Pussy Riot Takes On The Police State

On the anniversary of both the Russian Revolution and Donald Trump’s election, Russian feminist art collective Pussy Riot released a new song entitled “Police State.” The punk-dystopian song—and the music video starring Chloe Sevigny—represents the chaos of authoritarianism that is sweeping the world as leaders like Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump increasingly amass political power and violate human rights.

 

In the “Police State” music video, youth leaders are strapped down and forced to watch political leaders destroy the world and their childhoods while a ballerina dances among a crowd of police surrounded by broken children’s toys. “Take my body, anybody,” the band sings in the track. “I’m your trophy, make my nose bleed, now you own me.”

Not everything in “Police State” is left to metaphor, however. In their typical fashion, Pussy Riot call out the authorianism in Russia and its impact on the global community. “No problems in paradise, we locked them up,” the women declare at one point, drawing attention to the isolationist tendencies of leaders like Putin and Trump. “We all have to sacrifice, it won’t be long, shut the borders, perfect order, sons and daughters, drink the kool-aid. It’s the new way, do what I say.”

“When Trump won the presidential election one year ago, people were deeply shocked,” Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova told Ms. “What was in fact blown up on November 8, 2016 was the social contract—the paradigm that says that you can live comfortably without getting your hands dirty with politics… If you have to point at an enemy, our greatest enemy is apathy. We’d be able to achieve fantastic results if we were not trapped by the idea that nothing can be changed. What we’re lacking is confidence that institutions can actually work better, and that we can make them work better. People don’t believe in the enormous power that they have but for some reason don’t use.”

That very apathy is what Pussy Riot takes aim at in the new song, which is the newest single from the upcoming playlist “Nice Life Winter ’18” that will launch in December. The activist spirit of “Prison State” is unsurprising coming from the feminist punk-rock protest group, which garnered international acclaim in 2012 when two members, including Tolokonnikova, protested Vladmir Putin with a performance at a Russian Orthodox cathedral and were subsequently sentenced to 18 months in prison. The group has since launched an NGO providing assistance to prisoners and defendants and a news service focused on the justice system in Russia.

“Actions are more important that opinions and comments,” Tolokonnikova said. “It’s crucial to build alternative institutions, establish alternative power structures and networks, especially when your government sucks. There’s a lot that can be done and should be done. Putin will not disappear tomorrow, but we can show our fellow Russians how corrupted, damaging and ineffective his rule is. If everybody who denounced Trump on social media showed up on the streets and refuse to leave until he’s gone, he’d be out of office in a week. What it takes is just to abandon our learned helplessness.”

Pussy Riot will debut the song with a live performance in Berlin on November 9 in advance of appearances in Los Angeles and Houston in December. Tolokonnikova has also been hard at work co-creating, producing and performing in the immersive political theater piece “Inside Pussy Riot” in collaboration with London-based companies Les Enfants Terribles and Bird&Carrot; performances will begin on November 14.

Micaela Brinsley is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a rising sophomore at Smith College. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, she is a feminist theatre artist, activist and writer with a background in labor and tenants’ rights. Passionate about social justice, she is an avid conversationalist committed to making the world a more just and inclusive place. You can contact her at mbrinsley [at] msmagazine.com.

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