Macho Realism

Stalin never posed with his shirt off, but Putin’s topless poses while fishing in Siberia certainly smacks of a “socialist realism” for post-Soviet Russia. The Putin cult is no secret. Nashi’s reverence for Putin approaches the Komsomol’s love of Lenin. The new recommended history textbook, which will be introduced to Russian high schools next year, places Putin as the alpha and omega of the 21st century Russian state. If Putin’s political prowess, intellect, quick wit, and athleticism hasn’t built him up as the New Postmodern Russian Man, his pecks certainly will.

The Russian media is abuzz with opinions of Putin’s photos. Though criticism of the pictures exists, it appears that most Russians, especially women, have greeted them with approval. As the Associated Press reports, when Yevgeniya Albats said that the photos were “unbecoming of a Russian leader,” she received a barrage of emails from women expressing their love for their presidential Adonis. It’s too bad they also didn’t focus on her silly claim that “the photos were mean to enhance Putin’s personal appeal to voters–a strong signal that he doesn’t plan to relinquish power.” With a approval rating hovering at a consistent 70%, one doubts that topless photos are necessary even if Putin desired to stay on. Sergei Markov of Moscow’s Institute for Political Research summed it up simply: “He’s cool. That’s been the image throughout the presidency, cool.”

But most of today’s English reporting on Putin pics is buzz about the buzz. More specifically Komsomolskaya pravda’s article “Be Like Putin!” The article provides seven exercises for the aspiring Putinite to become just like Vlad. And they say that fizkul’turа is dead.

And the Russian media is having fun with it. In a headline, Argumenty i Fakty declared “Putin’s Torso has subdued Europe“. Numerous Russian news sites are translating articles from the Western press that look to find the hidden geopolitical meaning of Putin’s chest. London Times’ Michael Grove admitted that Putin’s chest was Russia’s secret weapon, making a direct connection between Russia’s asserting of its military muscle and Putin showing his. Grove writes:

As Putin’s careful release of the pictures of his own taut form demonstrate, the deployment of male nudity is, above all, a power play. On one level Vlad is showing us all that he’s a remarkably fit man for his age (54) and that, unlike in the decadent West, Russia’s leaders remain the physical embodiment of their nation’s vigour – classical champions in the manner of those Roman emperors who would renew their mandate to rule on the battlefield or even in the gladiatorial ring. His bare-chested peacockery is, in that respect, in line with the broader cult of Putin as his nation’s silverback – the leader of the band.

The body of the President is a testament to the body of of the country. If Putin is strong, the Russian state is strong. In the quick click of a camera, Putin’s two bodies, his corporal and symbolic, merge into one.