This isn’t satire and I’m not making this up. When an obscure American satirical blog, The Daily Currant, posted a funny spoof titled, Russia Shoots Down Santa’s Sleigh Near North Pole, the story quickly became viral on the Russian Internet thanks to the Russian-language version of the RT website, which translated several excerpts and posted them with some editorial comments.
This is where the “life imitates satire” part begins. While everyone realized this was a joke, many Russian readers, swept by the current wave of militant nationalism, turned the comment sections of blogs and news websites into an anti-American hate-fest, gloating over Santa’s death, praising Russia’s military, disparaging Western consumerism, and wishing that Western leaders attending Santa’s funeral on the North Pole would drown along with St. Nick’s dead body. Some even expressed concern that certain nitwits out there may think the story is real and will draw incorrect conclusions about Russia’s peaceful policies. All of them unwittingly proved the point of the Daily Currant’s satire:
Several ultra-nationalist politicians in Moscow have praised the downing, which targeted a popular Western celebrity. “Santa Claus is a symbol of Western decadence and consumerism,” said Alexei Onnatopp, leader of the far-right Golden Bear party. “Whoever killed this fat, corrupt man is a patriot and a hero.”
But it gets curioser. Some serious publications, such as the Moscow-based business daily Vzglyad (Viewpoint) and the National Defense magazine, added to the controversy by describing this satire as vicious imperialist propaganda, unleashed by the U.S. government against Russia and its glorious president, Vladimir Putin.
Below is my somewhat shortened translation of the article from Vzglyad, which is chillingly reminiscent of the Pravda editorials of the Cold War era.
Foreign jokesters reported the sensational news: Russian military has allegedly destroyed the sleigh of Santa Claus over the Arctic Ocean, on his way to deliver gifts. Jokes aside, experts believe that this story draws an analogy with the real tragedy of the downed Boeing over Ukraine and the world’s reaction to it. They see this “news” as yet another wave of attacks in the information campaign organized by the West against Russia.
American satirical blog The Daily Currant reported that Russia’s Air Defense shot down Santa’s sleigh over the Arctic Ocean, with a missile launched from the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.
According to the source, fragments of the sled were allegedly found in Arctic waters by a “Norwegian fisherman.” He said that Santa and most of his reindeer have died, except for the famous Rudolph, who was quickly identified by the red nose, reports RT.
“Although Russia has officially denied involvement in the incident, U.S. intelligence forces say they have proof the missile was fired from a Russian military installation on the island,” the joke goes on. “Several ultra-nationalist politicians in Moscow have praised the downing, which targeted a popular Western celebrity.”
Washington, meanwhile, vowed an “appropriate response to the tragedy,” the article says. President Barack Obama, in particular, promised the tightening of sanctions against Moscow. “Vladimir Putin has threatened the hopes and dreams of children around the world. He will be brought to justice,” the website quotes the American president.
Yet another provocation
According to the editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine, Igor Korotchenko, we can laugh at this “news,” but we can also draw some disturbing conclusions.
“This is just more of the same information war that is being waged against our country,” he said. “Santa’s flight is of an entirely virtual nature, it is modeled on NORAD computers, and no one ever actually observes any flying objects. This is to some extent a tribute to the Western New Year’s culture.”
“As for the sensationalist news that the Russians have shot someone down over the North Pole – and not just anyone, but Santa Claus’s sleigh… This is another attempt to continue with the devious smear campaign, to reinforce in the heads of the narrow-minded Westerners the previously disseminated lie that it was Russia’s fault that the Malaysian Boeing had been shot down over Ukraine. What they’re telling us is this: look, Russians are now so brutal, they’re even shooting down Santa Claus,” added Korochenko.
According to him, not everyone will see this as a joke. “For some people in the West who are ignorant of certain technical subtleties, for those children who believe in Santa Claus, this news undermines their New Year expectations (the speaker once again confuses the New Year with Christmas – O.A.). That is, there is an ongoing effort to demonize Russia by means of such vulgar and repugnant injections of manufactured information,” said the head of the National Defense magazine.
He also commented in jest that Russia’s Aerospace Defense would surely “provide Santa Claus and his escort the necessary corridor and would not only shoot it down, but would give it the green light all the way.”
The military expert also advised that the (American) authors of the jocular provocation should see a psychiatrist and “check themselves for certain phobias that make them look bad.”
I kid you not. The article further recalls the crash of the Malaysian Boeing-777 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, which killed 298 people on board. This is followed by an obligatory recitation of “alternative” versions of events and conspiracy theories that have since been disseminated by Russia’s state-run news agencies, ending with blaming the U.S. and other Western governments of immediately “using this tragedy in their information war against Russia,” citing such “notorious warmongers” as Obama and Biden.
“By the way,” writes Vzglyad, “we would be interested in hearing the comments about the Santa’s sled ‘downed’ over the Russian Arctic from certain representatives of the U.S. government, such as, the spokesperson for the Department of State, Jen Psaki. Will she also lay the responsibility on Moscow? And in how many hours after the ‘tragedy’?”
It remains unclear if the quoted Russian journalists seriously believe that Barack Obama’s government had orchestrated The Daily Currant’s satire, or they are simply throwing out clues for inflamed minds to connect the dots. In any event, such simultaneously parochial and angry articles have lately become more of a rule than an exception in Russia, inadvertently illustrating the pitiful intellectual and moral condition to which the official media and about 80% of its audiences have been reduced to by Putin’s “postmodern” dictatorship.
Having grown up in the USSR and seeing the workings of the Soviet propaganda first-hand, I used to attribute the success of the centralized, state-sponsored ideological brainwashing to the lack of competition. The unholy trinity of the Party, the State, and the KGB had conveniently blocked all outside sources of information, enjoying an absolute, 70-year-long propaganda monopoly in the media, culture, and education.
But today’s success of Putin’s propaganda machine operating in the open information space has put that idea to rest.
It’s important to realize that to a Soviet citizen, “propaganda” was not a derogatory term, but rather an inevitable default setting of the Cold War reality. The so-called “Propaganda Departments” officially functioned in the open, disseminating “correct” opinions about various events happening domestically and internationally, to be repeated by the Soviet media and internalized by the population. Thus propaganda was generally accepted as an essential, even vital part of life: our “good” propaganda was necessary to immunize us from their “evil” propaganda.
My generation grew up believing that we were surrounded by deadly imperialist enemies, whose capitalist media, motivated by hatred and money, conducted a planned, centralized, state-sponsored ideological brainwashing of their own populations, in addition to manufacturing anti-Soviet propaganda for distribution inside the USSR.
Years later, it took a lot of effort on my part to dismantle, metaphorically speaking, the intricate system of curved mirrors and screens that had been installed in our heads by the “benevolent” propaganda with our own consent. In our defense, we didn’t know better at the time. What’s this generation’s excuse? And what causes a sizeable number of people in the West to fall for the propaganda coming out of the Kremlin today?
A Western reader must also realize that in modern Russia the term “propaganda” has outlived its usefulness and has been replaced with a more comprehensive term, “political technologies.” “Political technologies” is a science of massive mind manipulation that has been perfected in Russia to a state of art – dark art, to be sure – involving politics, sociology, psychology, public relations, marketing, advertising, as well as a great deal of cynicism and corruption. In comparison, Barack Obama’s election campaigns, OFA, Acorn, and Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals are mere child’s play.
And, just as erstwhile Propaganda Departments, modern Russia’s “political technologists” operate in the open, protected by the general acceptance of a planted notion that the rest of the world also lives by these rules: “everyone is doing it, and if it’s our political technologists against theirs, we’ll be better off sticking with ours.”
The 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire once said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” That is, indeed, a great trick, but hardly the greatest. The devil’s even greater and, therefore, less known trick, was to convince the world that God is just as much of an evil, corrupt, and conniving trickster as he is, if not worse. The acceptance that both sides are morally equal has allowed the devil to stop living incognito, get out into the big wide world, start a legitimate business, print out business cards with his real name and contact information, put his face on a billboard, and make a good living by consulting the Russian government.
If truth and justice are nowhere to be found and every political system is equally evil and corrupt, the only way to survive it is to stick to your own kind, right or wrong. Hence, the fervent nationalism and xenophobia that are sweeping Putin’s Russia, now officially endorsed by the President and blessed by the corrupt Russian Orthodox Church.
Perhaps, the most effective and harmful “curved mirror” that had been planted in the minds of the Russian public since the times of the previous Cold War was the idea that nothing happens in the Western world outside the control of the “capitalist ruling class,” and that everything that gets written or published in the Western media has been carefully orchestrated by the powers to be.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Western “ruling classes” in this picture are indistinguishable from Russia’s ruling classes except for the foreign, harder-to-pronounce names – and now they even get their suits made by the same fashion designers.
Living in a non-Western totalitarian country with state-run media, it’s easy to believe that American and European “imperialists” are likewise running a well-oiled, state-run, and centrally operated propaganda machine that manufactures and distributes cynical disinformation. Such a perception affects even those Russians who are sympathetic towards America and Europe, distorting their judgment of events – let alone those with an aversion to all things Western.
By convincing people that “the enemy” is engaging in the same kind of propaganda and disinformation as the domestic state-run media does, Putin’s “political technologists” have as much as cloned the Iron Curtain, placing its small replicas in millions of individual heads. The individual, portable Iron Curtain works even better than the former big one that encircled the entire country: it effectively captures and filters out any “undesirable” information even if the carrier speaks English, watches Fox News, browses the World-Wide Web, or travels overseas.
Not only is the Kremlin pulling this trick domestically – for the longest time it has been exporting this thoroughly foreign idea to the Western world, where it already has taken root and blossomed in perverse imaginations of conspiracy theorists (World Trade Center, Kennedy assassination, etc.), as well as various leftist intellectuals in the media, Hollywood, and academia.
Some of my American friends will argue that the Western media is indeed a well-oiled, centrally operated propaganda machine – except that it is controlled, not so much by the capitalists as by their opponents on the international Left. I’d say those are apples and oranges. But whatever the case, it is ridiculous to suggest that The Daily Currant is controlled from the same bunker as The New York Times.
The notion that nothing in the West happens outside the control of the ruling class is, of course, a forced projection on the part of “projectionists” – previously of the Soviet totalitarianism and now of the so-called “postmodern” or “soft” totalitarianism as it exists in Russia today.
Such projections are usually effective in destroying and demoralizing the opponent, but they also have a weak spot. The projected picture can give us a good preview of what the “projectionists” are up to themselves. In this case, the plans and the mindset of Putin’s political technologists are clearly visible in the talking points and the choice of words of the above media and defense “experts”:
…Ongoing effort to demonize Russia… Vulgar and repugnant injections of manufactured information… Devious smear campaign, to reinforce in the heads of the narrow-minded Westerners the previously disseminated lie… Information campaign organized by the West against Russia… Yet another provocation… More of the same information war that is being waged against our country…
Quite some time ago I have discovered a rule that is being proven over and over by current events: the dark image of the “evil and corrupt” Western societies that the Kremlin rulers have always painted to the world is, in fact, precisely the dystopia we would all have lived in had the same rulers taken over the world.
The latest example is the eastern Ukraine. First, the Kremlin uses its subservient media to “zombify” many Russians, as well as some sympathetic Ukrainians and Westerners, into believing that the recent Ukrainian revolution was engineered and paid for by the U.S. government according to a widely publicized but a completely paranoid, manufactured scenario. Next, the Kremlin itself enacts exactly the same scenario in the Crimea and the eastern regions of Ukraine, saying that if the Americans could pull it off, so can the Russians, and be entirely justified in doing so. Right away, a host of FSB, SVR, and GRU agents infiltrate Ukraine to stage a “popular” uprising against the Ukrainian “junta” – an uprising that wouldn’t last a day without the Kremlin’s money, weapons, military intelligence, and the non-stop media propaganda.
The result is two self-proclaimed “people’s republics” called DPR and LPR – or, rather, two devastated, impoverished, angry, and crime-ridden quasi-socialist dystopias ruled by rival military gangs, with no hope for the future and no signs of healing in sight. The Crimea was spared the war due to a quick annexation by Russia, but the situation there isn’t much better.
The previous Cold War was fought not just on the proxy battlefields of the Third World; a much bigger and a more important fight was happening on the information battlefield worldwide – a battlefield of perceptions that was conceived, designed, and almost entirely controlled by the Kremlin. That was how America lost Vietnam – not to the North Vietnamese Army, but to the Soviet propaganda machine operating in the West.
Make no mistake, Putin has already started a new Cold War against the United States, fighting it with the same methods and using the same networks he inherited from the old KGB, which he himself used to be a part of. It’s time America stopped pretending this isn’t happening and began to fight back.