The dissolution of the USSR left Russia ripe for visual reinterpretation. With the Cold War over we wanted to see who these freshly freed former Communists were. These pictures depicting Russia not as the complex place it is, but in comparison to our own domestic self image.
The 1990 opening of Moscow’s first McDonald’s was an easy symbol for Western media to glom onto, as were other iterations of a nascent consumer culture “emerging” after decades of Soviet dormancy. Subjects finally had the choice between Snickers and blue jeans, pizza or cocktails. The “New Russians” phenomenon further reinforced an image of a class of nouveau riche embracing their innate capitalist tendencies.
Even representations of diverse experience became a means for underlining the split between socialism and capitalism, and pictures from the time often present quirky mashups of Soviet clichés with emblems of Westernization. The implication is that Russians were on a path that would eventually, inevitably, lead them to middle class bliss.
All of this is preferable to the anemic grayness that proceeded. Russians are always so depressed and moody. They should really try smiling more. Or drinking more Coke.
|Hundreds of Muscovites line up around the first McDonald’s restaurant in the Soviet Union on its opening day, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 1990. (AP Photo)|
|After the Soviet Union dissolved, depictions of Russia’s nouveau-riche surfaced as garish and eccentric stereotypes. (Robert Wallis/Corbis via Getty Images)|
|Billboards for pizza and President Boris Yeltsin, who was running for reelection in 1996, above a Moscow road in 1996. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)|
|Russians eat American style pizza from a truck in Moscow’s Red Square, May 28, 1988. (AP Photo/Dieter Endlicher)|