Let's talk pop culture.
First of all, I have to tell you that I'm a huge pop culture fanatic. I majored in Cinema Studies, read several books a week, and spend a lot of free time watching television. In addition to this blog, I recap several series a week for another website, which occupies an insane amount of my time. At the beginning of March, I got up at 4 AM to watch the Oscars, messaging a friend in Toronto over Facebook the entire time. I regret nothing.
As any high school teacher knows, one of the easiest ways to capture teens' attentions is to bring in pop culture references as often as possible. This is especially easy in language learning, because you can disguise a moderate amount of screentime under the guise if "listening practice" and "cultural studies". Promise them you'll show an episode of The Simpsons if they do the test without complaining. If they're talking, get their attention with the Hunger Games whistle. Last week, a truly brilliant teacher got his students to behave by threatening Game of Thrones spoilers. And my teens are just like anyone else - they eat it up. I recently received an essay which amounts to Breaking Bad fanfiction, and let me tell you, I felt sad having to report it to the director.
Over the past few months, I've noticed a strange duality in how Russians view the arts and entertainment - or at least what's coming out of Hollywood. Everyone is up-to-date on many of the latest films and books out there - you should see my classes "volunteer as tribute" whenever I ask a question, and I have some scarily young Walking Dead devotees - but on the other hand, there is a huge fondness for the 80's and 90's. When asked to select the greatest hero of all time, one of classes overwhelmingly voted for Michael Jackson. Along with Madonna, he is the artist I've heard most about this year. The Russians I've met love their King and Queen of Pop. Their memory's a little selective, though - in a class on advertising, I showed my students the Michael Jackson Pepsi commercial (pictured above), and no one could identify him. I think they still associate him with the later Wacko Jacko image. And if you polled my teen classes on their favorite actor, Leonardo DiCaprio would undoubtedly come out on top. (This probably has nothing to do with the fact that Putin admires him. Not even a little.) Sometimes I swear I've time warped to 1998.
I'm not sure why these particular artists remain so much more popular than in North America, even after all these years, or why so many young people seem to prefer films from the late 90's-early 00's. It could be the legendary Russian 80's nostalgia (very much present in some quarters, and quite understandable when you consider how terrible the 90's were). Some people have suggested to me, before and after I came to Russia, that culturally the country's values are more in line with past decades, in especially in social values. I'm not so sure about this - the kids have embraced Game of Thrones and Justin Bieber with gusto. The Internet makes it easier than ever to spread trends around the globe in seconds, which makes this leaning towards the past all the more unusual. The differences are interesting to consider - but in the meantime, I'm glad that youth's obsession with entertainment is universal.