Skip to main content

Pop culture in translation How ‘Game of Thrones,’ Lizzo, Buttigieg, and more took the RuNet by storm in April

Source: Meduza
Helen Sloan / HBO / Amediateka; Lars Pehrson / SvD / Scanpix / LETA; / Splash / Vida Press 

Meduza in English publishes stories about Russia, but much of what circulates in the Russian language — big names, TV shows, political news — isn’t Russian at all. This piece (and similar ones to come) will highlight how viral phenomena that seem fundamentally Anglophone take on new and unexpected meanings in the Russian-speaking world.

Game of Thrones

The fact that the epic series based on George R.R. Martin’s bestselling books is a global sensation should surprise nobody. However, the scale of Game of Thrones’s Russian-language life might. Take Meduza’s main site as an example: we have posted almost 200 stories that mention the show in their headlines. On the morning of the final season’s European premier, our Russian-language readers were even greeted by the following “collection” on our homepage, which ranged from original interviews with GOT stars to detailed quizzes and summaries. It even included a one-question quiz intended to reveal how many of our readers do not watch Game of Thrones (apparently, a slight majority).

Meduza’s homepage on April 15

Outside of our website, Russian speakers have taken an interactive approach to the series. While some have attended deep psychological discussions at local bookstores or written fanfiction, others have celebrated Slavic holidays by burning the Night King in effigy.

“no one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark...”

In late June of 2018, “Home,” a poem by Warsan Shire, went viral in its original language, English, and in several European countries that have seen a sharp influx of immigration from Africa and the Middle East. In Russian, a group of prominent feminist writers teamed up to publish several of Shire’s poems in translation on the collaborative platform

While Shire’s following is still very limited in Russian, a small burst of posts on social media networks and literary sites followed the publication of these translations on April 9. Yevgenia Nekrasova, who selected and translated the poems, has made a name for herself in Russian as the author of the novella Kalechina-Malechina. Oksana Vasyakina illustrated Nekrasova’s translations and recommended them to poet and editor Galina Rymbu for publication.

Žižek vs. Peterson

With apologies for a 180-degree pivot, we regret to note that the April 19 debate between Slavoj Žižek and Jordan Peterson found an eager audience in certain corners of the RuNet. One prominent viewer was the popular Russian rapper Oxxxymiron, who wrote the following on Twitter:

“A 2.5-hour debate between Žižek and Peterson?? Fuck yeah. Must be some kind of holiday! I’ve watched hundreds of hours of lectures from both of them in the past few years. These are definitely the most media-savvy philosophers of our time (with all their pluses and minuses). I’m getting popcorn 🍿”

Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos was also published recently in Russian. Thanks in part to the Canadian psychologist’s refusal to acknowledge important phenomena like climate change and gender identity that are almost universally recognized among specialists, the book’s first printing sold out in a single day, as its translator, Nina Freiman, noted in an April 8 Facebook post.

Album releases that resonated: Lizzo and Billie Eilish

The April 19 release of Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You captivated Russian music critics and ordinary Internet users. Nonetheless, their descriptions of the effervescent musician varied: while dove into Lizzo’s political innovations, calling her “the new face of body positivity” and lauding her declarations of self-love as a queer black woman, others were content to praise her diva attitude and genre-bending beats.

Lizzo’s single “Juice” in a “Meduza” review.

While the March 29 release of Billie Eilish’s much-awaited When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? technically happened last month, the Russian-language hype surrounding the teen star has yet to die down. Eilish earned not one but two in-depth Meduza features.

Buttigieg fever

Indeed he has. That’s “Peet Boottidzhich,” by the way.

Shortly after the U.S. presidential candidate started gaining widespread recognition in his home country, multiple Russian-language media outlets (us included) released profiles of the South Bend, Indiana, mayor. Most noted his unusual position as a young, openly gay politician whose campaign has suddenly received a measure of hope for success thanks to his moderate politics. Whether the widespread popularity of Buttigieg’s husband and their dogs among Anglophone social media users will also spill over into Russian remains to be seen.

Avengers: Endgame delayed; Fight Club to be rescreened

Disney reported that Avengers: Endgame has set the all-time record for advance ticket sales in Russian cinema, beating its own prequel a few days before screenings are set to begin. Nonetheless, two sources told Vedomosti that Russia’s Culture Minstry put pressure on the film’s distributor to set its first Russian screenings for four days after the global premier. The outlet reported that the shift was intended to boost ticket sales for a Russian film, Billion, as it enters its second weekend. In the meantime, renewed screenings of the cult film Fight Club have been planned in Russia and Belarus in advance of the movie’s 20th anniversary.

Hilah Kohen