Rivals of the Twentieth Century: Coexistance and Competition
Edited By Eva-Maria Stolberg
Gleb Tsipursky: Living “America” in the Soviet Union: The Cultural Practices of “Westernized” Soviet Youth, 1945-1964
139 Gleb Tsipursky Living “America” in the Soviet Union: The Cultural Practices of “Westernized” Soviet Youth, 1945-19641 My paper, using interviews, memoirs, official publications, and archival documents, will advance our understanding of Soviet youth by examining the rise of stiliagi, a youth counterculture centered on consuming “western,” especially American, cultural and material products. This paper argues that Soviet “westernized” youth arose as a means of searching for an identity alternative to the heroic veteran, side-stepping official authority, and fashioning a taste-based hierarchy as a means of acquiring social status and power. The stiliagi represented part of a broader wave of postwar spectacular counter- cultures in both capitalist and socialist contexts, suggesting clear parallels between how developed, industrialized societies reacted to the stresses brought by war and the peacetime transition. Similarly, the societal response to such countercultural youth in both the Soviet Bloc and in Western Europe and America combined coercion with cooptation, in general shifting toward the latter by the early 1960s, though the ideological and structural differences explain some divergences in their respective approaches. According to a Soviet booklet intended to guide lower-level officials in carrying out their duties, stiliagi “are hunters of overseas rags and foreign currency–pathetic people who shame the honor of the Soviet person.” This booklet gives the example of Sergei Borisov, a stiliaga caught “with English pounds, nylon skirts,” as well as “automatic pens, and even chewing gum–all which could be bought from foreigners and then sold with a profit.”2 The booklet...
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