Issue #03/58, February 10 - 24, 1999  smlogo.gif

Moscow Babylon

In This Issue
Feature Story
You are here.

FIMACO: an eXile exclusive
Thank You Porn
Fear of An eXile Planet


by Mark Ames

2 Years 2 Much

The clown in this photo is not only a cute neighborhood entertainer by the name of "Pogo", as he called himself, but also America's most successful serial murderer, John Wayne Gacy. Today, Gacy is not remembered for his abilities to make a sad child smile; the world will never break out into a teary smile as memories of Gacy as the charming birthday party clown-for-hire who could make poodles out of hot dog-shaped balloons flicker across their minds' screens. Nope. See, Gacy made hot dogs out of people-shaped corpses. Male people-shaped corpses, to be exact. Male corpses with--yep, you guessed it--bleeding asses dripping with Gacy's sperm. Thirty-three of 'em discovered in his backyard in Chicago, IL, if you really wanna know. And dozens more ne'er found, if you believe Gacy.

Why run his photo? Why the gruesome details? Why are we here at all?

Hell if we know. Something tells us that playing out the serial murderer shtick at every opportunity--especially when we can't think of a clever, original lead--is good business. It distinguishes us from the competition, defines our market segment, whatever you call it. In plain, simple terms, we just don't have anything better to offer you. We're flat-out of ideas here, and when that happens, you start to lean on the obvious things, the products that sold well last year. So there you have it, America's most successful homosexual mass murderer, above posing as "Pogo" the clown--a cheap, free and E-Z prop for you, the eXholes, because... welp, because for us, it's less work.

There was a time, two very, very long years ago, when this newspaper had a purpose. Too much purpose. That purpose was born of sheer desperation: sexual, professional, existential desperation. A desperation born of mutual hatred: our hatred of the world, and the world's hatred of us.

Early on, this desperation showed. It was clear that we'd set out to make the Moscow experience as unpleasant for all of you as life in general had been for us. Our spleens produced unlimited amounts of bile, bile that inspired a production boom in rhetorical weaponry that we fired off indiscriminately, in any direction. The collateral damage was enormous, but necessary. Our hatred for The Moscow Times was so visceral not because they competed for your attention or for clients, but because they reminded us, with their cheery, successful, doing-everything-right professionalism, just how fucked up we were, just how limited our opportunities were in this cheerful, golden retriever world. Cornered as we were, we had only one mission: to destroy.

In the West, the desire to destroy is a middle-class art-fag's youthful dream. Every punk band we can think of started off blathering about "Destroy", but after one album, the hairdos changed, the ideas went dry, and meanwhile, the Golden Retrievers' influence only spread.

Here in Russia, "destroy" means literally "destroy." Which is probably why this is the only country on earth we have ever felt comfortable in. The Soviet Union? Destroyed. Market reforms? Destroyed. Russia? Destroyed. Foreign investment? Destroyed. Financial Markets? Later. Vijay Maheshwari? Hasta la vista. The eXile?

Uh, well... here's where things get a little tricky. See, we've actually had sort of the opposite thing happen to us. We've, like, become famous and stuff. We've been written up in big American magazines; we've been featured on several television shows. We signed a book deal with a big-time New York publisher. We got ourselves a big-time New York agent. We've got Hollywood producers waking us up at weird hours trying to ingratiate themselves to us by proving how "dark" and "on-the-edge" they are, calculating, by their own reified middlebrow mathematics, that we're "dark" and "on-the-edge" ourselves.

Even our newspaper is doing pretty good business, something we can't make heads or tales of.

It's all pretty weird, and it might not have had much of an effect on our writing, except that too many things are going our way, and we're not used to that. For the first year and a half of our existence, we were whining, screaming and yelling about capitalism's and the West's failure here, about how underneath the slick, ice-thin veneer, Russia was little more than a hedonistic toxic waste dump with a top-notch Western PR firm to cover it all. We took a lot of shit then, but we liked getting attacked. We fed on the hatred. When Kathy Lally of The Baltimore Sun tried to have us banned from a popular internet site last year, we cried for joy; it gave us the opportunity to expose the Western press for the hypocritical narcs they are, and led to one of our most successful--and satisfying--practical jokes of all time. Readers might remember that we caught Lally agreeing to help an alleged Moscow boycott of the eXile, and to consider acting as an "expert witness" in a fake criminal investigation into whether or not we'd broken Russia's hate laws. A few months later, a coalition of local American expats and Stanford professor Michael McFaul once again tried to organize a censorship/boycott campaign against us, a campaign that ended in disaster and shame for them, and a heapin' o' belly laughs for us. When people fuck with us, they can only tarnish themselves, because back then, we just didn't care about anything but pulling the grenade pin, holding it to our chests, and running into the middle of a market crowded with the Lallys, McFauls and golden retrievers of the world, and letting it go.

Those were the days.

But then it happened: the August 17th devaluation, default, and collapse of the Big Lie. And now, whether we like it or not, suddenly we all find ourselves on the same side, decrying bogus Western policies, slamming the corruption and cruelty of the Yeltsin regime, debunking reforms, and even, two years too late, celebrating the hedonism that is no more. Even The Moscow Times has remade itself into an angry left-of-center government critic; even the New York Times finds itself printing perennially homeless journo-nerd Vijay Maheshwari's two-years-too-late piece on Moscow's wild nightlife.

Which leaves us... all on the same fucking team. And you wonder why we're not inspired? Imagine if, during the Spanish Civil War, suddenly the entire Nationalist Army defected over to the Republicans, to George Orwell's Anarchist unit in Catalonia. If it would have happened, they'd have defected not out of any deep ideological catharsis, but rather, like the Western press, political and business community here in Russia, because they WANT TO BE ON THE WINNING SIDE.

But being on the winning side was never what we've been about. We like losing. We're good at losing. We've been losing for as long as we can remember, and we're damn proud of it, thank you very much!

Now, however, we're all on the same team. We're on the WINNING SIDE. The fascists have joined the anarchists; they're running around quoting Bukharin and waving the black flag. It's made the world, and us, a blander place, but that's just the way it goes.

So we've dedicated our Second Anniversary issue to the "Bankruptcy of Ideas," a state of mind that not only here at the eXile, but also Russia--indeed, entire world finds itself in after the failure of neo-liberal 90s ideology to create a happily-functioning SimCity global village/ pet grooming mall.

Now look at us, all grown up and all! Two long, wild, 180 degree-turning years later. We're no longer in the opposition. We're no longer desperate. In fact, we're better off than most of you. If anything, YOU'RE in the opposition, and WE'RE the new mainstream. Hah! How'd'ya like them apples, eh?!

Frankly, we're indifferent to it all. It's a sort of negative pleasure: we'd rather be in our shoes than any of yours, but that doesn't mean we get off on this anymore. What this means is that all of our best work is behind us. Like all bands, it's our first album that we'll be remembered by. Everything from here on out is all downhill. We've said everything we've had to say. We've exhausted our metaphors, we've beaten dead horses to death, we've overcultivated our land, we've... aw heck, you get the point! This is the part where, after one great Sex Pistols album, we get our Flock of Seagulls hairdo, do a duet with Afrika Bambatta, and try live off the dividends of the days when we were at our creative peak. This isn't a cynical post-modern joke, folks: it's duh trufe.

How can you, the eXhole, protect yourself from all of this diminished fun?

E-Z. Just start off by lowering your expectations. If there's one thing people outside of the West are learning at the fin de siecle, it's that lowered expectations are "in", baby. Take the cover of this issue, for example. It began with a simple, lazy concept: find a woman with the most grotesquely large breasts, and do something with them. That way, we'd be able to say we're "2" in a tasteless manner. Not tasteless in a creative, mind-bending way, but tasteless in a way that may, at the right time, cause you to mildly chuckle, or perhaps sigh in disappointment. But--and this is the crucial part--if your expectations have been lowered, then you'd know that this issue's cover is, as they say, As Good As It Gets.

Next, slide your eyes over to Taibbi's "investigative" piece. Sure, a year ago, he stunned the world with his first-hand account of savage exploitation of the Vorkuta miners, nearly getting himself killed in the process. Even Kathy Lally rushed out a piece a few weeks later about the suffering miners for her Baltimore readers. This time, Taibbi heads out to Bashkorostan, fumbles around drunkenly, fights off a fat Bashkir whore, then heads home. Hey, it may not be the old Taibbi, but this ain't the old Ames either. Hell, I couldn't get mugged if I tried! Or rather, this IS the older, less funny, less-edgy Taibbi and Ames. The whole newspaper has gone this way. The notorious club reviewer Johnny Chen, who symbolized an era, has given way to the bearded rock-climbing bore Stuart Pratt. Even Krazy Kevin, after getting rolled by drunks, dicks, and dogs, has lost his will to fight. Now, it's a job, and it shows.

In the parlance of our times, we're "Maturing." Tchya, right. And Steven Spielberg might fly out of our butts.

Consider our bungled party Friday night. Again, we had big plans, big ideas... but then we decided, aw the fuck with it. Why bother? Let's just line up some cheap liquor, some reliable music, and forget about the little extra things that used to distinguish us from the pack. It's a party of lowered expectations, a celebration of bankrupt ideas, in a time of diminished fun.

Life after the post-crisis period. There's not a lot any of us can do about it. We didn't ask to become successful and less desperate: it just happened. You'll just have to accept us as we are. Just like Russians have no other choice but to accept a radically diminished budget, less than half the size of the budget of the state of Texas, no IMF loans, and complete abandonment by the West; just like Asians have to accept the "paper tiger economy" monicker, and years of economic decline; just as Latin Americans have to expect a collapse of the doomed dream of becoming a mere province in one giant glass-skyscraper-domed First World hemisphere stretching from Toronto to Buenos Aires... It's bye-bye, expectations. Hello, 1999: the year that was less. Less than less. But more for us, the eXile staff.

It's all over. The tensions. The hatred. The divisions. The purpose. The dreams. The desperation. The expectations. The humor. The fun. Here we are, the new eXile. We're not aging very gracefully. But so what. At least we're not Jean MacKenzie, recently fired from the Boston Globe, or Vijay Maheshwari, unceremoniously dumped from Russia's Playboy. In the end, that counts for something, don't you think?

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