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