Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer Highlights Cultural Divide

Categories: Fiesta!

By C. Townsend Rizzo

It's not news that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects our right to free speech, press, religion and peaceful assembly.

Though reasonable and righteous, it has become a crutch of complacency. Everybody has something to say, but generally, they're only making a weak case about America's cultural impetuses.

See Also:
- Pussy Riot and Four Other Bands That Lost the Battle with Authority But Won the War

Every now and then, someone or something from a distant and more oppressive land than ours surfaces to serve as a reminder that regardless of the literal translation of a word, its cultural context reaps the greatest impact. This week's HBO premiere of Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, the first in a series of summer documentaries for the network, serves as the most significant and relatable discussion of cultural context and deconstruction in the world today.

While the narrative introduces the audience to a hotbed of philosophical, moral and ethical ideas, the Pussy Riot story begins and ends with punk ideology. This includes notions of anti-establishmentarianism, defiance, and to use a word straight from Pussy Rioter Nadya Tolokonnikova, notions of "uprising." These are all really great tools for change, but for us here in the States, these words do not mean the same thing as they do to the gals of Pussy Riot, or even the more recent Kashmiri punk trio, Pragaash. Wild words might cost us our careers, but not our freedom.

Since the dawn of punk itself, bands like the Sex Pistols influenced American music, but our version of punk slowly morphed into more of an aesthetic force without the drive for revolution. When was the last time a punk band in America reached a broad enough audience with a call for real uprising? We'd more readily be able to list folk singers.

So naturally, the same rules apply for the themes rampant in the story of Pussy Riot, three tough mamas (for those not in the loop), who waged sonic and political war against Vladimir Putin and his left nut, the Orthodox Christian Church -- which has historically oppressive laws for women in particular.

In the United States, "free speech" means something very different than in Putin's Russia. We can easily hop on the internet, bash our country, demand rights and have a fit, a la Pussy Riot's at Christ Our Savior's Cathedral. And while there would surely be an outpouring of those who disagreed with that behavior, persecution to any extent would barely make it off of a social media page.

Meanwhile, in Russia and most of the world, "free speech" is a concept riddled with doublespeak. The court constantly reminds the three women on trial that they are being punished via the revocation of their "freedoms" for two years as a result of their actions, but it is ultimately their actions -- their punk rock ideology -- that afford them their most candid opportunity at expressing their dissatisfaction. Each of the women on trial were given the opportunity to read their closing statements before sentencing, and it is only here, standing behind a glass wall, caged animals in a courtroom, that their real "freedoms" were allocated them.

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