Moacir P. de Sá Pereira on February 25th, 2010

When Lithuania (re-)declared independence on 11 March 1990, I was not yet even in high school. I often wished I was about eight years older, so that I might somehow throw myself into the mix out there, in the wild edge-of-reality process of nation building. ((A cousin of mine, seven years my senior, did send himself out to Vilnius to work as a liaison between the Western press and the Lithuanian politicians. I haven’t kept in touch, but LinkedIn suggests he’s now a EUreaucrat  in Belgium.)) I’d have, you know, adventures and stuff.

If I were born eight years earlier, my relationship with what would have been for the first 22 years of my life the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania would have been fundamentally different. Given my interest in the Russian language and in Eastern Europe in general during the 1980s, it’s entirely possible that I would have been some kind of reactionary nationalist Lithuanian dissident in some university’s Slavic Languages department, a path already visible in my mid-late ’80s dream of working for a CIA, a dream that took more time than expected to come true. ((Another cousin, also about eight years my senior followed this sort of path down Slavic languages, though I don’t know how his dissidence ended up. Nor am I implying that he worked for the CIA.)) Instead, I ended up becoming an English major intensely skeptical of nationalism and projects fueled by calls to identity. I hate arguments about the Lithuanian Diaspora that perversely blame independence for a slackening of interest in Lithuanian affairs, but I cannot guarantee that I would not have been more interested in devoting myself to the cause had the cause still been there during my young adulthood. ((One anecdotal effect of this is that I tend to find that my friends who are slightly older than I have more reactionary feelings toward Lithuania than my friends who are slightly younger, until one reaches the new generation of crypto-fascists whose parents were the young, ardent agitators of the late-’70s and ’80s.))

But another risk, had I been about 22 when the Soviet Union crumbled, that I would have run might have led me down the same path as Mark Allen and Matt Taibbi, who co-edited the eXile, an infamous English-language newspaper covering the chaos of Yeltsin’s Russia, covered in a new article in Vanity Fair by James Verini. ((I went to high school with James.)) In the article, Verini tracks the hijinks of the paper itself, along with its consequences and effects on both editors, who have since gone on to establish themselves Stateside. Taibbi especially has tried to grow into the space left by Hunter S. Thompson at Rolling Stone, filing by now very well known hate-filled screeds against what HST would’ve called “the greedheads” on Wall St. and in DC.

The article shows the (to me) simultaneously sickening and alluring effect of the two American ковбоя on the Moscow streets. Reading of their exploits, I feel the shame of recognition, comparing to my friends’ and my exploiting Vilnius often in similar ways. There might not be prostitutes and heroin in my contemporary nuotykiai, but I do get the sense that if I had been a journalist in Lithuania back then, my stories would have been a bit different–maybe even like what was going on in Moscow. For having missed those opportunities, I’m both sad and glad, bizarrely, to have missed out on that bottomless pit of temptation.

I’m not quite so cynical to suspect that the two men (Taibbi mostly, from the tone of the article) used their time in Moscow to build up a reputation for cred once it was time to go mainstream; every journalist has to log the hours out in the sticks before ending up at the Times, after all. But in comparison to the cold retelling of the Jeffrey Sachs/Yeltsin-era in Naomi Klein’s polemic The Shock Doctrine, Verini also captures the conflict of temptation alluded to in the previous paragraph. I’m not sure what to make of Ames’s belief that the only way to truly make apparent the terrible situation of the sex trade in Russia was to sleep with the women he profiled (and, subsequently, take their pimps’ money in the form of advertising), but it’s intriguing that they had some sort of conscience about their work, making the accusation of “frat boy” not sound quite correct.

Either way, the article’s worth a read, and though I sometimes wish I were born eight years earlier, I never, ever, wish that I were born eight years later, on the cusp of the Special Snowflake generation. Thanks, but no thanks.

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2 Responses to “Sometimes it’s good to miss the boat of history”

  1. But dang Taibbi likes to throw shit in peeps’ faces

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  1. Ames, Taibbi, Moscow, and missing the boat

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