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How Pussy Riot Bamboozled the Media

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
If Justin Bieber or the Rolling Stones suddenly decided to stage an impromptu concert in a public place somewhere in America without a permit, would the authorities ignore it and shrug it off? Doubtful. Even buskers performing in the New York City subway system can't play without formal authorization from the city.

What about taking such a musical performance into a church? If Jennifer Lopez or Madonna just showed up in a place of worship, stripped down to their skivvies and started dancing around the altar, would that fly in any Western democracy? Not likely.

So why, then, are three young women in Russia getting so much sympathy from the mainstream media for doing precisely this inside a Russian Orthodox church?

Last week, three members of the activist group Pussy Riot were each sentenced to two years in prison for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. The group's members are part of a larger protest group called Voina, which has previously been involved in various acts of public nuisance, including group sex in a museum and shoplifting a whole chicken from a supermarket by stuffing into an activist's lady parts.

Voina and Pussy Riot are the Russian version of the Occupy Wall Street protest crowd. Their modus operandi is to use "art" in its various forms as a cover for acting like jerks and flaunting police warnings. They exploit the sentiment that artists worldwide generally should be given more behavioral license than the general public because they've historically pushed the boundaries of free expression.

One would hope that the public is able to tell the difference between Pussy Riot and, say, Voltaire -- who was thrown into a French prison for criticizing government and the Catholic Church in his extensive body of writing. Voltaire's career was writing, while Pussy Riot's entire career consists of hooliganism with a sprinkling of poor-quality "music" thrown in. Voltaire published several novels, plays, poems and essays, and in doing so, just happened to tick off the powers that be. Pussy Riot hasn't even recorded an album. Their credibility as artists is poorly established, unlike their activist background.

Boiled down, the Pussy Riot case is just another example of the social media generation's demand for instant gratification and attention in the absence of any sustained hard work. The protesters chose the shallowest form of subversion possible, their rationale apparently being that by doing a lewd can-can-girl number in a church, they can successfully overturn the government of a G8 country. That's some serious stoner logic.

The longer game of subversion would have required them to spend years working to get into a key position within the power structure, then influencing and subverting the system to change what they don't like. The effects of such an effort would have been more organic, credible and durable.

Or, at the very least, they could have practiced for several years to hone their "art" in the event that they were serious about being artists and not just serious about being hooligans. That's why Madonna can say all sorts of nonsense from a concert stage and constantly push the boundaries of free speech without getting arrested -- because she's actually earned the "artist" label and the leeway society affords it.

Somehow Russian President Vladimir Putin has been dragged into all this, presumably because this story is sexier with a Bond villain -- and because it's always preferable to hold someone else responsible for one's own bad behavior. Pussy Riot supporters claim that Putin has the long knives out for the band because they mentioned him in a song. The idea of Putin sitting around blubbering over being badmouthed by some girls in a YouTube video certainly undermines any evil image. The smearing of Putin as hypersensitive and vindictive would have been more credible had they intelligently addressed Putin's policies without breaking any laws, or associated themselves with a larger group of activists known for flaunting it relentlessly and treating it as a joke. Pussy Riot didn't keep its powder dry.

It's not as if Putin just invented the Russian law against hooliganism. The penalty of up to seven years in prison wasn't concocted especially for Pussy Riot. In fact, the same crime of religious hooliganism in Germany carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment -- a year more than the sentence Pussy Riot members received.

The Western media should save its tears for those who truly deserve them.

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