Of all the exchanges between the United States and Russia since the “Fall of Communism,” among the most incongruous must have been the presentation of two of Andy Warhol’s films, The Chelsea Girls and Outer and Inner Space, in Catherine II’s private theater in the Romanov’s Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. 1 Taking place one week after the anniversary of the Revolution, whatever it lacked in corruption or deviousness, the event more than compensated for in irony. Everything that rises must converge–post-Socialism in Russia no less than post-Democracy in the United States–and the global cultural McVictory brought the prototypical artist of Western postmodernism to the Other Side’s sancta. Warhol, who had predicted that the Second World would be transformed from the First’s nemesis to its twin, would have been delighted. In an interview a couple of years before he completed The Chelsea Girls , he suggested that the cultural standardizations of both laissez-faire capitalism and Soviet Communism were eradicating differences within each of the two societies: “Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way.” 2 The comment was not as fatuous then as it now appears to be; at the time, wage differentials in the Soviet Union were smaller than they had ever been (much smaller than in the U.S.) 3 , and in the West the growth of a corporate consumer culture (equal access to which was, for Warhol, the key sign of social parity) was accompanied by social movements aiming to reduce the huge differences in privileges separating Americans from each other. Since then likeness and unlikeness within each country and between them have been governed by a different calculus. Cowboy capitalism has re-introduced massive class distinctions in Russia and unfettered neo-liberalism in the United States, and undone virtually all the social changes envisioned in the 1960s, making each country internally more differentiated, and so more like the other. Now they share the social stratifications of global capital; the fortunate everywhere dine at McDonald’s, while the poor are underfed or starving. And so, in its hegemony, capitalist culture brings Andy Warhol to Russia–along with Coca-Cola, DKNY, and the other brand-names that are becoming as ubiquitous in St. Petersburg as in Los Angeles.The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s
The most beautiful thing in Florence is McDonald’s
Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet.
– Andy Warhol, The Philosophy Of Andy Warhol