Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Decline and Fall
I wonder what they are saying in Russia about the country's performance in the Olympic figure skating competition. Shut out of the women's and pairs competition, they muster only Plushenko's silver and a bronze for Dobnina and Shabalin. Gone is the legendary Russian elegance, the impression that the ice had been annexed by the Bolshoi ballet. Russian figure skating could entice even Cold War kids into a fleeting, forbidden admiration. How could an enemy be so evil if they produced such beautiful people?
Of course they weren't all graceful. Some were defined more by pragmatic bullishness and angry haircuts. Plushenko lost on style, not athleticism. Most startling were those scary outfits of Dobnina and Shabalin, as if Diaghilev were pushing them out there to shock the bourgeoisie. Their bodies were entwined with ropes, as if they were into bondage rather than ballet.
I see on wikipedia that the total medals won by Russia and the Soviet Union combined is the same as the US's haul: 44 medals. With the center of the skating world clearly shifting toward Asia, this marks the end of one of the most attractive products of the socialist machine. It's confusing too that Russians, women especially, are so ascendent in the tennis world, a phenomenon that only began with the fall of the Soviet Union. Why would socialism be good for skating but bad for tennis, while authoritarian capitalism is good for tennis but bad for skating? Or is something changing in Russian culture itself?