Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Cultural Implications of Vladimir Beefcake, er, Putin

It's summer in Russia, which means it's time for Vladimir Putin's annual Siberian get-away, and thus time for the Kremlin to release a photo album of the boss' vacation snaps, which this year include a bare-chested Putin swimming in a Siberian river, a bare-chested Putin horseback riding, and just to show his sensitive side, a bare-chested Putin feeding his horse.

There's a none-too-subtle message in these photos, which also include shots of him diving in a submarine to the bottom of Lake Baikal, the world's deepest lake, and at-sea petting a whale - that Putin is a strong leader for a strong country (though the BBC suggests that some of the photos are also reminiscent of the gay cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain).

But there's a second important message that Putin is trying to send to his countrymen. Putin is 56 years old, and obviously in excellent shape, the average life expectancy for Russian men though is just 59 years (life expectancy for Russian women is around 74 years, roughly comparable with life expectancies for women in Western Europe). The reason for the poor life expectancy of Russian men is due in large part to poor diets, lack of exercise, smoking and most of all, heavy drinking.

So instead of just dismissing Putin's beefcake shots with a giggle, think of them as an effort to combat the demographic crisis facing Russia (some projections have Russia's population falling to 100 million by mid-century). They are license for Russian wives to nag their husbands about not taking better care of themselves, imagine the conversation going on in living rooms across Russia: "look at Vladimir Vladimirovich, he swims! he rides horses! what are you doing but sitting on the couch with your cigarettes and vodka?"

Just a thought...
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