Words I Never Thought I’d Say: I Am Pussy Riot

I don’t think the feminist punk movement Pussy Riot and I have much in common, starting with my decided lack of comfort using the word “pussy.”

They’re talking about kittens, right?

And yet, today I am Pussy Riot.

Metaphorically, of course.

Three members of the group were convicted today in Russia of “hooliganism” for a performance protest. Back in March, they entered Moscow’s main cathedral, an Orthodox cathedral, and then began a song of protest at the altar, asking the Virgin Mary to drive Russian President Vladimir Putin away. I don’t speak Russian, but reliable sources say they used language not normally heard in church.

Guards hastily removed them from the church, but not before Pussy Riot had recorded their performance. They posted the video to YouTube in a sort of punk, music video, protest, art, um, thingie.

YouTube Preview Image

Annoying? To be sure. Obnoxious? Absolutely. Dubious music quality? Definitely.

But hardly worth a prospective three year sentence.

A fine, maybe, from the fashion police, but not three years in prison.

The offenders were promptly arrested and languished in jail for months before being convicted today. Prosecutors are asking for the aforementioned three year term. The judge said they “crudely undermind social order” and offended the feelings of Orthodox believers.

Pussy Riot says they were using their protest performance to draw attention to what they consider an unhealthy relationship between the Orthodox Church and Putin’s government.

You know what we call it in America when someone loudly, obnoxiously, even rabidly questions the relationship between church and state?

Tuesday.

After the Olympic closing ceremony in London, I questioned if Russell Brand’s tepid, vaguely sexual version of pop culture is the best the West has to offer the world. Isn’t there something behind our relentless entertainment machine that is a value we can and should export?

There is.

Nothing needs championing abroad and at home more than free speech, enshrined in our First Amendment to the Constitution.

We take it as a given, but much of Europe and the rest of the world doesn’t see it the way we do. We protect the rights of Nazis, Westboro Baptist Church, and your Uncle Fred to spout off about every racist, misogynist, evil, wrong, and simply pig-headed idea out there.

We think you have a right to speak because we have an unfaltering confidence in the people, that they can and will make sense of the many ideas coming at them, weigh them, and choose wisely.

We stake our country on the free flow in the Marketplace of Ideas.

And we know that the speech that most needs protecting is offensive speech. If we all agreed with an idea, it needs no protection. Only the outlier, the scandalous, the disgusting speech needs the shelter of the First Amendment.

Pussy Riot has become a small cause celebre in Hollywood. No one less than Sir Paul McCartney has expressed support for the jailed women. Madonna, who never met an icon she didn’t want to smash or an attention-getting trick she didn’t want to try, performed a Moscow concert with the band name written on her back. She’s probably a little mad at them for imitating her shtick.

But what about closer to home?

Hollywood is selective in its support. Where was the grudging support for Chick Fil A President Dan Cathy for his right to express his views on gay marriage?

Where was the idea of “I don’t agree with you but I’ll fight for your right to express your opinion?”

As a person of faith, I’d prefer my Sunday service to not be interrupted by bad punk rockers in day-glo tights. But you know what? We can pick up, dust off, and move on.

Worse is if we are told by others what we can and can’t say.

More reading:

Is Russell Brand the best we have to offer? 

 

Update 12:10 Eastern, 8/17: The sentence is two years in prison. 

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey

  • http://markbyron.typepad.com/main/ Mark Byron

    I’m with you with the group name; how the Bond film got Pussy Galore through the 60s censors is still amazing.

    A bit of public service for disturbing the peace might fit, but three years is way too much. It reminds me of the old Cold War-era joke where Sergei got 12 years for calling the general an idiot; 2 for was for insulting a superior officer and the rest was for reveling a state secret.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mindovermedia/ Alexis

    Well said.

  • http://facebook.com/martymckeever Marty

    Very nice.!

  • Pingback: Moscow: Pussy Riot Sentenced to 25 Years on Siberian Potato Farm… – FAKEDRUDGE

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy

    Awesome line:

    “You know what we call it in America when someone loudly, obnoxiously, even rabidly questions the relationship between church and state? Tuesday.”

  • http://popehat.com David

    First, I think you meant “undermined” where you wrote “underminded” and “cause célèbre” where you wrote “cause celeb”.

    Second, what do you think of Eugene Volokh’s position? He maintains, correctly I think, that although the punishment was too harsh, the group was in fact guilty of criminal trespass and deserved prosecution on that account.

    Even in the US, where we cherish free speech, disrupting activities in a church by staging an uninvited musical/artistic happening is not recognized as a right.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      You are correct on your edits and I have updated the post to reflect them. Thank you.

      Yes, I agree with his assessment. I lived for ten years in DC, where someone is always staging a protest. We weigh the right to free speech against the property rights and general rights of others. This was last seen in the Occupy movement’s takeover of a downtown park that did not have the infastructure to sanitarily support people living there. We do not allow vandalism, we do not allow people to disrupt, say, the morning commute (always an issue in DC) and we don’t allow people to infringe on others’ right to practice their religion. All of these things have been and continue to be threshed out in court.

      In DC, people who cross the line, blocking streets, disrupting daily life, presumably invading a church, get arrested and fined. I do think there should be some consequence, some skin in the game for the protester. This verdict is so much more that it becomes something else entirely.

  • JoFro

    I do not think you or your readers seem to understand why their act of vandalism caused so much anger in Russia – including among people who are anti-Putin.
    You see this as nothing more than a Freedom of Speech issue, but this is not such a case.
    I honestly ask you to reconsider what you posted
    You are right – in America, such acts would not be worthy of mention but then the Christians of America have not gone through the brutality that the Orthodox Church underwent in Russia.
    The Christians of America have not had to watch in horror as a bunch of atheists blew up, say the Cathedral of St John the Divine and erect a swimming pool on its site, they have not had their clergy chased by government troops, caught and then butchered, they have not had their church elders crucifed upside down inside their own churches – yes, I said crucified, they have not had to watch and see their monasteries, their convents, their synagogues and temples bulldozed or had militant atheist groups use sacred objects to stage anti-religious skits and processions – each and every one of those things I mentioned happened to the Orthodox Church

    They were not jailed because they didnt have the right to express themselves, they were jailed on the charge of a hate crime – which it was
    This article better expresses my point – and go have a read of the post on Pussy Riot on the Get Religion blog on the Patheos website – it better explains the situation
    http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2012/08/20/the_new_soviet_league_of_militant_godless.html

  • regular joe

    2 Things:
    1- Free Speech: imagine you are at Sunday Worship at your favorite church, and say some angry punk homosexualist activists come in, stand up, and shout obscentities, perform some mock sex acts etc.? Are you sure you would say “you are them”? Are you sure the First Ammendment protects that speech? Do you want to encourage that form of protest? I think a shorter jail term, for trespass is warranted, not ‘the fashion police’.
    2- The light ‘ questionable taste’ description of them doesn’t do their performance art approach justice. Another ‘art’ protest piece visible online by the same group is of a member inserting a fresh whole chicken in her ‘pussy riot’ then pulling her undies up over it and shop lifing it, on camera. American Christians used to protest images of crucifixes in urine, Holy Mary in elephant poop, and Mapelthorpe with a whip inserted deep in his ‘riot’ looking like a tail.

    How has it transpired that we have joined Whole Hog with the radical free speech types? Can’t we like adults say they are terrible people deserving some real punishment, but 3 years is too much and their government is also terrible and excessively authoritarian? Why are we acting like they are Solzhenitsyn for goodness sake?

  • JoFro

    A member of FEMEN just took a chainsaw and chopped down a crucifix that was installed as a memorial to the victims of Stalinist terror to protest the jailing of Pussy Riot…are you still willing to say “I am Pussy Riot”? Frankly, it confounds me as to why a group that has openly said that its musical inspiration comes from a far-right British neo-nazi group should inspire people like you to go and support their sacriledge of a Cathedral that was bulldozed by the Soviets!

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/17/pussy-riot-trial-femen_n_1798009.html?utm_hp_ref=world

  • Pingback: I am Pussy Riot and, now, I am Sam Bacille


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