Defending Pussy Riot metonymically : the trial representations, media and social movements in Russia and the United States



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During August 2012 the issues of women's rights in Russia attracted attention of the U.S. newspapers, which was an unusual occurrence for this unprivileged region in feminist theorizing. In my thesis I explore the rhetoric around the Pussy Riot trial and verdict. I argue that international media rendered the protest metonymically, thereby reducing its political content to human rights and Cold War frames. I explore the usage of historical references in the narratives, based on these paradigms. The oppressiveness of the Russian government is constructed through Cold War rhetoric by references to Stalinism, which masks the neoliberal content of this case. The confrontation is represented as a clash of cultures based on the contrast between democracy and oppressive regimes, with Pussy Riot as martyrs for Western values and Putin as an Oriental dictator. I argue that this rhetoric has troubling implications for social activism, that democracy could be only achieved through non-violent and individualist symbolic activism which relies on the Western standards. The second part of my thesis analyzes how social movements in the U.S. and Russia interact with each other and influence each other's tactics through interaction with media representations of the Pussy Riot trial and dominant narratives regarding activism. My support for this argument comes from an analysis of the U.S. and Russian movements' responses to the Pussy Riot trial. Embracing a complex combination of political meanings, these events were significantly determined by prolific mass media coverage and mediated interaction between activist groups.