The Year in Retro Commie Chic


The phrase “retro commie chic” was likely coined by Glenn Collins of the New York Times.

Collins’ article about Greenwich Village’s K.G.B. Bar appeared in 1998; in the years since, the place has become a literary hub. According to a dining guide put out by New York magazine, “Today, the red menace congregates here—if graduate-level Marxist theoreticians can be considered ‘reds,’ that is.” The bar offers 40 kinds of vodka. Nazi stylishness, with 40 kinds of schnapps, would be an abomination to everyone. Nostalgia for left-totalitarianism (or at least the look of it) on the other hand exerts a lurid kind of attraction.

Why? The Cold War’s length, and its having ended rather anticlimactically, have to be part of the reason. At any rate, what Fredric Jameson called “old-fashioned political art of the socialist realist type” captivated the production designers and graphic artists of 2014.


The Interview. Communiposters advertising The Interviewst regimes still exist; as vestiges of an earlier time, they become candidates for camp. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s cultivation of North Korea’s dictator was no doubt the germ of this film. It’s too long and James Franco can’t do comedy. But yes, we have to stand by it given Kim Jong Un’s actions.


Meyerhoff Stalin


Baltimore Symphony Orchestra handbill. Last month, the BSO wanted to draw the public to Didi Balle’s “symphonic play” about Dmitri Shostakovich and his effort to survive the Stalin regime, while also opposing it. Since the piece is anticommunist, the use of a smiling Uncle Joe as, literally, a poster boy is confusing to say the least. Imagine promoting a night of music by the composer Wilhelm Furtwängler (whose ambiguous relationship with the Third Reich is somewhat comparable) with advertising that had one of those kindly-Adolf-Hitler-petting-a-dog photos.


Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking

Cookbook. (Cheating a little, it’s from 2013.) Imagine a major publisher like this one putting out “Mastering the Art of Nazi Cooking.”






Tina Fey in Muppets Most Wanted

A funny thing happened on the way to the Gulag. Tina Fey and some movie zeks, in Muppets Most Wanted.

“There Are Intellectuals Who Say Anticommunism Is Somehow Uncool.”


Scott and Taylor, coverA book has just been published by the University Press of Kentucky on The Lives of Others, the landmark drama about the East German secret police. This Oscar-winning movie from 2006, mentioned previously on the site, is examined from just about every angle in Totalitarianism on Screen: The Art and Politics of “The Lives of Others” edited by Carl Eric Scott and F. Flagg Taylor IV.

Your editor has an essay in this multi-author volume. Also included is an interview with the president of Germany, Joachim Gauck. He was a lead investigator of the repressive activities of the Stasi in the now-defunct German Democratic Republic.

Here are some sharp words from Gauck, as translated from the German by Paul Hockenos, who conducted the interview:

“There are European intellectuals who say that anticommunism is somehow uncool, and that it doesn’t belong in democratic political culture. But you can only think this if you’re far enough away from the suffering that Soviet communism inflicted. In fact, the West has to learn that there are two kinds of anti-communism. One stems from conservative arrogance, such as that in the United States and West Germany. This variety is useless. The other variety stems from suffering, the deprivations of rights, and powerlessness. And if you’re not able to feel this, then you lack something as a human being. And, sadly, western Germany and western Europe still have to learn this. The seriousness of the threat of communism to our democracy project has to be respected.”