Book Talk: In the Jaws of the Crocodile
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Emil Draitser spent a decade contributing to Crocodile, the major Party-sponsored satire magazine known for its sharp-tongued essays and pointed cartoons. After he got in trouble for criticizing an important Soviet official, he began weighing the heavy decision of whether to emigrate. In this book talk about his memoir In the Jaws of the Crocodile, Draitser explored what it means to be a satirist in a country lacking freedom of expression. He provided a window into the lives of a generation of artists who were allowed to poke fun, as long as they toed a narrow, state-approved line.
"Many years later, I have to say that I look back at my work in Soviet satire and I was kind of proud, in what sense? I was proud that I never wrote anything of—say—glory to the system, I always criticized it and I thought I did the right thing and then nothing bad would come out of it. But, relatively recently, a year ago or so I found some research that actually—there was a hidden test of open criticism, of economic targets, in the Soviet press to create false facade, to hide true military capabilities."
"What was totally forbidden to criticize in the Soviet press? All faults of the socialist economy has to be shown as being local and sporadic, not systemic […] you cannot say, for example, that the shoes in this country is really impossible to produce—no, no you have to say the shoes of this particular factory are not of good quality now. That’s it, not that the system is not working."
"In a short story by [a Russian satirist] he describes a night on the streets of Moscow and a poor alcoholic tried to catch a taxi—which was always a problem—and he sees nearby that another fellow like him stays with an outstretched hand, and he comes close to him, he was kind of frozen to death. He grabs him, he takes him home, puts him in bed and then in the morning when he wakes up he found that he pulled a monument from a pedestal. Seemingly, what’s the big deal? But it created a tremendous scandal. Why? Because for every Soviet citizen, it was clear that this satire was about this Lenin pedestal that was always shown with this outstretched hand […] and that’s an example of Aesopian satire, satire between [the] lines."
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