Wednesday evening after Soviet history class, I had a long and interesting conversation with my professor about Western perception of Russia. As is inevitable in such a conversation, we eventually got around to Putin and the numerous absurd ‘analyses’ of him. (Anyone remember the “gunslinger walk” and “Putin has Asperger’s syndrome”?)
We invented a new class in which students would write 3-page papers on Putin’s “macho” PR stunts, scrutinize so-called “suggestive” photos of him and Medvedev/Kabaeva, and search for his hidden billions. I eagerly offered to help, mentioning that I’d grade the heck of out those assignments.
My zeal was part of the joke, of course. However, the more I think about it, the less it seems so.
I often argue (crossly) that our excessive focus on demonizing Putin comes at the expense of deeper, more useful research on Russia. And yet, I often find myself dealing with the Putin phenomenon. I mock it (crackpot theories); I contemplate it (effects on policy and opinion); I weave it into my creative endeavors (PR stunts, Putin “personality cult”). And I talk about it an awful lot too. Putin Derangement Syndrome inspires angry art and makes me laugh; it birthed a novel idea and convinced me that no matter how shoddy Western Russia reportage gets, there will always be something amusing to read. All in spite of my hatred of PDS.
From this seeming contradiction arose a horrifying realization:
I don’t just mock (and occasionally co-opt) Putin Derangement Syndrome.
I feed on it.