Pussy Riot members Masha Alyokhina and Nadia Tolokonnikova have embarked on a triumphant tour of America in order to promote Russian prison reform. Last night Madonna introduced them at an Amnesty International human rights benefit concert in advance of today's Olympics opening ceremony. Sounds unequivocally great, right?
Not really. Today, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova are coming under fire from their former band members. The rest of Pussy Riot published an open letter to Livejournal, clarifying that the two were out of the group, and expressing disagreement for their new focus on prison reform rather than all feminist issues, and how they have gone about it: "They are being so carried away with the problems in Russian prisons, that they completely forgot about the aspirations and ideals of our group—feminism, separatist resistance, fight against authoritarianism and personality cult, all of which, as a matter of fact, was the cause for their unjust punishment."
The other members also criticize how their performance last night flies in face of typical "illegal" Pussy Riot shows:
Moreover, instead of the names of Nadia and Masha, the poster of the [Amnesty International] event showed a man in a balaclava with electric guitar, under the name of Pussy Riot, while the organizers smartly called for people to buy expensive tickets. All this is an extreme contradiction to the very principles of Pussy Riot collective: We are all-female separatist collective—no man can represent us either on a poster or in reality. We belong to leftist anti-capitalist ideology—we charge no fees for viewing our art-work, all our videos are distributed freely on the web, the spectators to our performances are always spontaneous passers by, and we never sell tickets to our 'shows'.
The Village Voice also has a critical review about the message that the Amnesty benefit ended up sending:
That's to say nothing for the eyebrow-spiking irony of having a band called Cold War Kids open a benefit concert condemning atrocities perpetrated by the Russian government. Or that Imagine Dragons, arguably the "biggest" band on the bill with a Grammy in their pocket and an SNL performance just a week behind them, blasted through "Radioactive," their explosive single about the dissolution of mankind in the face of apocalypse, at an Amnesty International benefit. The Flaming Lips attempting "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was a crime in and of itself, as was the disheartening lack of enthusiasm the crowd showed once Nadia and Masha of Pussy Riot took their turn at the microphone to sincerely and profusely thank them, and Amnesty International, for caring about their cause.
That's the unfortunate byproduct of benefit concerts, isn't it? The risk that people care more about the bands than the cause, and that famous songs will make the whole endeavor look cringe-worthily ironic. Not that one should take it so seriously that a band called the Cold War Kids performed at a benefit critical of Russia, but if we can't take this event seriously, then what was the point?
It's great that Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova have gotten so much attention for the dire human rights situation in their country. Yet here we have them overshadowed by Madonna and Imagine Dragons, of all people. Plus, questions about the cost of them marketing themselves to the less radical American charity industry.
Image via Getty.