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Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture

Eliot Borenstein

Publication Year: 2007

Perestroika and the end of the Soviet Union transformed every aspect of life in Russia, and as hope began to give way to pessimism, popular culture came to reflect the anxiety and despair felt by more and more Russians. Free from censorship for the first time in Russia's history, the popular culture industry (publishing, film, and television) began to disseminate works that featured increasingly explicit images and descriptions of sex and violence.

In Overkill, Eliot Borenstein explores this lurid and often-disturbing cultural landscape in close, imaginative readings of such works as You're Just a Slut, My Dear! (Ty prosto shliukha, dorogaia!), a novel about sexual slavery and illegal organ harvesting; the Nympho trilogy of books featuring a Chechen-fighting sex addict; and the Mad Dog and Antikiller series of books and films recounting, respectively, the exploits of the Russian Rambo and an assassin killing in the cause of justice. Borenstein argues that the popular cultural products consumed in the post-perestroika era were more than just diversions; they allowed Russians to indulge their despair over economic woes and everyday threats. At the same time, they built a notion of nationalism or heroism that could be maintained even under the most miserable of social conditions, when consumers felt most powerless.

For Borenstein, the myriad depictions of deviance in pornographic and also crime fiction, with their patently excessive and appalling details of social and moral decay, represented the popular culture industry's response to the otherwise unimaginable scale of Russia's national collapse. "The full sense of collapse," he writes, "required a panoptic view that only the media and culture industry were eager to provide, amalgamating national collapse into one master narrative that would then be readily available to most individuals as a framework for understanding their own suffering and their own fears."

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-8


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The average human body contains between five and six liters of blood. The average Russian novel and film contain far more. Nor is blood the only bodily fluid that threatens to spill out onto the page and the screen: contemporary Russian books, films, and televisions shows abound with beautiful women who are sexually available by definition ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This project has been with me for over a decade and has benefited from the insight and support of so many people that I am afraid I cannot possibly remember them all. David Bethea, Clare Cavanagh, Arlene Forman, and Judith Kornblatt, my teachers before this work began, continue to inspire me with their example and their observations. ...

Note on Transliteration and Translations

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pp. xvii-xviii

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pp. 1-23

Less than half a year before Russia’s relations with the United States were soured by the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, the Russian State Duma began a war of words about an issue of no apparent significance, although its subject was literally earth-shattering: the Hollywood blockbuster Armageddon, ...

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1. About That: Sex and Its Metaphors

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pp. 24-50

Walk into any sex shop in Moscow, and with enough cash or the right credit card, you can buy a perfect plastic replica of international porn star Jeff Stryker’s erect penis. Clearly, the penetration of the Russian market has been a success. ...

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2. Stripping the Nation Bare: Pornography as Politics

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pp. 51-76

While it is impossible to know just how many readers have found themselves sexually aroused by Vladimir Sorokin’s description of oral and anal intercourse between Soviet leaders, his novel Goluboe salo (Blue Lard 1999)1 managed to elicit the other response so often provoked by so-called pornography: outrage and prosecution. ...

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3. Pimping the Motherland: Russia Bought and Sold

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pp. 77-97

As Western ships approached a port in Sevastopol, Ukraine, in late April of 1997, a group of prostitutes lined up to greet them. Given the long-standing connection between shore leave and sex for hire, this was hardly unusual in and of itself, but these women planned a welcome with pickets rather than open arms. ...

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4. To Be Continued: Death and the Art of Serial Storytelling

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pp. 98-126

Violent crime in popular entertainment is first and foremost a question of storytelling. On the most basic level, violence demands more story than does sex. Consider, for example, the extreme cases in popular entertainment directed at roughly the same demographic (men): in pornography, storytelling is kept to a minimum, ...

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5.Women Who Run with the Wolves

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pp. 127-158

At first glance, the blood-soaked landscape of 1990s popular entertainment would appear numbingly monotonous. How many different ways can people be beaten, assaulted, and killed in the course of fifty minutes or four hundred pages? The cultural hegemony of violent crime in virtually all media (prose fiction, television, and film) ...

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6. Men of Action: Heroic Melodrama and the Passion of Mad Dog

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pp. 159-194

Readers of the first volume of Viktor Dotsenko’s memoirs, Mad Dog’s Father (2000), had to wait over four hundred pages for the author to describe the turning point in his life: the birth of his fictional son, Savelii Govorkov, better known as Beshenyi (“Mad Dog”).1 Dotsenko’s paternal pride fits a common model of male authorship, ...

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7. Overkill: Bespredel and Gratuitous Violence

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pp. 195-224

In 1999, the reading public was treated to a new addition to the emerging canon of Russian pulp fiction: a potboiler by Sergei Pugachev entitled You’re Just a Slut, My Dear! Even in a market where lurid paperback covers are taken for granted, You’re Just a Slut, My Dear! stands out for its explicit sexualized violence: ...

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Conclusion: Someone Like Putin

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pp. 225-240

In the summer of 2002, an unknown female duo called Singing Together (Poiushchie vmeste) released a surprise hit, literally singing the praises of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the man who became president of the Russian Federation after Boris Yeltsin’s unexpected resignation on the last New Year’s Eve of the 1990s. ...

Works Cited

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pp. 241-258


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pp. 259-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463457
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801445835

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 729687198
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Overkill

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Popular culture -- Russia (Federation).
  • Sex in popular culture -- Russia (Federation).
  • Violence in popular culture -- Russia (Federation).
  • Sex in mass media.
  • Violence in mass media.
  • Popular literature -- Russia (Federation) -- History and criticism.
  • Post-communism -- Social aspects -- Russia (Federation).
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