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The Politics of Spectacle in Putin’s Russia: An Interview with Peter Pomerantsev

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The British filmmaker, journalist, and author Peter Pomerantsev was recently in the United States to lecture on Vladimir Putin’s use of culture and information to advance his domestic and international agenda. He stopped by our editorial office to discuss his most recent book, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia.

The Hedgehog Review: Peter, your book, which I very much enjoyed, could also have plausibly been subtitled,  “What I learned while working in Putin’s culture industry.” But before you go into what you learned from that experience, could you tell us a little about what you did and how you got into what you were doing?

Peter Pomerantsev: Sure. I worked as a TV producer in Moscow. I had finished university in Edinburgh and film school in Moscow, and I was looking for a job, and there was just a lot more work in Russia than there was in Britain.

THR: This was the early 2000s, right?

PP: Yes, during the oil boom, when Moscow was a very happening place. Russia was the fastest-growing TV market in Europe, and there was just more opportunity to progress faster—to start making, directing, and producing programs and films rather than just assisting. It also seemed a very exciting place to be—the place, in many ways. It was a bit like Elizabethan England or New York in the Roaring Twenties. There was a real “Jazz Age” feel about it. There was a hint of menace, but the menace at that point seemed intriguing. Not like now, when it just seems threatening.

THR:. And, so, who did you start working for exactly?

PP: I worked with Russian TV channels, an entertainment channel. It was already, by 2006, morally déclassé to work in news. There were quite a lot of Westerners who had come over, working as bankers, international developers, and consultants. And there were also a lot of media people who had come over to teach the Russians how to make Western-style TV. I worked with an entertainment channel, which was explicitly apolitical. And it was my job to make a 120 million Russians laugh and cry.

So we did. This channel brought the reality show to Russia, and it brought the sitcom to Russia. The ratings were very good. The mood at the channel was sort of culturally punkish, but it was very, very successful, and rolling in gas money. And everybody who was working there was, like, twelve. The head of the channel was a thirty-something. Continue reading

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