Posts Tagged ‘authenticity’

“Russians are dank. Russians are crazy.” And Russians are marketing it.

03/31/2010

“Russians are dank. Russians are crazy,” says David Treybich, 21, a personal trainer, martial artist and aspiring reality TV star. “We drink vodka. We go nuts. Come on, what’s better than that?” Treybich was interviewed by the New York Times about “Brighton Beach”, a reality show that is the Russian-American answer to MTV’s “Jersey Shore”, poised to bring low-brow Russian chic to a television near you.

The casting call reads:

“Are you the Russian Snooki or The Situation? Are you a super outgoing and fun-loving Russian-American that sometimes sneaks kalbaska, pel’meni and vodka from the fridge? Can people hear the Euro/Techno/Russian music blasting from your car before they see you pull up? Do you attend birthday parties at Russian restaurants every weekend? If so, we may want to cast you for a new reality TV show that centers around a group of Russian-American strangers living together in a house on the shores of Brighton Beach for a summer. The cameras will roll as you do what you do best — eat, drink and PARTY.”

Clearly “Brighton Beach” will introduce the best of Russian-American culture to the world (or at least MTV-watching North America). The show is looking for “Outgoing guys and girls between the ages of 21 and 30 who would be willing to spend one summer living in an all-expense paid digs in the New York City area and consider themselves to be Russian-American (or from the former U.S.S.R., including the Caucasus).” I’m glad they include the Caucuses in the casting call — how better to ensure the same kind of fireworks as the summer of 2008?

Since when did Russia become synonymous with vodka bars and partying? What happened to the avant garde? To Russian literature? And when did the best gig around for a post-Soviet immigrant become partying in a wired beach house, re-enacting every soap opera drama known to man? I miss the good old days of television when Russians played chain smoking gold-toothed bad-guys or double crossing double-D devotchka spies.

The Holy Land Experience

03/09/2010

Over the past few years I’ve visited a lot of weird tourist sites in the former Soviet Union in the name of research. Lately, I’ve been researching wacky tourism in North America and came across this: The Holy Land Amusement Park in Orlando, Florida.

I quote: “Experience love. Experience peace. Experience joy. Experience Jesus.”

According to their official website, the visitors to the park can go back in time and experience life as it was in Biblical times. A re-creationist’s wet-dream, the park features the most important parts of the bible acted by professionals: A rather caucasian looking Jesus re-enacts the life of the son of God, including daily crucifixion and resurrection; visitors can experience what life was like for Moses and his children to wander the desert at the Wilderness Tabernacle; and if the kids get antsy, drop them off at the “Smile of a Child” kids play-land. Fun for the whole family, indeed.

I suppose with the actual Holy Land a war zone and the deep distrust in the US of “middle eastern” terrorists, this safe and entertaining option is the way to go. Founded by a Baptist minister Marvin Rosenthal (yup, he converted from Judaism) the park has been protested by the Jewish Defence League as promoting the conversion of Jews to Christianity. Kind of the point of the the life of Jesus, but I digress. What I want to know is when religion became defined as “a thrilling swirl of characters, costumes and colour” and how I missed that memo…

Cold Beer and Warm Women: Communist Tourism in Krakow

02/17/2010

I’m currently working on a chapter about Nowa Huta, a suburb of Krakow, Poland. Here’s a brief summation.

Nowa Huta was built between 1949-1954 to support the Lenina steel works. The city was constructed by workers brought in from all over Poland and in 1949, the area was nothing but farmland; by 1954 housed nearly 200,000 workers in one of the finest examples of deliberate social engineering in the world. Described as a “Polish socialism city of dreams” Nowa Huta is now a tourist attraction — a group of young entrepreneurs have formed a company called Crazy Guides, offering communist-themed tours of Krakow that include a visit to an “authentic” communist apartment and a ride through Nowa Huta in a GDR-built Trabant.

According to Jakub, general manager at Crazy Guides, an overwhelming number of people lived normal lives under communism. The conditions were different than in Western countries, of course, but people raised families and had fun just like in the West.

Nowa Huta was one of the most successful communist projects in Poland and one of the goals of the tour is to show that there were, as my guide Eryk puts it, good points to communism.

“Our parents lived through communism. They survived and they had fun. There was fun,” says Eryk. “We grew up under this and it’s really disrespectful to say that it was all bad. People lived, had families. I’m a child of that period. We are all a result of that period. And look at me – I’m a bit twisted, but I’m doing quite well.”

Is what Crazy Guides are doing simply nostalgia tourism? There are definitely elements of nostalgia, but neither Eryk or Jakub believe what they do is simply caterer to a desire to return to an idealized past.

“My parents and grandparents did experience life under communism and we have to live with this reality as well,” says Jakub. “We see communism all over the place, still. In particular in my grandparent’s generation. My grandmother says that everything’s the same, that nothing has changed. Maybe we can travel abroad a bit more, but it makes difference to her. It’s of no advantage. My grandfather sees it this way: in communist times we had warm vodka and cold women. Now we have cold vodka and warm women.”

This brings me to the other half of the Crazy Guides organization, the Crazy Stag, basically Pimp-my-Ride plus a stag party. Crazy Guides provide a pimped out shaggin’ wagon for a stag party on wheels. Extras available include sexy hitchhikers, a bad cop booty call and the option of having the groom-to-be kidnapped by Polish mafia.

Communist kitsch and sex tourism: Welcome to the new Poland.

Check out Crazy Guides online.