November 17, 1998
by Julia Urackcheeva
[Editor's Note: Julia Urackcheeva is a second-year university student from Rostov-on-Don, Mobile's sister city in Russia. Ms. Urackcheeva will be filing stories on cultural life in Russia from Rostov- on-Don.]
An evening in front of the TV-screen is a traditional form of relaxation after a hard day of work . Most Russians are too lazy (or too tired) to go in for sports, too busy to read serious books, and practically every family has a TV.
There are 3 central TV-channels in Russia; the most popular one is "NTV". Its programs are spoken of as the most spicy, its journalists, the most talented.
At the same time, there are local TV-companies in big cities - in my hometown, Rostov-on-Don, too. People tune in to local news and the "alternative" programs of young TV journalists.
Generally everybody watches news programs. Some time ago we didn't know much - and didn't want to - about the Kremlin affairs, but now Russian society becomes more and more politicized. Two main topics are the economic crisis which is influencing people very much, and the situation with the President. The nearer we get to the 2000-elections, the more heated the arguments become. Will Yeltsin take part in his 2nd reelection? (which in and of itself contradicts the Constitution). That, as well as everyday reports of disasters around the world, makes news programs too pessimistic.
To provide some balance, entertaining programs are broadcast. Men watch football: last year they complained of the matches being shown late at night, but now - hooray! - they are shown in the early evening. The women, meanwhile, watch "soap operas". About 8 years ago Russian TV broadcast the 1st Brazilian one: it was a sensation! Since then Brazilian and Mexican "soap" stars are frequent visitors to our homes. But now the audience has become more choosey; it demands more intelligent and quality films. And the Russian cinematographers began shooting the "old good times" serials based on classical novels. Long dresses, Russian nobility - that age seemed much more romantic, than today's life. Though there are a lot of talented actors in Russia, Russian cinematography has known better times: One famous film-director, in particular, Nikita Mikhalkov is doing well. A few Russian films have been shot and have gained international awards. Unfortunately, we don't see them.
Of course, in recent years our television has changed dramatically. Being Soviet people, we were absolutely unaware of such things as "TV-advertising", talk shows or TV-gameshows. Now we have a lot of it. The movies are interrupted by the ads, some of them making people annoyed or confused ( graphic descriptions of women's hygiene products -- TAMPAX).
As for talk-shows, all the ideas are taken from the foreign TV experience. Some Russian projects are straight analogues of American ones. The show "MySelf" with Julia Menshova - the embodiment of elegant feminism - is as popular in our country as Oprah Winfrey's show in the USA.
Ask any Russian in the street - what does he know about the USA? "Clinton and Levinsky" - he will answer. For some reason, the affair was spoken of in great detail in our mass-media. Thanks to TV, the Russians know as much about it as Americans do, including Kenneth Starr's report. By the way, the majority of Russians sympathize with Clinton.
But what we really like watching are the Oscar Award ceremonies. It is dazzling and gives a rare opportunity to see the dresses and hairdos of Hollywood's celebrities (last year we were puzzled by the "casual" style and plain dress models).
All Russian TV-channels regularly show American films - alas, out-of-date ones - and Disney's cartoons. "Duck Tales" and "Chip & Dale" are accompanied by reports from Disneyworld - the place Russian kids dream to visit.
After all of America & Europe have seen them, we now enjoy "The X-Files". Better late than never! The famous "Santa Barbara" (soap opera) defined 2 kinds of Russian women: those who can't live without it, and those who laugh at it.
There is one outstanding show about the USA: "America with Mickhail Taratuta" . This journalist has been living in the United States for many years. His show depicts American life in all its variety, not as "dolce vita." Farmer's problems and how they solve them, exotic businesses, University students' money making, emigrants and fashion - America from the inside (besides the Ellis Island ?)!