Paul Handley

Whips, Cossacks, and a Flashing Torso

The lasting image of the Winter Olympics: Pussy Riot getting bullwhipped by Cossacks. Like most of you, I had to read this twice when I first saw it. They say there are no frontiers left, but apparently these women have accomplished time travel outside the technical ability to achieve it the boring scientific way. Cossacks summon images of the Crimean War, and long, boring movies based on Tolstoy novels.

The terms pussy and riot in combination sound threatening, and we’re not inclined to break down the threat level when the terms are separated. Pussy Riot is not so much about music; they use music as a vehicle of political expression. Which is another way of saying their music is god-awful. Back to the important stuff. What kind of cooperative effort is required to get Cossacks on the payroll? Where do you find them? Are they like our modern cowboys, out on a sprawling, government-subsidized ranch in Wyoming, contemplating a certain bunkmate’s abs? That’s a work of fiction. And Putin has outlawed gayness, but certainly not flashing abs, which sounds a little contradictory. Putin is a topless ingénue, and has furthered the concept of Russian icons and dictators. How much more exciting would it have been to see that giant statue of Saddam Hussein dragged down if it cracked a pectoral in half?

I admire the Pussy Riot setup, and I believe American bands would do well to emulate them. Enough endless plunking for a sound-check. Pussy Riot all donned ski-masks, which, given the rest of their scantily clad outfits, was incongruous. Like a scene out of a Tarantino movie, one of them made the eyes too far apart on her ski mask. Her nose and eyes peered defiantly out of the mouth hole. That alone would scare the hell out of me, although I give her credit for the tie-in with the Olympics. Years from now people watching the video might forget the context without the ski masks. Maybe that was another statement - “Skiers are one step away from terrorists.” Just give them a bullwhip and who knows how far they will go. Maybe some of the Cossacks were disguised as skiers to blend in.

The Russian Defense Minister said something like “They want what they get and they get what they want,” which makes sense the way a playground bully makes sense. He said the attack was provoked. Of course it was. You’re in Sochi - the Olympics, the center of the world for a couple of weeks. Weren’t the Cossacks instructed in bullwhip restraint? If I heard Pussy Riot was in the neighborhood, and that the world’s cameras were also in the neighborhood, it might be prudent to come up with a plan.

In the end, Pussy Riot make riot grrrls look like playboy bunnies. Give Pussy Riot the gold medal. Talk about performance art that you can’t pay for. What Bob Dylan wouldn’t have given for some Cossacks with bullwhips to kick his ass while he played Maggie’s Farm.


Paul Handley’s short fiction has appeared in Gargoyle Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Gone Lawn, and Ostrich Review. Cartoons are in Hobart and Forge.

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