How we choose to tell our stories sometimes matters more than the story itself.
If there is a theme for today, that is it.
Spent the morning at RT studios. In case you haven’t caught it somewhere on the high end of your satellite TV package, RT is a Russian news service that broadcasts in the English language. If you ever want to know how Russia is talking about Syria, Trump, or any of the other Russia-proximate stories that seem to dominate the American news cycle these days, RT is the place to find out. It isn’t a propaganda vehicle, per se. And yet, most of their coverage has a way of looking slightly off model to the American viewer.
But in truth, I think that is just how things look from this side of the planet.
Everyone we meet is very earnest – idealistic, even. They are excited about reporting the news. But the media’s relationship to power in this country is very different from America. Whereas there is an expectation in the US that the media should adopt a skeptical, even adversarial posture relative to the government, there is no strong tradition of this in Russia. None.
Not in czarist times. Not in Soviet. Maybe briefly in 90s, but all that got them was chaos, corruption, and unpredictability. And that is a high price to pay for an independent media.
Maybe Russians are naive for believing what they see on TV. Or maybe they are more sophisticated than the average American for taking it with a grain of salt.
So RT is telling a Russian story. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is propaganda. Or maybe it is propaganda, but that doesn’t mean that it is not also true.
The same could be said for the story told in the Victory Museum, which we visit after a fine lunch in restaurant devoted to Soviet-era nostalgia. Just as certain Americans remember the racially polarized, repressive 50s with fondness, despite those negatives, there is a big market here for golden warm memories of years past…
The Victory Museum outlines the broad strokes of Russia’s World War II experience – its struggle for survival against the Nazis, to whom it nearly succumbed. Most of the world had their money on the Nazis. It looked like Russia’s number was up. But through superhuman sacrifice – to the tune of more than 20 million lives – the Russians prevailed, breaking the back of the German army before a single boot hit the sand at Normandy.
Is the version of events portrayed in the museum self-serving? Sure. It leaves out many of the more egregious Soviet actions – the retribution against Nazi collaborators, for example… The ways in which the very telegraphed Nazi attack still managed to catch Stalin off guard…
But to be fair, most American stories about the war ignore the Russians more or less entirely. The invasion of Normandy is D-Day, which decided the war in Europe. We sort of saved the Russians, to hear it laid out in most history books or Hollywood films.
So we all tell stories.