Hijacking the Protest

Madonna performs wearing Pussy Riot's trademark balaclava during her Moscow concert

“You are a fake. Like your music and your mind.”

This Youtube comment is just one of the many directed towards American pop music icon Madonna in response to her Pussy Riot speech made during her recent concert in Russia.

Selected quotes from Madonna’s speech include:

“I think that these 3 girls Masha, Katya, and Nadia, Yes. I think that they have done something courageous, I think that they have payed the price for this act and.. I pray for their freedom.”

 “Lets hope that one day that we really will live in a world filled with peace and freedom and tolerance”

 “Are you with me?  Are you with me? Fuck Yeah ! Don’t you know how to swear in Russian?”

“Pussy Riot” are a collection of art activists who stage events designed to make political and cultural statements.  One such event was a 40 second punk music performance in a Russian Church. The act was directed towards Russian leader Vladimir Putin in which 3 balaclava – clad members sang “Punk Prayer Mother of God Drive Putin Away”. The protest was quickly shut down and two of the members have now spent over 8 months in a prison colony in central Russia.

Last week The Guardian conducted an interview with Nadezhda “Nadya” Tolokonnikova, one of the two jailed members, who is more resolved than ever to be a voice of dissent in Putin’s Russia. From the perspective of “Pussy Riot” the support of the west shouldn’t be turned into a commercial opportunity or protest without substance.

Like Madonna, other commercial music giants have demonstrated support for this form of Guerilla style activism in Russia. A crass opportunism also takes place when an entertainment billionaire takes on a cause to boost their own credibility, even in the form of selling unauthorised Pussy Riot T-Shirts from their website.

Yekaterina Samutsevich, one member of the group, says:

 “The only performances we’ll participate in are illegal ones. We refuse to perform as part of the capitalist system, at concerts where they sell tickets”.

 “Any person can put on a balaclava, it’s all very good, but it’s important that the ideas are not warped”

Western artists like Madonna run the risk of trivializing cultural freedoms when warping genuine protest. Coaxing Russian audiences to be dissentful and chant “Fuck Yeah” at her concerts is disrespectful and almost a disneyfication of human rights.

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