Did Madonna, Bono and ‘radical chic’ cause a Pussy Riot split?

Agit-prop collective broken on the wheel of fawning Western media

From Russia with bile: Masha and Nadya are reportedly in the doghouse back home

From Russia with bile: Masha and Nadya are reportedly in the doghouse back home

Fri, Feb 14, 2014, 00:00

In response to a bunch of arty liberals inviting members of the Black Panthers to a swanky New York dinner party in the 1970s, author Tom Wolfe coined the phrase “radical chic” to describe “the adoption and promotion of radical political causes by celebrities, socialites and high society . . . an exercise in defining oneself through committed allegiance to a radical cause while demonstrating this allegiance because it is the fashionable, au courant way to be seen”.

Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alyokhina of Pussy Riot, now on a high-profile media tour of Europe and the US, have had a good look at how the West does “radical chic” these days. Introducing the duo at a New York show, born-again radical Madonna described herself as “a freedom fighter”. That would be a freedom fighter who defends the exorbitant price of her concert tickets by blithely saying “people spend $300 all the time on things like handbags. So work all year, scrape the money together and come to my show – I’m worth it.”

Poor Nadya and Masha then had to put up with Yoko Ono droning on to them about her “bed-ins” for world peace before escaping to a party – paid for by Bono, according to the Wall Street Journal – where, as one newspaper headline had it, “A-list celebs celebrate the Russian activists at a chic Manhattan hot spot”.

Celebs, Madonna, A-list, Bono, general radical chic . . . it’s hardly surprising that Nadya and Masha have now being sacked from the band for behaving in a manner which is “highly contradictory to the principles of Pussy Riot”.

The remaining six, mostly anonymous, bandmates said that “unfortunately for us they are being so carried away with the problems in Russian prisons that they completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group – feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult.”

Pussy Riot were aghast that the poster advertising the Masha/Nadya New York appearance was of “a man in a balaclava with an electric guitar under the name of Pussy Riot, while the organisers smartly called for people to buy expensive tickets – all this is an extreme contradiction of the principles of our female separatist collective – we charge no fees, we don’t sell tickets to ‘shows’”.

This was a After this none-too-subtle dig at the A-list-celebs-at-chic-Manhattan hot-spot story, Pussy Riot also said that Masha and Nadya “refuse to have any contact with us”.

Nadya and Masha are now at the Berlin Film Festival talking about the offers they’ve received for a Hollywood film based on their lives. And they’re hitting back at their expulsion from Pussy Riot. The letter sacking them, the two say, “doesn’t follow the ideology of Pussy Riot – Pussy Riot can be anyone and no one can be excluded from Pussy Riot”.

But the letter’s references to straying from core ideological principles and the use of the phrase “personality cult” suggests a faction row. Madonna, Bono, a Hollywood film: has the Western love bomb caused a Masha-and-Nadya-vs-The Continuity-Pussy-Riot conflict?

Masha and Nadya say their desire now “is for other people who have this same kind of microphone, this celebrity, to stand up too”. For the Pussy Rioters back in Moscow, that may have been a dilution of what they believe in and a compromise too far. Expect this to run and run.

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