“To Catch Up and Overtake”

Watching Aleksandrov’s “Circus” it’s certainly hard to not notice the main message of the film, propaganda of national equality and tolerance among the soviet people. However, the plot itself is based on another interesting idea.

“To catch up and overtake [capitalists/America/etc]” is the slogan used for a really long time to explain the motivation of soviet people to work hard to reach the level of the Western countries and to be better then they are in everything. How the country without industry and proper level of economic and social development could be able to do it? The first idea, widely spread among “developing” countries during, probably, the last two centuries, is to try to copy the practice which are considered to be successful from Europe and, later on, from America. And here we can see a great illustrations to this slogan.

First of all, the whole story starts in the Moscow Circus, where the guest performer comes with a successful, popular in the entire world show “The flight to the Moon”. Watching it, the Circus’ director decides to, literally, copy it. He changes decorations, call it a different name, but the outline of the performance is absolutely the same. And the idea is that he’s taking the work and ideas of this Western artists, but has no longer to pay a huge compensation to these guest performers, because soviet people can do it themselves (and, probably, not care that much about the monetary stimuli).

Besides, one of the main characters, Marion Dickson is in many ways copied from German Marlene  Dietrich. It is seen not only in the appearance of Lyobov Orlova, but also in her dance while performing “The flight to the Moon”, which to a certain extent resembles Marlene’s scenes from “The Blue Angel”. Looking more broad at Aleksandrov and Orlova’s filmography, we can find some other analogies. So, in some way this film, as well as “Jolly Fellows”, is a try to build a “local”, soviet star of the level comparable to Dietrich’s in the world.

And it’s very surprising how both anti-western campaign and showing the “capitalistic” output which the country would be happy to copy are combined here so that it doesn’t create a dissonance in the mind of soviet people who are watching it. Does’t it resemble Orwell’s “doublethink” to the certain extent?

The “Seeds” of Eugenics



In this overt example of interwar propaganda, the practice of eugenics is promoted through a poignant visual and textual analogy to agriculture.  The double meaning of the key term “seed” is utilized in a comparison between spreading healthy plant seed for a bountiful harvest and spreading healthy human “seed” for the purposes of procreation, specifically the creation of a physically fit, mentally proficient, racially pure population.

The first block of text that appears at the top of the poster, “Only healthy seed must be sown!”, alludes to the exclusionist principles of eugenics.  People who were deficient in physical or mental health were considered unfit to procreate.  More generally, anyone incapable of making an economic contribution to the state through gainful employment were subject to the scorn of negative eugenics (Mazower, 96).  Such members of the population were considered sources of “bad seeds,” so to speak, a threat to the purity and longevity of the nation in question.

The textual motif of the poster stands in contrast to the bright and optimistic image of the farmer, portrayed as a literally shining example of the robust and productive citizens that eugenicists aimed to create.  As Mark Mazower states in Dark Continent, eugenicists “believed that it was indeed possible to produce ‘better’ human beings through the right kind of social policies.” (91)  This logic was employed by several European nations during the interwar period, most notably Great Britain, Russia, and Germany, the latter applying the simplistically and deceptively positive term “racial hygiene” to the practice of eugenics. (Mazower, 92).

This poster is a pithy snapshot of the dangerous ideological ground being tread by interwar governments in Europe.  While the calculated and “logical” attributes of eugenics (as discussed in class) held several appeals for the recovering European governments after WWI, the concomitant dehumanization of the population in the eyes of the state may have in fact planted the “seeds” of social tension and injustice that helped steer the continent toward WWII. (Mazower, 97-98)

Image Source: http://www.niea.unsw.edu.au//sites/default/files/projects/323.jpg