Adam Curtis Blog 18.01.2012
THE YEARS OF STAGNATION AND THE POODLES OF POWER
Everybody is always remarking about how stuck our society feels these days [...]
I want to tell the story of another time and another place not so long ago that was also stifled by the absence of novelty and lacking a convincing vision of the future. It was in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and 1980s. At the time they called it "the years of stagnation".
The disillusion had begun back in the 1960s as the economy faltered. As a result a new generation began to turn away from politics - and to begin with they looked to America and its pop culture as an alternative.
The problem was that it was very difficult for Russians to get hold of anything American. But then Dean Reed turned up.
Reed is an extraordinary figure. In the 1950s he had been a not very successful teen idol, but then he reinvented himself in the mid 60s as a singing leftist revolutionary, travelling the world singing songs that attacked American imperialism, not just in Vietnam but in Latin America and the Middle East.
This led him inevitably to the Eastern bloc countries, and then to the Soviet Union where he became a superstar. It was a bit odd - a generation of Soviet teenagers loved Dean Reed because he brought American music and modern culture into their society, yet Reed himself loathed America and had come to Moscow as part of his quest to expose the corrupting influence that America was having on the world.
Back in the 1990s the Arena series made a great film about the life - and very strange death - of Dean Reed. It was presented by the journalist Reggie Nadelson. Here is an extract about Dean Reed's arrival in the Soviet Union and the effect he had. The Russian rock critic, Atermy Troitsky, who appears will also turn up later in this story.
Then in 1979 came the invasion of Afghanistan [...]
But soon millions of Russians at home began to find out the futility and the horror of what was really happening in Afghanistan [...]
The mood of the generation who had turned away from politics and ideology now became much harder, cynical and sceptical. And one of the main casualties of this was the singer Dean Reed. Those who had once idolised Reed now turned against him.
Reed found himself trapped. He wanted to counter what he saw as American imperialist propaganda - and in 1986 he appeared on the US current affairs show Sixty Minutes to defend the Soviet Union, and that included defending their presence in Afghanistan.
To the Russian youth, who increasingly knew the truth about Afghanistan, this was absurd. He was now seen as Brezhnev's propagandist. And Reed found himself isolated. This isolation was powerfully expressed in a bitter song written as a message to him by one of his few friends left in America called Johnny Rosenburg.
A few weeks later Dean Reed was found drowned in a lake in a forest in East Germany. There are many conspiracy theories, some say he was killed by the CIA, others believe it was the KGB. But it was probably suicide.
Here is Soviet youth turning against Reed, and Johnny Rosenberg's song - from the Arena film.
Read the full blog: www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis