I’ve had a soft spot for Russia since I was a kid. As a child of the 1970s, I did most of my growing up in the Reagan 80s, and the only Russians I knew were more like cartoons than real people. I wasn’t yet quite sophisticated enough to know that “The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff was really a red-blooded American meat head and that I was in no real danger of being on the wrong end of a Russian Sickle. I wasn’t old enough to understand the degree to which Rocky IV was a propaganda film, but part of me always wanted to pull for Drago, even after an arena full of his own countrymen, won over by Rocky’s superhuman ability to take an ass beating and remain semi-conscious, began chanting the American’s name. Then there was Yakov Smirnoff, who made a career out of one joke about how bad things were in the USSR, like some kind of Russian Jeff Foxworthy. Taken altogether, the picture of Russia painted onto my young psyche was a land of steroid-fueled commie cyborgs and poor schleps standing in line for toilet paper, the Big Red Machine having failed them even when it came to wiping their own butts.
Add to all of this the constant threat of nuclear annihilation and the fear that Russian soldiers might, for some inexplicable reason, attack a school in the middle of nowhere, as they did in Red Dawn, and it’s easy to see why I was fascinated by and terrified of Mother Russian in roughly equal measure. Continue reading