How do you start an international culture war? Grab a ski mask and guitar, and champion the female sex organ in a sacred Russian church.
Pussy Riot, the feminist band that created global shock waves after their minute long performance in Moscow’s largest cathedral, proves that a strong voice and knowledge of the world wide web can send you places. Currently serving seven years in Siberian work camp for “hooliganry,” as described by President Putin, the group has socially martyred themselves as representatives of the repressed eastern European female.
As unjustly accused proponents of free speech trying to send a vital message to Russian authorities about misogyny and the suppression of basic rights, Pussy Riot performs spontaneously in major Russian landmarks chosen to cause the greatest amount of public maelstrom. They burn effigies of Vladimir Putin, hop over barbed wire to reach prime Moscow rooftops, and repel off the walls of the Kremlin. Their latest international stunt was their performance at Moscow’s largest and most holy cathedral, which earned the three main members their prison sentence. They have sparked a global uproar, putting in motion support rallies across Europe and the States, drawing attention to ludicrous Russian laws that reek of tyrannical censorship.
But the reason they are so successful is not that Pussy Riot is necessarily independent or wholly original, but that they never perform without ensuring someone films them- and then puts the segment on YouTube. Though their cathedral performance only lasted 30 seconds, they had filmed themselves in an attic performing the entire song, and their lyrics are forever immortalized (you’d be surprised how catchy “shit, shit, it’s God shit” sounds in Russian). Coming from a country with so little traditional democratic freedom, Pussy Riot understood that the way to international renown and attention for their causes was through social media and the ability for others to engage and comment on it, whether through YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or many of the group’s websites.
It is no surprise that Pussy Riot builds on other feminist bands (we can certainly draw connections to the 90s Riot Grrrl movement) but the group separates themselves from the pack by getting the attention of larger figures in the arts that support similar causes. Yoko Ono and Madonna have both made public announcements demanding the band’s release, and the American feminist band Peaches organized a record-breaking music video called “Free Pussy Riot” which shows people all over the world protesting the Pussy Riot jailers.
Recently a UK independent film company released ‘Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer”, documenting the womens’ history and court procedures. None of this was by accident- when interviewed each woman says in her own way “I am so thankful for the media this has attracted.” We have entered a world in which we can be conscious of the possibilities of our actions- we know the path to creating an upsurge in public awareness. Like the Guerrilla Girls and Riot Grrrl before them, this performance art group upholds that anyone can be Pussy Riot- and that’s the point. They wear brightly colored ski masks to cover individual features and show that any girl has the ability to join the movement- all they have to do is watch the clip, tweet, Facebook post and tell someone else about it. Social media has helped translate their message in the most applicable way possible: it doesn’t matter if you speak Russian or know anything about Russian law, all you have to do is watch the closed captioning and see the muscley guards wrestle young women off their makeshift stage. Pussy Riot gives us a glimpse into the future of the positive effects of social media- and the way to create a firestorm of coverage and recognition by clicking “submit”.