Jazz. Fear. Those two words are never seen together. Jazz; a great up beat tune that has impacted musical history as well as American history. Fear; an emotion of uneasiness when the thought of danger is present. The feelings of the two are practically polar opposites. But the post-WWII USSR found these two words floating very close together in the same pool.
The film Stilyagi, shown above, depicts the world of the new youth of the 1940’s and 50’s. In the video, an underground dance party is taking place in what looks like a warehouse. A group of people, all dressed in dark clothes are silently infiltrating the party. As they spy on the party, you can see very revealing clothes of women and men in flashy suits. Jazz, the uplifting style of song, is playing and once the spies are found, fear sweeps into the crowd as they begin to scatter. Latter in the movie, the leader of this Anti-Stilyagi group speaks about them as if they are criminals. They may as well be potential terrorists.
But why are they so negative towards these rambunctious youth? This new American way scared people. Did they really want the future people of Russia to be supporting American ideals??? This fear of western culture was mainly protruded due to a rise of xenophobia. The government did not want any western influence to slip into Russia now that America and other Capitalist countries were practically at their doorstep. This meant stopping any loose lips, like depicted above, to flap out any Russia information. The constant though of spies being disguised as ordinary people leaked into the public. This fear also effected the Stilyagi. Where did this idea of American Jazz come from? Was it the spies trying to infect their terrible culture into the youth? All of this was fought during the Big Deal to keep Russia communist and socialist. Westerners were now the enemy. The USSR’s government had to do everything in their power, from laws to cultural influences, to stop this threat. They needed to stop any assistance to the Westerners from flowing out by silencing the workers of the government and military and to strike down the growing interest in western culture.
Picture: Electronic Museum of Russian Posters. 2004. (http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1947-2/xenophobia/xenophobia-images/#)
4 thoughts on “Dance off the Fear”
Funny, this reminded me of the movie Footloose (1984) with Kevin Bacon. The movie described a small town’s ban on dancing in the 1980s because they town believed dancing corrupted the minds and bodies of its youth. Soviet Russia took this concept to a new level by insinuating that dancing would allow Western ideals to infiltrate their unique society.
Interesting post. It seems that this was the beginning of the Soviet’s iron curtain. What sort of punishments were there for acting out in “Western-like” ways?
The video clip complemented your post very well. The Western clothes, music, and dancing later in the clip exemplify the youth counter-culture brewing in both in Russia and American in the post-war decades.
I’d never thought of the comparison with “Footloose,” but Casey P. is right — lots of similarities to the social dynamics there. It’s interesting that in the Soviet case, the youth most attracted to Western culture were from the privileged families of the Soviet elite. What kind of tensions do you think that produced?