the contrary as an instrument for his enslavement. To quote [Russian philosopher] Nikolai Berdyaev, one could say that “the ontology of humility is the ontology of the slaves of God, and not the sons of God.”

    …..
    “Our motivation is the same motivation that goes with the use of a direct quotation. This motivation is best expressed in the Gospels: “For every one who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7 :8] I — all of us — sincerely believe that for us the door will be opened. But alas, for now the only thing that has happened is that we’ve been locked up in prison. It is very strange that in their reaction to our actions, the authorities completely disregard the historical experience of dissent. “[H]ow unfortunate is the country where simple honesty is understood, in the best case, as heroism. And in the worst case as a mental disorder,” the dissident [Vladimir] Bukovsky wrote in the 1970s. And even though it hasn’t been very long, now people are acting as if there was never any Great Terror nor any attempts to resist it. I believe that we are being accused by people without memory . Many of them have said, “He is possessed by a demon and insane. Why do you listen to Him?” These words belong to the Jews who accused Jesus Christ of blasphemy. They said, “We are … stoning you … for blasphemy .” [John 1 0:33] Interestingly enough, it is precisely this verse that the Russian Orthodox Church uses to express its opinion about blasphemy. This view is certified on paper, it’s attached to our criminal file. Expressing this opinion, the Russian Orthodox Church refers to the Gospels as static religious truth. The Gospels are no longer understood as revelation, which they have been from the very beginning, but rather as a monolithic chunk that can be disassembled into quotations to be shoved in wherever necessary — in any of its documents, for any of their purposes. The Russian Orthodox Church did not even bother to look up the context in which “blasphemy” is mentioned here — that in this case, the word applies to Jesus Christ himself.

    I think that religious truth should not be static, that it is essential to understand the instances and paths of spiritual development, the trials of a human being, his duplicity, his splintering. That for one’s self to form it is essential to experience these things. That you have to experience all these things in order to develop as a person. That religious truth is a process and not a finished product that can be shoved wherever and whenever. And all of these things I’ve been talking about, all of these processes — they acquire meaning in art and in philosophy. Including contemporary art. An artistic situation can and, in my opinion, must contain its own internal conflict. And what really irritates me is how the prosecution uses the words “so-called” in reference to contemporary art.”

    • http://2natures.blogspot.com/ Arimathean

      Ben,

      Thanks for posting the zenpundit link. I read the whole post (as well as the ones immediately preceding and following, along with the comments sections). Zenpundit’s excerpts from the trial statements show that the charge of being “motivated by religious hatred” is absurd. It is on the same level as the ubiquitous charges of blasphemy in Pakistan – an attempt to play on popular religious sentiments to achieve less lofty non-religious goals. The girls’ statements were quite articulate, and they show a greater sensitivity to the Christian faith than statements of their persecutors.

      John O’Sullivan at NRO also read the excerpts posted by zenpundit, which led him to this conclusion:
      “Russians should be the first to rally to them against this corrupt regime with lingering totalitarian impulses, but Christian leaders worldwide should be their close second. Odd though it sounds, the girls have taken time off from impudence, feminist discourse, and politically loaded lyrics in order to give Christian witness against the corruption of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. They are being martyred for it.”

      Read his whole editorial here:
      http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/314522/christians-feminist-punk-rock-john-o-sullivan

  • Ben

    Tmatt,
    The translation you provide differs fundamentally from this one: http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2012/08/pussy-riot-lyrics.html

    Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
    Bitch, better believe in God instead
    The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings
    Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!

    That last line makes way more sense than in your translation. It makes clear that the rockers are arguing the church authority is a false believer and that Mary is with the protesters. Your translation makes it sound like they are saying Christianity is a false religion but that is not the case, especially when you look at their trial statements (see previous comment).

  • Ben

    Here is the other translation in full, since tmatt’s excerpt and choice of translation looks highly misleading in terms of the song’s overall message:

    “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” Lyrics (translated from Russian)

    Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away
    ?ut Putin away, put Putin away

    Black robe, golden epaulettes
    All parishioners crawl to bow
    The phantom of liberty is in heaven
    Gay-pride sent to Siberia in chains

    The head of the KGB, their chief saint,
    Leads protesters to prison under escort
    In order not to offend His Holiness
    Women must give birth and love

    Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!
    Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!

    Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist
    Become a feminist, become a feminist

    The Church’s praise of rotten dictators
    The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
    A teacher-preacher will meet you at school
    Go to class – bring him money!

    Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
    Bitch, better believe in God instead
    The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings
    Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!

    Virgin Mary, Mother of God, put Putin away
    ?ut Putin away, put Putin away

    • http://2natures.blogspot.com/ Arimathean

      According to The Economist, the Russian phrase translated literally as “the Lord’s shit” has a meaning akin to the English expression, “Holy shit!”

      In another place, I have seen “the phantom of liberty” translated as “the ghost of liberty”. I wonder if it should actually be “the spirit of liberty”. The three words have very different connotations in current English usage – roughly “illusion”, “dead being”, and “ideal”, respectively.

  • Ben

    I got all of the above following helpful links from Fred Weir’s story in The Christian Science Monitor here: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2012/0818/Pussy-Riot-sentence-How-did-it-play-in-Russia
    He mentions the protest occurred in a priests-only area of the church along with other details. Previous stories of his — has followed this for half a year — mention it was an obscenity-laced song. His choice of linking to the lyrics is probably the best option given family newspaper and all.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    Erin, every Orthodox church has a space where only the priests are allowed to go. I attended a Russia. Orthodox wedding once, and one of the guests unwittingly wandered into the sanctuary. The priests had to.shoo everyone.out of the church to re-sanctify the church. (They tried.to.spare.the guest’s feelings by saying they had to rearrange pews. I found out later what had happened.)

    These women weren’t strangers.to Orthodoxy. They had at least.some.idea that what they were doing was.deliberate desecration. It was the equivalent of piddling in the holy water. The thing that gets me is that no reporter stopped to ask if there was.anything particularly.sacred.about.where the women were.

    • http://2natures.blogspot.com/ Arimathean

      This is incorrect. Anyone may enter the sanctuary with the permission of the officiating clergy if he (or, in some cases, she) has business there. During a Hierarchical Liturgy there could be a small army of laymen assisting the clergy in the sanctuary. On the other hand, even clergy (apart from bishops) should not enter the sanctuary without a reason.

      If a person were to enter the sanctuary inappropriately, it might be illicit and offensive, but that alone could not possibly “desecrate” the sanctuary.

      In any case, the area where the girls performed was outside the sanctuary. The video clearly shows one of the cathedral’s candle ladies entering the area, presumably to help subdue the girls. This area might be off-limits to tourists and others who have no business being there, but it is by no means a clergy-only area.

      • http://2natures.blogspot.com/ Arimathean

        Come to think of it, there is a small area directly in front of the altar where only clergy are supposed to stand. But one could not stumble into that area without going directly through the holy doors (which were closed in the video). Even that should not result in desecration, but perhaps I am understimating the scrupulosity of Russians (which is easy to do if you’re not Russian).

    • Erin

      @Joel – afaik they did not enter the sanctuary. The altar gates were closed, as you can see in the video.

  • Pingback: A reminder to always question the media « A 21st Century Potrait

  • Kodos

    A moment of levity in an otherwise serious debate…

    It may be naughty of me to post this but when I scanned the NPR headlines today this headline grabbed my attention: “Musicians Who Paid the Price Before Pussy Riot”
    http://www.npr.org/blogs/therecord/2012/08/17/159006221/music-as-the-ultimate-rebel-yell

    I quickly skipped to the lede hoping to find out which randy musicians were angry, where they were protesting, and which diseases they had. But alas, this was NPR and not The National Enquirer.

  • http://2natures.blogspot.com/ Arimathean

    I just watched the video for the fifth time, and I noticed a number of interesting things.

    1. Four girls are shown performing, but only three were tried. What happened to the fourth? Were they unable to identify her? Did she have connections? Was she somehow less culpable than the others? I do not recall her even being mentioned in any of the several articles I have read.

    2. They did not have their guitars in the cathedral. All of the guitar scenes were filmed in a different church with different (darker) lighting.

    3. Their costumes might have been politically provocative, but they were not indecent. In fact, they might be the most modestly dressed 20-something women I have ever seen in a Russian church! Legalistic Russians are very insistent that women wear headcoverings and dresses or skirts in church – pants are considered “disrespectful” (a vague term that means, basically, anything not in accord with Russian custom, as interpreted by the local – usually self-appointed – enforcers). It is not unusual to see young Russian women at church wearing headscarves the size of a table cloth along with tight mini-skirts, completely oblivious to the irony of their ensembles. The young ladies in the video were complying with the letter of the rule as well as any Russian, and with the spirit of the rule better than most. Anyone claiming to be shocked or offended by their mere dress should be dismissed out of hand.

  • The Old Bill

    Tmatt, I wish I hadn’t watched the video. I’m going to be humming that memorable tune all day.

    Joel, comparing this to Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses is not apt. It was common to post notices at the cathedral. It was his content that was controversial, not his act of posting them.

    I agree with Tmatt about First Amendment freedoms. But Fr. Perp is correct: they chose to disrupt sacred space. Whether or not this is criminal, it is deliberately provocative and downright rude. Remember the couple that had sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Mass? They had their defenders who said that it was a public space and they didn’t hurt anyone. Remember Serrano’s “Piss Christ?” I had an art historian explain to me that it was really a study in light and space and that the crucifix was just an object with interesting angles and depth. Poppycock! All these things were done to be disrespectful. Yet the media, which can’t stop yammering about inclusiveness and respect chooses to ignore it when religious believers are involved.

    I think Jerry’s point is well taken. Everything is on YouTube and other sites. I’m afraid big print and big broadcast are in a Chekov play, sipping tea to the rhythm of the axes on the cherry trees.

    • str

      Of course, it’s criminal. Everyone is well within their legal rights to be offensive and obnoxious, even by dipping a cross into urine, on their own or public space. But not by invading somebody else’s space.

  • tmatt

    OLD BILL:

    Disagree how? You are not a strict supporter of the First Amendment?

    Of course, Russia does not have the First Amendment and what we are dealing with here are violations of a number of different laws, as the post noted.

    • The Old Bill

      Tmatt, I don’t think we disagree here. Yes, I am a strict supporter of the First Amendment. And it was specifically aimed at political and religious speech. I know we’re talking about events in Russia, and I don’t know the nature of religious freedom or of church property there. But with liberty comes responsibility.

      As a music fan, you might have heard the old joke about the definition of a gentleman: he’s a man who knows how to play the banjo, and doesn’t. (I can say that: I have too many banjos.) My point is that invading others’ sacred spaces is rude and obnoxious. (I did not say criminal.) One should tread carefully and respectfully on hallowed ground. When in any church or synagogue or mosque, we are guests: of the congregation and of God. To do what they did is, at the very least, a terrible breach of etiquette and the guest/host relationship – what the ancient Greeks called xenia. The key element in much of the suffering in Greek literature is violation of this relationship.

      A recent GR post about nuns mentioned that they had some form of protection when dressed in traditional habits in bad areas. There were some things one just didn’t do, like attacking nuns. Or waltzing into a church to do a music video. (That was a waltz, wasn’t it?)

  • tmatt

    One of the central points in my post is that the video shows us quite a bit, but not everything. It is heavily edited.

    I was calling for press coverage of the details of trial testimony. Surely there was testimony about what actually happened in this event, details beyond an edited YouTube.

    Like I said, the trial seemed to be about a religious event. The coverage totally focuses on the politics. Surprise.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    “[laws] should be enforced if and when when vandals invade and threaten religious sanctuaries”

    Where did the word ‘vandals’ come from? I’m unaware of any allegations of property damage.

  • tmatt

    Ray:
    Precisely. You are not aware of them.
    That’s why the details of the allegations in the trial needed to be covered and details debated.
    Remember that this is not P***y Riot’s first rodeo. They have a history and, frankly, people disagree about what they have or have not done.

    • http://2natures.blogspot.com/ Arimathean

      The CSM article whose link Ben posted states there was no property damage.

  • http://creedalchristian.blogspot.com/ Bryan Owen

    Check out this open letter to Paul McCartney about what P***y Riot did from a Russian Orthodox priest: http://www.pravmir.com/open-letter-of-fr-sergy-ribko-to-sir-paul-mccartney/.

  • JWB

    The parallel to the couple who had sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC as part of a tasteless radio publicity stunt is instructive and would have made a good sidebar. What happened to them? A little bit of googling suggests that one of the couple died before the legal process reached its end (divine judgment?), the other got sentenced to five days of community service, and one of the radio station employees who had encouraged the stunt got seven days. (There were also some FCC fines against the station, and some other people got fired.)

    Another good sidebar would have been about what sort of sentences are typically handed out in Russia for equivalent misbehavior that’s less politically high-profile, and how unusual it is for defendants in such cases to be locked up pending trial rather than released on bail. Are the aspects of the defendants’ treatment that seem extreme by US standards just par for the course in the Russian criminal justice system or not (with the latter suggesting that these defendants were singled out for unusually harsh treatment)?

    • str

      Both kinds of sentences – the St. Patrick’s one and the Russian one – seem over the top to me. However, the Russian one much less so.

  • JWB

    OK, this is late but maybe this story should win some sort of special GR award for cluelessness above and beyond the call of duty for the sentence “Pussy Riot adamantly denies any malice to Catholicism”? http://observer.com/2012/08/before-pussy-riot-verdict-and-new-york-day-of-action-artists-and-activists-show-support-of-the-incarcerated-russian-punk-band/

  • Pingback: Pod people: Russia, religion, rock and riots

  • Pingback: Double Standards | contracelsum

  • Pingback: Get Religion: Failing to Cover the Christ Our Savior Video Riot - AOI Observer


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X