18 March 2008

Notes on Underground...ish

I was talking to my mom yesterday and mentioned that I have a paper due this week (for the institute's scientific conference – "Notes on Some Lexical Characteristics of the Emerging Russian Variety of English," a.k.a. BS) as well as a belated St. Patrick's Day lesson/event to plan. "Two deadlines? Sounds like procrastination's in the forecast!" was her reply.

Oh, Mom. You know me all too well. This post is the result of Procrastination Effort #1. (Only #1 because I only just started counting.)

On Saturday's trip to Chaltyr', which was actually a trip to Tanais, we also went to Rostov, since we were practically there anyway. This trip was for the benefit of a German girl who's here doing a three-week internship at the airplane factory and the institute. As our little party (me; Julia, the German girl; the institute's German teacher; the institute's driver; and the driver's 12-year-old daughter, Anya) was strolling in Rostov, talkative young Anya spotted a shop selling hip, punk-ish/Goth-ish clothes. "Hey," she said. "A shop for emos!" Not realizing that the word is a borrowing, she turned to us and said, "Do you know what an emo is? Emo comes from the word 'эмоция' (emotion), and it's these psychos who try to kill themselves."

Ha. If I didn't know what 'emo' meant, that wouldn't leave me with a very clear idea, but I was amused by her 12-year-old's view of the world. Then I started thinking: what exactly is 'emo' in Russia? I know it has a lot of similarities to the American emo subculture (if something that corporately driven and mass produced is really a subculture), but I wonder if there aren't also differences? That is, do these kinds of trends or movements tend to shift between cultures relatively intact, or do they change significantly in transit?

I don't have an answer, because I don't have any emo students or acquaintances to ask or judge by. It would be interesting to find out, though, because in general my impression is that deviation from the norm into a subculture is still a lot less common, and therefore more difficult, in Russian society than in American. As such, it seems like it becomes much more a part of a person's identity; for instance, walking down the street wearing Goth clothes in Russia, you stick out from the crowd more than you do in the U.S., thus subjecting yourself to harsher judgment. And that makes it more of an investment.

There are other differences, too; for one, Russia today is still emerging from a Soviet culture where overt nonconformity was discouraged; for another, Russians generally seem to take their hobbies and lifestyles seriously, adopting much less of a Jack-of-all-trades approach to their free time than Westerners do. A musician is a musician. An athlete is an athlete. Why would you try to be more than one? (Russians are often nonplussed by the fact that I play an instrument, go to fitness classes, and turn out knitted items on a regular basis. Not to mention the blog!) Considering all that, one would think that the kids who get into various subcultures would feel pretty proprietary of them, and that that in turn would lead to innovation.

But this, like the paper I'm supposed to be working on, is kind of BS. I'm no anthropologist.

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