Moving Pictures: “Putin Lights Up Fires” by Pussy Riot

By ajcolores

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This video, this song, “Putin Lights Up Fires,” does not exists without context. By now, most are familiar with the story of the Russian punk rock collective, Pussy Riot, and how in the eyes of the Russian church and Russian government, they took their performance art too far when they staged a punk prayer in an orthodox cathedral. Blasphemous, indecent, said the authorities. Three members were tried, in one sham of a trial, and found guilty of hooliganism. Their sentence is two years. It was deemed lenient.

To understand how Pussy Riot has become a global icon, admired by everyone from Yoko Ono to Madonna, the subject of pleas from Western officials, one needs to read beyond the headlines, and get over the novelty of typing “#FreePussyRiot” in a tweet. This is a story of feminist power, well-educated women taking on the male establishment. It is a story dealing with the powerful intersection of religion and government, something followers of American politics know all too well. It is a story about challenging power in the face of insurmountable odds. Did anyone believe Putin would not be elected president on the day he announced he was seeking the office again? Pussy Riot begged to differ. They thought they could wake up the populace and they paid the price for their audacity.

Often lost in this tale, however, is the music itself. Go back and watch those early videos, before all of the think pieces and hash tags, when the music was the story.

This is how you protest in the 21st Century. Silly Americans think they can change the world by buying a fast-food chicken sandwich. They think they can make the world a more fair place by camping out on a public lawn.

Look at the color and the imagery and the energy of Pussy Riot. Hear the agitation in the music. Even if you don’t speak a lick of Russian, you still know that shit isn’t right. That’s how you wake up people from indifference. That’s a fucking protest! And in “Putin Lights Up Fires,” they have the song to make sure their movement lives while three members are doing their time.

This message goes out to Putin. This message is for England and the United States and for people all over the world. The human spirit is bigger than any one man. The human spirit is bigger than your religion. The human spirit has a name and that name is Pussy Riot.

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