I think there's something terribly wrong in Russia.
Not like that's a particularly bold statement. You could make the argument that the huge and disparate entity known as "Russia" has never really been "right--it's just been in various stages of barely-holding-shit-togetherness. This is a place where winter wins wars, where the country practically exists in all four hemispheres at once. It's a freaky place, which I suppose is inevitable when you live right next to the Mongols*.
*Just a note on what the Russians were up against in the Mongol Golden Horde. The Mongols under Genghis Khan were the first truly modern army, in that they were organized, professional, and hierarchical. The bulk of the army consisted of horse-mounted archers, a concept which really is quite ingenious. It's built on a the very simple principle of me being able to shoot at you without you being able to catch me. The Mongols utilized one technique known as the "Parthian Shot" (named after the Parthians, a steppe people who used it to bitch-slap the Romans a thousand years before). They'd ride like bastards up to the enemy, firing all the way, fight for a second or two, then pretend to panic, wheeling around to retreat. When the enemy gave chase, they'd fire while running away ("parting shot"--get it?), and when the enemy was dispersed, tired, and scared, they'd turn around and massacre them. To get an idea of how well this worked, bear in mind that "Mongolia" used to mean "Southeast Asia, Russia, the Middle East, and Poland".
Now, a lot of this explains why the place is so weird, but I think it's recently entered a special level of screwed-up. After a brief period of being one of two big dogs on the world stage, Russia's been on a really noticeable tailspin for the past twenty years or so. Think of it this way: Russia had a really hot girlfriend, lost her, and is now showing up to parties in an old and sauce-stained sweatshirt, drooling all over himself, refusing to take a shower or pay his soldiers. He's knocking back vodka like it's water, creepily hitting on all the hot chicks there, and failing to keep track of his nuclear stockpile, so there's about a ten percent chance the entire place is going to go up in a blinding flash of nuclear light. It's just awkward for everyone involved.
But then, along comes Putin.
Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin is a former KGB agent and the current Prime Minister of Russia. All you really know about him is that he used to be Russia's President, but he seemingly got bored of that, so he nominated some crony to be President, and took the PM spot for himself. But no one talks to the new President, because Putin basically switched up the role of President and Prime Minister. He's at the point where he does whatever the deuce he wants and gets away with it.
And they love him for it.
Don't get me wrong: the election was probably a bit rigged. First, he got 71 percent of the vote, a wee bit too high unless you're Reagan or something, and second, this is Russia we're talking about here. It's not like there's a longstanding democratic tradition in place.
But for a guy who really hasn't brought Russia out of the doldrums (the economy is better, but the country still isn't going anywhere), it's astonishing how much the country loves him. They have Vlad Putin fan clubs, Vlad Putin youth groups, Vlad Putin posters. I recently came upon a Vlad Putin music video, presented here for your consideration:
Just so we're clear on this, you just watched two appallingly hot pop stars sing about how they want to jump a president's bones. Again, just so we're clear.
So, why does Russia love Putin? I think it has pretty much everything to do with image.
Every shot I've seen of Putin has a certain quality to it:
Namely, it makes him look badass. I don't think he purposefully had that particular lighting done just for that picture, but it seems to happen to him an awful lot. He probably just naturally creates ominous lighting.
If you're a country, down and despised, spitting up all over itself at a party, wouldn't you want someone out there who at least gives off a good impression? The impression of "don't mess with me?"
Or, "do what I say, before I smack you?"
Or "I MUST BREAK YOU!"
A lot of the guy's pictures show him shirtless. I think it has something to do with virility.
There's a lot wrong with this whole situation. Putin is practically a dictator. He has opposition leaders jailed, kills journalists who disagree, and likely steals a great deal of money from the country. The love he gets is part fear, but I have the sinking feeling that at least some of it is genuine.
But that's not what bugs me. At least not truly.
I don't think Putin is a real person. I think he's escaped from some lost Ian Fleming novel, one that he wrote but never finished. It lies, forgotten, in a safe deposit box somewhere, and the pages are blank, because the idea inside was too powerful to be contained, and made itself flesh. My problem isn't that Putin is a dictator. He wouldn't be the first.
But when have we had to deal with a real-life, honest-to-goodness supervillain?
I don't know about the rest of you, but I for one am not looking forward to dealing with the nuclear bomb drills heading toward the Earth's core. A man can only do so much in a day.