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Published: 28.11.2013. Category: Tattoo Pictures

A middle-aged woman lies on a rug, propped provocatively on one elbow; spread out next to her is a gigantic catfish. As with a lot of recent virals, the lure for punters is the promise of something weird and inexplicable — fresh meme-meat for a jaded online audience. It is no coincidence, then, that in the past few years Russia has become a rich hunting ground for easily consumable visual content (This special relationship took on an official character when market leader Buzzfeed chose the Guardian’s Russia correspondent Miriam Elder as its new foreign editor). Second, because the Russian language is incomprehensible to most, the images are unmoored from any context and become more open to different interpretations. Finally, Russia works as a viral brand because most people at least both know what and where it is, and have a few preconceptions that will tempt them into clicking a link. A quick look at the comments below these articles seems to suggest that Russia is returning to its traditional position in global culture, after the long aberration of the twentieth century. This reputation for untrammelled emotion originated long ago, but was interrupted by the Cold War, which turned Russia into a byword for scientistic rationalism.

Across the eras the idea of Russia as a spiritually freer, less rule-bound alternative to western society has prevailed.
A young man in a wifebeater and bandana wields an AK47 in his right hand and a vacuum cleaner in his left.
In the attention marketplace of the internet aggregator, novel ranks high on the list of virtues, alongside simple, sexy and feline.
Russianness has, it seems, become a powerful online brand, a good way of guaranteeing clicks and thus ad revenue. First, there is indeed a certain aesthetic that means a photograph can be identified as originating in Russia, or at least the Russophone post-Soviet space: the ubiquitous wall-rugs, the squatting men in tracksuits, the omnipresent combed-down fringes. Luckily for online aggregators, reports on these quasi-medieval governmental invasions into bedrooms and classrooms are also eminently clickable. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are accepting our use of cookies as described in our Cookie policy.

An inability to read Russian means you can turn a blind eye to existing explanations, and to the actual origin of most images — many pictures in the dating selection had nothing to do with online romance at all. The polarities of the Cold War era, when Russia was constructed as the opposite of the dominant American culture, are now over. This image is also, of course, eagerly promoted and exploited by Russians looking to emphasise their spiritual exceptionalism. The internet’s penchant for mix-and-matching evil tyrant stories with freewheeling freakshows also feels like a return to pre-Soviet models. To rescue its online reputation, therefore, Russia needs a collection of YouTube-era Dostoevskys and Gogols, native Russians who can keep in all the trademark crazy that westerners love, but inject it with homegrown genius and rational, intellectual brilliance.

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