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Post-Soviet Estrada and Representations of Alternative Sexualities

CBEES Advanced Seminar organised together with the Media and Communication department at the School of Culture and Education

Galina Miazhevich and Maria Brock (Cardiff University)

This presentation is based on an ongoing 2-year AHRC funded project (2018-2020) examining the range of available discourses on alternative sexualities (AS) in post-Soviet Russia (1999-2019). Within Putin's conservative nation-building agenda, the Russian mediascape excludes or marginalises alternative sexualities' voices from official discourse. However, certain manifestations of AS infiltrate public space through convergent traditional and new media (Jenkins, 2006) and the performativity of AS in popular culture (Estrada, internet, memes, etc.). There are three main research questions: How are AS constructed in post-Soviet Russia? What is the role of mainstream and alternative media in this process? How have discursive representations of AS in Russia evolved over time? The project accounts for discursive representations at three different levels (grassroots, semi-official and state media). It employs a Laclauan model of hegemony (1985) adapted for the post-Soviet context, and an interpretative framework by Barbero (1992) on how media texts relate to social and cultural practices.
Russian popular music and entertainment, dating back to the Soviet Union, is dominated by popular figures that embrace aesthetics of high drama, flamboyance or camp, in a manner that may read as queer to certain audiences, while simultaneously enabling the disavowal of any non-normative content or intention, and remaining firmly in the mainstream. This presentation will focus on the AS representations in Russian popular music. The amalgamation of the legacy of Soviet Estrada (where alterity and AS were more readily tolerated) with recent regional and the global music trends produces complex AS representations. This talk will problematize the ongoing post-Soviet transformation of queer aesthetics by looking at two Russian cult music performers bridging the Soviet and post-Soviet realm – Valerii Leont’ev and Philip Kirkorov. Whilst Leont’ev’s style involves camp culture originating in Soviet times (early 1980s-to date), Kirkorov’s successful utilization of post-Soviet aesthetics of excess (1990s -onwards) makes him a truly post-Soviet artist.

The presentation demonstrates that their performative personas are rooted in particular versions of camp with differing degrees of subversiveness. However, their stylistic evolution is somewhat different. Whilst Leont’ev demonstrates a more earnest commitment to high drama, Kirkorov (self)ironically experiments with transgression, ambiguity and excess, queering post-Soviet popular culture. The presentation analyses a set of reoccurring images, voices, tropes from the relevant music videos (such as Leont’ev’s ‘Nochnoy Zvonok’ and ‘Island of Fortunate Women’ and Kirkorov’s ‘Tsvet nastroeniya sinii’ and his collaboration with Nikolay Baskov in ‘Ibiza’, 2018). This close reading of artists’ selected videos is supplemented with narrative/textual analyses of their public statements (e.g. interviews). The presentation shows that the latters’ appropriation of camp is much more strategic and post-modern, as it responds to temporal, national and global trends such as the growing popularity of global gay culture (Martel) and neo-camp in Russia. Finally, the analysis shows how meanings related to AS in Russian popular music challenge, subverting and attenuate mainstream media discourse. This is particularly relevant in light of the so-called ‘anti-gay law’ passed by the Russian Duma in 2013, which marks a cornerstone in the representation and visibility of AS in Russia.
Dr Galina Miazhevich, Senior Lecturer at the School of Journalism, Media & Culture, Cardiff University.

Before joining Cardiff in 2018, Galina was a Lecturer at the University of Leicester (2013 – 2017), the Gorbachev Media Research Fellow at Oxford University (2008 – 2012) and a Research Associate at the University of Manchester, UK (2006 – 2008). Previous projects include media representations of Islam and multiculturalism in Europe; press freedom and democracy in post-communist Europe; gender, media and emergent forms of post-Soviet identity. Galina has extensively published in a peer-reviewed journals and co-authored several monographs, and now leads the AHRC-funded leadership project (2018 – 2020) ‘Quiet Revolution? Discursive representations of non-heteronormative sexuality in Russia’.

Dr Maria Brock, Research Associate at the School of Journalism, Media & Culture, Cardiff University.
Prior to joining Cardiff in 2018, Maria was a fellow at the London School of Economics & Political Science, a research fellow at the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck, and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Baltic & East European Studies (CBEES) at Södertörn University, Sweden. Previous and upcoming publications have reflected on the role of language and affect in reactions to the case of Pussy Riot, the status of memory objects and ‘museums of the everyday’ in the proliferation of post-socialist nostalgia in East Germany, the critical potential of irony and satire, and cinema and representation.

Tid och plats

10 september 13:00-14:30

Högre seminarium

Room MA 796, CBEES, Södertörn University, Campus Flemingsberg, hitta hit


Arrangeras av

CBEES, in collaboration with Media & Communication department at the School of Culture and Education


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