December 11

This Day in History

Cold War

Dec 11, 1969:

Soviets declare nudity a sign of "western decadence"

On this day, the secretary of the Moscow writer's union declares that nudity as displayed in the popular play "Oh! Calcutta!" is a sign of decadence in Western culture. More disturbing, he claimed, was the fact that this "bourgeois" thinking was infecting Russian youth.

Sergei Mikhailkov, best known for writing books for children in Russia, lashed out at the Broadway show (where performers were seen in their "birthday suits"), and pornography in general. Such exhibitions were "a general striptease-that is one of the slogans of modern bourgeois art." It was unfortunate, he lamented, that even Russian youth were becoming enamored of such decadence. Mikhailkov bemoaned the fact that young people in the Soviet Union were more familiar with "the theater of the absurd and the novel without a hero and all kinds of modern bourgeois reactionary tendencies in the literature and art of the West" than with "the past and present of the literature of their fatherland." Speaking at the end of a conference of Russian intellectuals, he also heaped scorn on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose scathing writings about the Soviet police state earned him the enmity of the Russian government. Although admitting that Solzhenitsyn was a "talented writer," he found it sad that the novelist "did not want to understand his role of 'special correspondent' of so many foreign institutions and organizations."

Beyond the unintentional humor of many of Mikhailkov's statements, his comments revealed the impact that U.S. culture-theater, literature, music, and film-was having on the Soviet Union. In the war for hearts and minds, Western "decadence" seemed to be winning the battle.

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