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Fairytale Rus’ with a realistic implication

For what purpose did Kvartal-95 create a cartoon with distorted political accents, seemingly following the style of the Russian cultural tradition?
06 December, 00:00

During the past few weeks, Ukrainian Internet users have googled the cartoon Fairytale Rus’ the most. This information is provided by MediaBusiness. The product of Studio Kvartal-95, which premiered during the Vechirnii Kyiv show on Channel 1+1 on November 16 (so far, three episodes of the cartoon have been aired), caused an outburst of the Internet audiences and triggered a lot of discussions at the specialized media platforms. Ambiguous references, authors’ goal, and the slapstick humor – these are the most common reviews of media experts.

It should be said that before the main projects of Kvartal-95 moved from Inter to 1+1 at the beginning of October, rumors were spread that they were escaping censorship. That is why it was expected that the newly presented project, which was described by the creators as a political cartoon, will be a political satire (according to the plot, the present-day political reality is metaphorized; the action takes place in Fairytale Rus’, a kingdom ruled by Viktor II). However, it is obvious that the authors had set a different goal. Volodymyr Zelensky himself, who does the voice-over, says in the second episode: “Let us not bow and scrape, let’s mock instead.” Either the desire to make the cartoon too mocking crippled the authors’ original intentions, or they had some hidden motives, but the attempt to create a quality political satire failed.

“Kvartal-95 desperately lacked the main essence of political satire: ability to sharply and accurately describe the main tendencies of what is happening in the country. That is why it turned out to be not so funny. This satire has very few topical political allusions, its characters are shallow, trivial, and stereotypical, and the plot development is pathetically primitive,” writes Otar DOVZHENKO in his article “Fairytale Rubbish on the Brink.” “Judging from the first episode, even though this satire goes down to the lowest of the low, it still remains incredibly gentle with representatives of the government. Even though the authors seem to laugh at the rulers, they emphasize the most innocent of their defects. Azarov speaks ludicrous Ukrainian, Yanukovych likes a nap, Lytvyn controls a puppet parliament. Besides, with a ‘strong hand’ (the most favorite post-Soviet ideologeme) he punches Shuster, gives a heavy kick to the nagging ‘Mustafa doggie,’ while Tymoshenko, captured in a tower, practically confesses that she ‘bought wood at an excessive price.’ That is, in this quasi-satirical cartoon the accents are placed in a way that is beneficial to the government.”

Some characters are not even funny, but humiliating. Let us remind ‘Senya the Rabbit,’ ‘Shliashko,’ or ‘Mustafa doggie.’ The image of Mustafa Nayem (in the cartoon, the doggy belongs to the bellman Shustry, gets kicked by everyone, and in the first episode even sniffs the king’s bottom) sank beyond any imaginable standards of slapstick humor. Instead, the leader of communists Petro Symonenko runs around dressed like Robin Hood, and ‘often takes gold from the rich and evil’ (even the fairytale alias of this character is ‘kind Symonenin’).

“In Russia, this kind of humor is called Petrosyan-style, it is the lowest of the low, there is nothing to add here. If this is political satire, it is oriented at a marginal audience. That is it. They deserve a punch in the face for doing such things. A hundred years ago, nobody would shake hands with the authors again. But now the times have changed, of course,” said the media expert and publicist Serhii HRABOVSKY as he commented on the cartoon.

However, humor below the belt is only half of the problem. An average Ukrainian viewer rather likes this “fairytale” and therefore, real politicians are associated with the images created by Kvartal-95 not only in this cartoon, but in weekly episodes of their TV show, Vechirnii Kvartal. As a result, the viewer loses perception of the real state of things. A question arises: is Kvartal’s humor, which half of the nation enjoys so much, a purposeful manipulation? Or is it the result of the authors’ misunderstanding of the country, its history, and its social processes?

“First of all I would like to emphasize the strange, or perhaps even inadequate artistic form of this ‘political animation film,’” said the film critic Volodymyr VOITENKO in his comment to The Day. “The style and imagery (which I will not analyze here, for those who have seen the film will know what I mean) seem to be borrowed from the Russian cultural tradition which today continues in the full-length animation films made by the St. Petersburg Melnitsa Studio. That is, if you mute the sound, you will see something like ‘fairy-tale Russia’ at least. With the sound on, you get an impression that the animation was made in Russia, you get a perfect image of failed state.”

This falls in line with what Yurii Shcherbak recently said in his interview to The Day: “Ukraine as a failed state has become particularly en vogue with a certain circle of Russian political experts, ‘Ukraine’s sworn friends.’ All political characters appeared absolutely disabled, theatrical, and worthless – which perfectly fits the almost century-old tradition of treating Ukraine’s state-building intentions. Come on, what good idea can be implemented by such worthless individuals?

“However, if there are other explanations to the style, imagery, and content, I am curious to hear them. After all, the fact of showing all political characters can certainly count for a certain kind of satire. But again, what is the target of mockery? It is not so much their political actions, but their psycho-physical characteristics, their so-called ‘human weaknesses.’ And this is done with various degrees of taste, often varying from slapstick comedy to hitting below the belt. Some will object that the film is to be continued – well, let’s wait and see. So far, we have only seen this much. For some, this is paramount political satire and courage, which is supposed to attest the presence of freedom of speech in this country. For others it is quite a permissible way to vent social tension after the election. And yet a question suggests itself here: if this is permissible, where is the ‘permissor’?”

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