“The Americans” – Inspiring Russophobia in the 21st Century

Some Things:

  1. There are spoilers in here.
  2. I am not Russian, not that it should matter (although I’m probably on some CIA watch list at this point).  I took a Russian history class once back in my community college days, that’s about it. (Dr. Richard Trimble taught it, and it was awesome.)

When Mitt Romney remarked that Russia was our worst foe on CNN last year during his campaign, my friends and I had a good chuckle at his expense.  Born in the post-Cold War era, we are unfamiliar with the anti-Russian sentiment of the former governor and some of our parents.

That is why, when I saw the series premier of the Americans on FX, I was blown away.

(If you have yet to see the show, check it out.)

Ok, FX, we get it.  Homeland, the Showtime espionage thriller about a CIA agent and a US marine, is wildly successful.  You wanted to cash in on some of that.  And hey, it was only a couple years ago that some Russian sleepers were rounded up in Yonkers.  Besides, you made it a period piece, set in 1981: smack-dab in the middle of the Cold War.  So it’s all good, right?

Nope, not even close.  The unforgivable rampant Russophobia ruined this show for me.  It is most evident when comparing the two main characters.  Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are Russian spies who have been living undercover in the US for over a decade.  They have two children and an FBI agent for a neighbor (who saw that coming?).  Despite the fact that they are both Russian spies, their likability is very much in congruence with how “American” they seem, not in terms of heritage but characteristics.  I find that, in the pilot at least, the more relatable characters are more American and the less relatable are Russian.

The Jenningses

Philip

  • Philip is an American sympathizer, as evidenced by his desire to defect and turn Timochev over to his FBI neighbor (which he doesn’t do out of love for is wife – awww). Also seen when he first comes to America and notes that “everything is brighter.”
  • Possesses more impulsive but ultimately more endearing qualities than his partner/wife, including an openness with his affection, playfulness with his children, and fierce protection of his family.
  • In general, seems more emotional, open, and (ultimately) American.

Elizabeth

  • Elizabeth is very loyal to Russia, saying that she would “lose everything before [she] betrayed [her] country.”
  • Less endearing characteristics: in the first scene in which we meet her, she is prostituting herself for information.  In moments with her children, she is distracted and distant.  She also blatantly challenges her arranged marriage with Phillip.
  • In general, she’s a colder character, less emotionally accessible and less likable.

I do not find these differences coincidental.  The majority of the rest of the characters in the show demonstrate the same split between Good (American) and Bad (Russian).  Beeman, the American FBI agent, is still a slightly two-dimensional character at this point, but he seems like a nice-enough guy.  Timochev is Russian, and he’s a rapist/woman-beater whose death leaves the audience satisfied.

The question I have yet to answer is, why now?  Although the lines between “us” and “them” are not so neatly drawn as in, say, a Bond film, they are still there in the Americans.  What does this show say about our cultural understanding of Russians in America?

fx_americans_keyart_p_2012

I have been told that I am not giving the show enough credit, and that further episodes will reveal it as an allegory that shows the struggles and triumphs of both sides of the story.  I hope that such is the case.

In the meantime, I’ll stick to Homeland.

Veronica
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.

Text Message Decoder and the Myth of Miscommunication

I am a product of my generation – Generation Y.  Among many other things, we are characterized by our relationship to technology (obviously) and have lived through several breakthroughs in interpersonal communication: the birth and growth of social media, e-mail as an essential mode of business correspondence, and text messaging.

Bringing us ever closer.

Bringing us ever closer.

Oh, texting. How we watched you grow from a little T-9 SMS application to such a pervasive pastime that QWERTY keyboards became a standard feature on most cellphones.  My friends, siblings, and I have a comprehensive understanding of text message communication because we’ve been doing it since middle school (Sorry Mrs. Cleary) which is why I am so sick of reading articles about texting causing miscommunication.  My generation knows how to communicate more effectively through text messages than we are given credit for, and I aim to prove it.

The following may seem like common sense to many people my age, which I hope will emphasize my point.

Spelling

My first example dissects “hey,” a standard greeting with more than one layer of meaning depending on the number of y’s at the end.  (I’m not even kidding.  It may seem like I’m digging too far into minutia of all this, but trust me.)

  • “hey” is a simple way to establish contact.
  • “heyy” demonstrates more enthusiasm, and perhaps an affection for the recipient.
  • “heyyy” is sometimes used in booty-calls (booty-texts?) and definitely communicates attraction.
  • “heyyyy” translates directly to “I’m intoxicated.”

I do not make the rules, I only abide by them. (This is general knowledge, as evidenced by the fact that I am not the first person to map this out.)

Emoticons

I do not know when it was decided that “:)” stood for a smile, or happiness, or amusement, but ever since than simple combinations of available characters have been used to demonstrate specific feelings or reactions.

meow

Meow.

I have read that text messaging lacks emotion, which is untrue in my experience.  The type of emoticon one uses to respond to a message or punctuate their own says a lot about the idea being exchanged.  For example:

“I’m leaving now:”
I’m leaving now : D
I’m leaving now : (
I’m leaving now >: (

All of these have a different meaning, and the possibilities are endless.  Emoticons go beyond mimicking the characteristics of a face, for example including ” ❤ ” which resembles a heart and stands for the emotion of love, variations of which include ” <333 ” and ” </3 ” depending on what the sender wishes to say.  Recently, texting with emoticons has been made even easier by applications like Emoji for iPhone that include numerous tiny graphics to enhance your messages.

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 12.06.17 PM

On a somewhat related note, it has been said that texting emoticons is far more acceptable among women than men.  Writing from a women’s perspective, I cannot confirm or deny this except to say that I use emoticons often without thinking twice about it.  However, I have a male friend who ends every text with a wink face, communicating to me that everything he says has a hidden layer of creepy.

Abreves

I will admit that I have received some random combinations of letters that force me to search Google for a translation but most are widely understood, especially among close groups of friends. (I touch on something like this in my Wordplay post.)  Like emoticons, they enhance the message and communicate a more specific meaning.  (Consider “lol,” “omg,” and “jk;” “fam,” “fab,” and “fave;” “totes,” “obvs,” and “probs;” etc, etc, etc.)  Apart from the words and phrases the abbreviations themselves stand for, they can be used in certain context to demonstrate irony. For example, if I were to write something like, omg i’m like totes excited for the beibs lolz, the receiver would recognize that I am being sarcastic (maybs?).

Punctuation

photo-12

Everybody knows what “k.” means.  The unnecessary use of the period in this case has a message of it’s own: “Don’t even bother saying anything else because I’m mad and this [insert expletive] conversation is over for me.”  Punctuation is loaded with connotation because it can be otherwise unnecessary, especially in the case of one-word or otherwise brief messages.  Punctuation can also stand alone. “?” can mean, “I’m confused. Elaborate.” “!” communicates excitement or surprise, etc.

Do Not Underestimate the Texters

If miscommunication occurs during a text correspondence, it is no fault of our own.  Damn You, Autocorrect! (in addition to being hilarious) is a perfect example of how text replacement software functions fail us on a regular basis, but my original point stands.

Through subtle nuances in spelling and format, people communicate a vast range of ideas and emotion in their text messages.  No one person sat down and drew up a set of rules for texting efficiently, and yet these rules are generally understood by people who grew up using this medium of communication.  Just because you do not necessarily understand a text exchange between two people (I’m talking to you, outdated communication experts) does not mean that they don’t.

whatevs lol. byee
<3/v
Twenty-three year old NYC resident, undergraduate at Fordham University, journalist-in-training at WFUV, freelance writer, amateur philosopher, occasional photographer, music-enthusiast, Abe Lincoln fangirl.