Villainous Russians

Svyatoslav Zhuchenya

Popular Culture

Sophomore Inquiry

May 15, 2015

Looking in the Mirror Blog Post

Used for entertainment, expression, communication and many other purposes; popular culture artifacts are all around and in many different forms. Although something that has the simple purpose of entertaining someone might seem insignificant and harmless, pop culture artifacts such as movies and TV shows have a great power in influencing the way society thinks about and sees certain identities and groups of people. Often in pop culture, an identity can be misrepresented and incorrectly portrayed. This can be offensive to some and may even have negative impacts on people that associate with that group. An example of such a case is the portrayal of Russians and Slavic people in general, in movies and TV shows. More often than not, Russians in movies take on the role of a hardcore villain, corrupt politician or just a frightening expressionless individual. These portrayals are often inaccurate and pertain to if any at all, a small amount of Slavic people.

In January of 2013, comedian Dan Soder did a stand-up comedy skit on the Conan O’Brien show. Towards the end of the skit, Soder describes to the audience that he is from New York City and he often fears being mugged at night. As part of the skit he states that he has found a solution on how to overcome his fear; he imitates a Russian accent. He underlines that this method works because “…Russians are the scariest White people, they’ve earned it…” (Soder). The comedian goes on to describe that faking the accent brings the enemy fear and he then is protected. After his statement, Soder then proceeds to take character of a Russian person encountering two dangerous individuals in the street. During his role-play, he deepens his voice, obtains an expressionless look and gives his character a thick Russian accent. In this skit, Russians are portrayed as frightening and hardcore, this seems to be a trend in many other forms of entertainment.

A Good Day to Die Hard

A Good Day to Die Hard (Russian villain)

Another popular culture artifact, in which Russians are portrayed in, is the latest film in the “Die Hard” franchise, “A Good Day to Die Hard”. In the film, the main character, John Mcclane travels to Russia to help out his son who happens to get into some trouble. There the main character encounters many different Russian people, from a simple taxi driver to hardcore criminals to corrupt politicians. Early in the movie there is a traffic scene, the drivers in what was portrayed to be Russia, are seen as being very aggressive and violent drivers. There are multiple car collisions as well as drivers yelling at one another. The majority of the Russians he later encounters are either hardcore and violent criminals or corrupt politicians that are somehow tied to the criminals for political gain. Towards the end of the movie, it turns out that the Russian villains are attached to dealing weapons grade uranium and the dealing is directly tied to the Soviet Union and the Cold War. In fact, Russians and nuclear weapons seems to be a major tread in modern movies as well.

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Russian villain with nuclear launch suitcase)

A film example in which Russians are portrayed as being associated or having ties to nuclear weapons is “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”. In this movie, the main character is a secret agent is trying to stop corrupt Russian politicians for obtaining nuclear launches codes and bombing the United States. As with the “Die Hard” film, there are very similar portrayals of Russians in this film that follow the treads that were mentioned earlier. The Russians have mean expressionless looks on their faces; they all seem very violent and corrupt and tend to take on villainous roles in the films.

During the research of the pop culture artifacts, it is evident that there are certain patterns that are present. The first one is the fact that many of the Russian roles that are in the movies or TV shows are played by non-Slavic actors. This is evident through the extreme accents that the actors have when attempting to act out the character speaking Russian. Even when the actors are speaking English and are simulating a Russian accent, it is still evident that the accents are not authentic. The actors may be very good at faking an accent and it might make for a great movie character or a funny skit, but the accents do not sound like what real Russian accents are like. This fact might be one of the sources for the incorrect portrayal of the Slavic people. As a result of actors having very little experience with Russian culture, one could assume that their inspiration for their roles comes form other popular culture artifacts that too are prone to inaccurate depictions.

Due to the fact that I myself am a Slavic person, originally from Ukraine. I have many interactions with Russians and other Slavic people on a day-to-day basis. I have experience in knowing many Slavic people from many different ages and groups. The way Russians are portrayed in films is simply incorrect for the majority of the Slavic community. Most likely there are still corrupt politicians and criminals in Russia as in many countries around the world, and it is evident that there certainly were in the Soviet Union. However, to generalize Russians and other Slavic people as “scary” expressionless, hardcore individuals is simply inaccurate. These portrayals of Slavic people seem to be a trend or a pattern in many pop culture artifacts; this indicates that there is most likely a source for these misconceptions.

A BBC article, titled “Hollywood Stereotypes: Why are Russians the Bad Guys?” discusses the outstanding trend of Russians being the villains in many of the modern movies. The article underlines some possibilities of why this is happening and what the sources of it might be. It is motioned that one possible reason for the portrayals of Russians in this light is the former and ongoing tensions between Russia or the former Soviet Union and Western countries such as the United States. The article makes the interesting point that it has not always been Russians that are in the spotlight for villain roles but other races and nationalities as well. During World War II there was a trend in movie villains being German due to the obvious tensions between Germany and the allied forces.

Although, the portrayals of Russians and Slavic people is inaccurate from the point of view of what I have experienced living immersed in the Slavic community, it does not make me somehow upset. I do see the potential of these trends harming the image of the Slavic community or perhaps making someone upset but it has not really been one of my concerns. However, one thing that I do not understand is why it is okay to make fun of or vilify Russians or any other nationality for that matter but it is not okay to do so to other groups such as African Americans, women or some religious groups. If it is not okay to misrepresent one group of people, then what makes it okay to do so to another? The question that should be asked is not whom we can use for entertainment and whom we can’t, but should we use inaccurate representations or stereotypes of identities at all, in pop culture?

Works Cited

A Good Day to Die Hard. Dir. John Moore. Perf. Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney. 20th          Century Fox, 2013. DVD.

Brook, Tom. “Hollywood Stereotypes: Why Are Russians the Bad Guys?” BBC. N.p., 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 20 May 2015.

“Dan Soder Stand-Up 04/15/14.” YouTube. Team Coco, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 June 2015.

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Dir. Brad Bird. Perf. Tom Cruise, J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk. Paramount Pictures, 2011. DVD.

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2 thoughts on “Villainous Russians

  1. I really liked your paper and I think you did a good job how often Russian and Slavic people are often used as the “bad guy” in movies. Your analysis of the comedian’s joke was also good and I can understand the frustration regarding this frequent portrayal. It seems as though it is almost always wrong to buy into media portrayals when you are dealing with actual people. I am glad you shared this topic and brought some more light to it.

    -James

  2. hi Svyatoslav
    I really enjoyed your paper and really find your essay super interesting. The media does have it out for Slavic or Russian person. Your examples really do sum up how most people think of the majority of eastern Europeans. I have never actually thought of this topic in the way you have examined it. Whenever I see the bad guy being Slavic or Russian, I have never thought of it as a bad thing or a problem. This is an issue and should be looked at like any other stereotype given to others. Your essay was well done and it really gave me a new way to think whenever this issue comes up. This actually blew my mind and has given me a new perspective.

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