The results of the 2016 election were received with mixed emotions: Enthusiasm and hope from Trump voters, fear and anger from the rest. While the reality is long-accepted and many Americans have moved past their disdain, there’s one aspect of the election that many are still hung up on: Trump, Russia and possible collusion.
Everyone knows about the political aspect of this fallout: Investigations were conducted, the Mueller Report was published and news outlets with different leanings were fighting to control the narrative of the evidence and what it could mean for the Trump presidency.
What nobody seems to realize — or talk about — is how this feud between nations has trickled into the media we consume for pleasure. There seems to be underlying tones of anti-Russian sentiments and a strong hatred for communism (often associated with democratic socialism, both of which are slowly becoming popular with Millennials and Gen Z-ers). At first glance, it seems like nothing is out of the ordinary; but when reexamined with a critical eye, the Russophobic themes become more clear, and the content feels out-of-place.
The first bit of media to be guilty of this American bias is the HBO docu-series “Chernobyl.” The series plot is in the name: The nuclear disaster is brought to life, taking viewers through how the accident happened, who was involved and what the aftermath looked like. While the multitude of reviews consisted of praise for the drama and emotions the series evoked, the show has also been met with criticism over inaccuracies and exaggerations made.
Speculations and critics aside, it seems that survivors of the Chernobyl explosion would agree with the claims of exaggeration. In an interview with Newsweek, former Chernobyl plant engineer Oleksiy Breus says the main characters were “distorted and misrepresented as if they were villains” and the show contained “many stereotypes… typical of Western portrayal of the Soviet Union.” Others have called the show “pro-western propaganda” and a caricature of the truth.
In my perspective, the thing that Chernobyl gets wrong is how the director chose to frame the series. Rather than focusing on the victims, the science behind the crisis or anything else remotely sympathetic, the main takeaway seems to be that Russia was at fault, Russia’s government is sneaky and cannot be trusted and that the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union is proof that communism cannot work. It radiates a sense of apathy for the victims, almost as if the director made the series not to honor them or the scientists, but to scrutinize another country in a time of unprecedented crisis.
The latest season of Stranger Things is undoubtedly the more popular example of recent Russophobia in American media. The show started out as a celebration and revival of nostalgia for 80s culture, with an interesting sci-fi twist that attracted multitudes of viewers. Season 3 feels different than the previous two, mostly due to the underlying paranoia and anxiety of a nuclear war that will never actually happen. The show reveals that the USSR wants to use the Upside-Down to gain an advantage in the Cold War, and spies are sent to Hawkins to work at a massive underground research facility. More themes of fear are evident when a monster from the Upside-Down begins to take control over the minds and bodies of local people, who then become blobs, all part of a bigger hive-minded monster. This invasion speaks to the greater theme of fear of communists invading America, corrupting the minds of freedom-loving, free-thinking Americans; all of which are typical Cold War-era Russophobic sentiments.
Aside from fear, the show portrays American culture to be brave and victorious in the face of a challenge. One of the Soviet scientists decides to join the American team, because the USSR and its values are beginning to seem evil compared to a joyous Fourth of July carnival complete with fireworks. The mind-control monster is also defeated at this carnival by way of fireworks, clearly symbolizing how Americans “won” against the evil monster that was the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War; and therefore, a democratic republic is clearly superior to a communist state.
The end of the Cold War marked the end of a historical era to political scientists like Francis Fukuyama. The good guys won, so now the world could move on into a new time of peace and prosperity, right? Well, not exactly. The U.S. economy had a terrible crash in 2008 and since the end of the Cold War, the country has been at war with various countries in the Middle East. Wages are still low and the cost of living is still high. Medical bills and college debt loom over any family not a part of the elite one percent. Climate change continues to cause unprecedented natural disasters. Fascism is on the rise in the U.S. and Europe. Tensions among countries, like the U.S., Iran and the DPRK, still run high as high-tech, sometimes nuclear weapons are being made and tested.
As an American, this feels far different than the peace and prosperity we were promised after the Cold War. America likes to claim it won the war because it was the first to land a man on the moon and witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, and eventually the USSR. But after all that’s happened since, I don’t feel like a winner at all.
Maybe it’s because the U.S. is too afraid it lost to Russia; maybe it’s because they refuse to acknowledge that there’s an alternative to capitalism. Either way, it’s clear that suspicion of and hatred for Russia is an American value. Americans on both sides of the aisle don’t hesitate to be the boy that cried wolf, or in this case the senator that cried Russians, after Russia does one small thing.
And once everyone begins to feel like the wolf, the wolf presents itself in the media, because that’s just how our culture works.
Feature photo courtesy of Shop Catalog.
Liz Collins is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.