Friday, July 2, 2010

Russian 101: R-Rated PD

I know, I had promised I will not be going back to complaining about some of the outrageous programming on RT: Russia's "international broadcaster" paid for by the people and supported (read: managed) by the state. But just when I thought it cannot get any more ridiculous, they managed to come up with something even more outrageous, which goes over and beyond any conceivable perception of public diplomacy. Or, at least, so I thought.

I'm subscribed to RT America's YouTube Channel, among others, and over the past couple of weeks there were some segments showing up here and there, which I would call (hmmm...) peculiar.

Teaching your language is, arguably, one of the most effective public diplomacy strategies, since not only does it provide access to a wide pool of information and new opportunities for the students, but also exposes the them to your culture. After all, learning a language is a process through which one becomes acquainted with the values, norms, beliefs, history, and generally, everyday life of the people who carry that language. Thus, it can only promote further understanding and appreciation of that culture, country, or nation. The method has been widely used for centuries, and is still an effective public diplomacy tool (typical examples: Alliance Française, British Council, Confucius Institutes, etc.).

Apparently, someone in RT America (the U.S. bureau, that is) came up with the brilliant idea of taking up a similar task: teaching basic Russian. The originality of the idea, however, was that it was to be done in (how should I put it...?) a "special way." I have no words to describe what follows, so I'll just post the promotional video for the program.

A sadder part of it is not just that this is aired almost every day (from what I gather), but also that the program has acquired a special section of its own at RT's official website. Here's a recent screenshot.

The more devout of the fans can watch all the videos posted there. They can also ask questions and discuss "philology" in the Forum section. (I guess I don't have to talk about the nature of the comments that are already there. Given the content, they are quite predictable.)

And well, I cannot resist the urge to share what I find as one of the more outrageous segments so far:

As I was searching for background info on this very appealing language-teaching method, I found that Marina Orlova, originally from Russia, has had a fairly impressive career even before making it to RT. Starting her "teaching career" on YouTube and having some success online through her personal website, she has even published her own book last year (would be curious to see the exact contents...).

Of course, an attempt to tap into the "already existing" fame of the self-anointed "Sexiest Philologist in the World", might sound like a good idea. Sex sells, after all. The tragedy of this case, however, is that RT is supposedly the official mouthpiece of Russia. By offering such "language lessons", not only is RT capturing the more "sexually oriented" audiences, but it is also referring to, and thus, perpetuating, the very sad stereotype about Russian women.

Again, I agree that there might be some potential for success in utilizing this branch of "popular culture" in attracting audience; but RT's main objective is - at least, supposedly - to credibly explain, clarify, and promote ideas and viewpoints of a nation, and not just "sell airtime"... and especially not sell degrading, tasteless, and ridiculous programming. If such a trend continues, RT (or, at least, RT America) may internalize the rationale behind Radio Sawa, in the sense of providing 90% entertainment with minimal "real content" in between. The major difference in such a scenario, however, would be that for the lack of a more appealing popular culture, RT would have to rely on this type of content.

If this is how RT envisions Russian public diplomacy and broadcasting, then Moscow better forget about improving international public opinion, especially in the U.S., on Russia and its people.


  1. Lena, Thank you for this interesting article. Actually the Russians -- known historically, some would say, for their propensity for imitation -- are following something of a trend; see my "Public Diplomacy Goes 'Pubic,'" Public Diplomacy Blog, USC Center on Public Diplomacy

  2. Thanks for the great laugh! I should say I really enjoyed reading the post :)

    This is sad, nevertheless. "Selling the sexy" as a part of PD might be a good idea, but then they better stick to the dozens (if not hundreds) of world-renown Russian models, or even tennis players. "Marina Orlova," with her "hot-and-dumb" image is a bit too much for PD, however. On the contrary, I think she's actually undermining whatever positive perception there was of Russians, and Russian women in particular. Too sad..