At long last, Sasha Grey is exactly where she belongs – on the Russian road.
You may think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not. The former porn star, who first became famous for combining unbridled exhibitionism with an interest in existentialism, has a big fan base in Russia.
After she tweeted a joke about potentially wanting Russian citizenship – in the wake of Gerard Depardieu getting his – the Russian blogosphere exploded with excitement. She vowed to take part in a cross-country motor rally here, and made good on the promise: tweeting pictures of Lake Baikal and pelmeni (delicious Russian dumplings, for those not in the know) and also managing to thoroughly damage a Lada Kalina in the first few days of her journey.
Even before that Lada Kalina broke down, Grey already stood accused of being part of a plot to destroy the Russian car industry. Activists in Kazan claim that, “on a basic psychological level, people won’t be able to buy a car knowing that a porn actress has promoted it.” There is even talk about some kind of anti-Grey protest in Kazan.
Honestly, I think the Russian automotive industry has bigger problems than Sasha Grey – especially considering just how badly the Lada Kalina, er, performed while Grey was behind the wheel. If anything, Grey just did Avtovaz, the company that produces the Lada Kalina, a favor. You may think Grey pushed the car past its limit, but considering the poor conditions on many Russian roads, the Kalina ought to be able to handle that kind of roughness.
I am also not a fan of slut-shaming women who work in the porn industry, to be perfectly honest. And I seriously doubt that the very same men who make up the majority of Grey’s fans in Russia would suddenly decide that a car has cooties now that a porn star has taken it out for a spin.
Since leaving the porn industry, Grey has continued to be a vibrant presence on the alternative culture scene (although you have to wonder just how “alternative” a woman with over half a million followers on Twitter actually is), working as a DJ, taking pictures, and taking on roles in mainstream cinema. Now that pictures of her photoshopped to look like Alisa, the innocent heroine of the classic Soviet children’s film “A Guest from the Future” (“Gostya iz budushchego”) have made their rounds on the Internet, I’ve begun to think of Grey as one of those strange, yet potent, icons of the post-Cold War era.
Grey has already professed to be a fan of poet Alexander Pushkin (she famously posed with a statue of him on the streets of Odessa earlier this spring, when she was in town for a gig) and has created a page on VKontakte, which is currently Russia’s most popular social network.
Obviously, she’s not for everyone, much in the same way that Lady Gaga is not for everyone. And Grey’s popularity in Russia will soon be fodder for more outraged statements and possibly even legislation by reactionary politicians. I can just see it now: “Ban all visas for anyone ever featured on YouPorn!” “Stop all pelmeni exports to America!”
After the notorious Dima Yakovlev law, I believe the current government is capable of anything should it feel remotely threatened or insulted – particularly as it is increasingly playing to the traditionalist segment of the population, milking the “dangerous foreigner” meme for all its worth.
Yet the one thing that a law simply cannot do is stop you from liking something or someone. You can’t legislate taste. You certainly can’t legislate lust. Or fun, for that matter. And Grey has so many fans in Russia precisely because she is fun. She is a woman who is as stylish and self-possessed as she is shockingly bawdy.
She also happens to know how to frown really well, and if there is anything Russians can appreciate, it’s a good, solid frown.
Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.
Natalia Antonova is the acting editor-in-chief of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was born in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.