The Call for a New Intelligentsia: Re-defining the Role of the Intellectuals in Post-Soviet Film and TV Serials

Elena V. Baraban, University of British Columbia

With capitalism making a comeback in Russia, the subculture of the intelligentsia is being restructured. Post-Soviet mass culture reflects the process of stratification of the Russian intelligentsia and ensures a quick mass socialisation of new meanings. The paper analyzes the representation of the intelligentsia and its values in popular Russian films and TV serials of the 1990s and, in doing so, contributes to the on-going debate over the crisis of the intelligentsia. Specifically, I look at Aleksej Balabanov's film Brother (1997), Mikhail Tumanish;vili's detective TV serial The March of Turetskij (2000) based on the novels of Friedriex Neznanskij, the TV serial At the Corner of Patriarsh;ij (1995) by Eduard Xrutskij and Vadim Derbenev, the TV serial Kamenskaja (1999-) by Valerij Todorovskij based on Alexandra Marinina's novels and a TV serial by Dmitrij Svetozarov: The Agent for National Security (2000-).

In my analysis, I draw on Pierre Bourdieu's concept of habitus and Michel Foucault's idea that social phenomena (as the intelligentsia, e.g.) exist as a discourse. The crisis of the Russian intellectuals may be described as a change in the intelligentsia's habitus, those mental structures that organise forms of interaction between the intelligentsia and society. Russian mass culture increasingly becomes a more powerful part of a general discourse on the intelligentsia. Mass culture is the means for breaking the domination of the intelligentsia over its own re-definition. In addition to perspectives derived from the works by Bourdieu and Foucault, I rely on theoretical work on mass culture and popular television and film by Raymond Williams, John Fiske, and Stuart Hall. These scholars, while using ideas of Foucault and Baxtin, view popular television and film as agents of social change and change in ideological values in society. Through the prism of this theory, the depiction of the intelligentsia in recent Russian popular films and TV serials reveals the way in which, under the pressure of the rapidly developing consumer culture, the intelligentsia values are revised.

Mass culture offers a severe criticism of the traditional values of the intelligentsia such as kulturnost', erudition, and non-violence that remain of no avail to society. At the same time, mass culture idealises socially active representatives of the intelligentsia, their uncompromising nature and readiness to sacrifice their welfare for those in need (Brother). In other words, mass culture castigates the weakness of the intelligentsia, its extreme individualism that can descend into selfishness, its snobbery, its self-imposed isolation, and its mutating into corrupt representatives of power. Such intelligentsia in recent Russian films and TV serials is marginalized, or portrayed as the lumpen-intelligentsia, as impotent and infantile (The March of Turetskij, The Agent for National Security). At the same time, Russian detective TV serials are utopian in their idealisation of the image of the uncompromising investigator, who is a hybrid between a Soviet intelligentsia type and James Bond (Kamenskaja, At the Corner of Patriarsh;ij). From the point of view of mass culture, the intelligentsia's mission is to protect the weak and to set the standard of justice, to support the value of justice. A new type of intelligentsia is in the making—an intelligentsia that is strong and capable of protecting itself and others without sacrificing its principles. The usefulness of the intelligentsia among the people lies in the intelligentsia's protection of collective values and in providing a moral standard for the rest of society. It turns out that the "imported" forms of mass culture are imbued in Russia, despite the experts' prognosis, with a criticism of individualism and celebration of the collective images that were officially upheld during Soviet times.