5 Jan 2008

Fun Facts

In the annals of journalism, Pravda has always occupied a unique place. As the official mouthpiece of the Soviet Union, it stridently projected the politically correct image of the USSR to the world. That is, it was usually full of bullshit - more bullshit even than most Western papers. Allegedly, no-one actually ever read it, but the paper it was printed on was hugely popular - considering how severely paper was rationed. The wise words of the Glorious Communist Leaders occupied their most useful place on little rolls in the worker's toilets.

When the Great Experiment came to a crashing halt around 1991, Pravda split in two. The old-school kept the printing machines and have continued to put out a leftist, conservative paper. Another group went online, and gave the world as whole new definition of weird with Pravda Online.

Pravda Online is like a violent collision between a cheap tabloid and a reputable journal. They discuss regular alien encounters alongside current events. The writing is highly opinionated and openly political. Western nations, particularly the States, are regularly portrayed as corrupt and dangerous forces that need to be contained by good ol' Russian strength. The tone is fiercely nationalistic. Consequently, you're not going to find any criticism of Putin, or Russian policy, on Pravda Online. None of those writers want some plutonium slipped in their vodka. Critics of the government tend to die a lot in Russia, just like they always have.

What you will find is a lot of stuff that would rank as "downright nuts" in Western media. UFOs and extra-terrestrials are a regular feature, as well as stories of Russian cryptids and bizarre urban legends. Their 'information partners' include the "non-news" linkfilter Fark.com, alongside that venerable source of weirdness the Fortean Times. This is rounded off with the end-of-world watchdog Steve Quayle, the independently-minded Christian Science Monitor, the UFO Digest, and for some unknowable reason a link to online dating. Just 'cause, you know, all those lonely singles love to read about aliens.

The tabloid element includes a lot of grisly murders, which have been the mainstay for so-called "yellow journalism" for years. But Russia was, after all, the country that produced Andrei Chikatilo, among many other ghouls. Not to mention Ivan the Terrible, Stalin, et cetera. Russia is a grand and awesome country, and does evil on a grand and awesome scale. Kiwis, by contrast, do evil on a small and domestic level; we're not showy, we keep our horrors quiet. Also, they have no serious reservations about showing bloody corpses or grisly artefacts in Pravda - the worse the mess, the better the sales. Finally, the corrupted language - the not-quite-perfect translations from the Russian - will sometimes strike English speakers as rather quaint - perhaps it could be termed 'Runglish'?

All in all, I think these three headlines from today's edition sum it up nicely:

"Putin could have made great career in judo, his first coach says"
"USA treats its war veterans out like garbage" (sic)
"Maria Sharapova reaches WTA semis"

There's enough weird shit in the former Soviet Union to keep a freakologist like me busy for years. How about the Aleshenka? Yeah, it could be a malformed foetus, but THIS! IS! RUSSIA! It could the warped remains of some demon-beast that just phased through from the shadow world. Or something. It does bear a resemblance to my favourite Lovecraftian deity, Quachil Uttaus. Then there's stuff like the "Black Volga" story, which originally appeared in Poland years ago and apparently still has currency in Russia today.

Now on an utterly unrelated note, here's one of the greatest music videos ever made.

It was 1992. I was sixteen. That was the year bands like Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine and Stone Temple Pilots were at the height of their powers. It was, I suppose, the Year Grunge Broke - well, in New Zealand at least. Thanks to my precociously hirsute chin I was able to sport a goatee with the best of them. So, at any rate, it kind of seemed like the time of bands such as Gun's 'n' Roses had ended. Big-hair excess went out with the Eighties, as the main bands like Motley Crue combusted spectacularly. Their successors, G'n'R, seemed set for the massive blowout they had predicted in their music for years.

Their last decent opus, the double album Use Your Illusion I&II, was a kick-arse sendoff to excessive eighties rock. I certainly lapped it up, cranking my two tapes on my black plastic ghetto blaster. (Ah, the evolution of personal music technology in our time…) UYI was all about being OTT. It's cover is a detail from Raphael's famous fresco, "The School Of Athens". Two figures, standing in the background on the right provide the contrast of a eager young student lost in his studies, with a melancholy older man standing behind, watching him write. Read into that what you will; every figure in this painting is loaded with meaning. At any rate, not many rock bands use Raphael on their cover, mainly because it's outrageously pretentious. Which is, of course, very G'n'R.

Seeing as us Kiwis never had nothing like MTV back then, we had to get by on hour-long video shows like RTR, TVFM, or the occasional Saturday morning ensembles. It was during one of these I saw the epic video of "November Rain" for the first time. Unfuckingbelievable, was all I could think. It had an opera house and an orchestra, despite the fact they're not on the musical track. And Axl looks like the Marvel Universe version of Elton John.

Never in my pedestrian life could I have a wedding that orgiastic, and it ending when the bride - it seemed -got hit by lightning or something. Or maybe Axl killed her, somehow, or more likely she killed herself. That is a likely scenario because a scene hints at it. Also she seemed like a nice normal woman, and once the drugs wore off and she realised she was married to Axl Rose, she had no choice but to kill herself. You saw that regretful look.

Maybe Slash did it, because he had this homoerotic thing for Axl. He needed to get the girl out of the picture. This is a guy who, in the video to "Don't Cry", drives himself and his girlfriend off a cliff just to shut her up. His unrequited man-lust for his ginger crush drove him to plan murder, then express his passions in an epic guitar solo like a true man. He cannot bear the ceremony and leaves out of this weird TARDIS-church in a barren wasteland. It adds a sinister touch to that stoned leer he pulls out far too often.

But then…was it all a dream? Did Axl just dose up and imagine this whole awesome fantasy that goes bad? This is considered by G'n'R purists to be the first of a trilogy of videos - that megomaniac ambition again. I love it how, as the reception is washed out, this guy just goes and totally wastes the cake. For no obvious reason at all, other than that the director must have thought it "looked cool". And at that exact moment, the era of the music video as ego-driven mini-movie began.

Lastly - do you remember the Hamburgler? He lurks as a weird little childhood memory. Once a staple of the sickly surreal McDonald's universe, he disappeared as that type of marketing was phased out. Urban legends that I can't confirm say he was essentially erased, or retconned, from the world of McDonalds because he represented a criminal element. They were concerned he spread a negative image. (If you're not a comics book fan : retconning is a great way to get rid of things from your universe). In his early forms he was quite sinister, and despite - or maybe because of - his cheerfulness and blundering, he was a clear anti-authoritarian figure. So they banned him. So maybe he met a more unpleasant fate.

I wouldn't put anything past Ronald.

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