Everyday Soviet Satire

“The Bathhouse” -Mikhail Zoshchenko (1924)

Zoshchenko’s satirical works within the context of defining what revolutionary culture exactly is provide a very interesting perspective, specifically from the other side so to speak. Revolutionary culture appears to be riddled with state sponsored dogma and a bombardment of reinforcing idealogical state views. Mikhail Zoshchenko sits on the other side, and like so many other satirists in other cultures, he provides the crucial “poke holes in system” hilarious take through his work to get underneath the new government’s skin.

“The Bathhouse” is a short piece done by Zoshchenko in 1924 about a man going to a bathhouse in the new state. The bathhouse provides the perfect setting for the author to address his qualms with the new administration through sarcasm, satire, and humor. It seems at every turn of the narrator’s experience he runs into some bureaucratic nightmare, expressed through trivial mishaps in the bathhouse. For example: “They gave me two tickets. One for my linen, and the other for my hat and coat. But where is a naked man going to put tickets?” Expressing well the frustration of everyday citizen’s grievances with the new system of governance.

I think the piece is done so well because it takes these grievances and puts them in an extremely relatable context with the bathhouse setting. This also aids in the ability for citizens to relate to the upheaval they experienced in such a short period of time.

 

Intersection of Change

This particular work of art struck me immediately with its ability to represent an intersection between the past, present, and future given the context of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Painted by the interesting figure Ku’zma Petrov-Vodkin, his life and influence on the painting helps explain the intersection represented in the work. Born into a family from the proletariat class (his father was a shoemaker) he was also a deeply religious man, with the view the new revolution was a temporary challenge to suffer on the ultimate path to salvation.

The Petrograd Madonna represents this religious influence in its style, the painting also being a reflection of Petrov-Vodkin’s earliest teacher, an icon painter. The stylistic iconography in the Petrograd Madonna is a doppleg√§nger to the same style popular throughout eastern Orthodoxy.¬† The background apart from the woman and her child seem to represent the growing changes in Russian society, with crowds and people forming on the streets. The woman’s back turned to this is perhaps the rejection of this movement and an adherence to tradition, all while shielding her child from these movements. The woman also gives a vey uncertain and vague gaze, representing the current attitude toward the future of the Russian people.