‘Putin’s a Prick’ – What’s in a Meme
My apologies to readers who are sensitive to verbal obscenities. A discussion of one word in particular is unavoidable. That word, now sung by millions throughout Ukraine, is making history.
It all began on 27 March 2014, when supporters of Metallist (Kharkiv) and Shakhtar (Donetsk) organized a joint parade in the centre of Kharkiv, during which they sang ‘La-la-la-la-la-la-la, Putin khuylo.’ The phrase can be translated roughly as ‘Putin’s a prick.’ A video of the parade immediately went viral. One posting alone has attracted over 300,000 hits, and clips from this event have appeared in many places.
Other football fans picked up the song. On 16 April, 60,000 spectators in Kyiv’s main stadium sang in unison during a game between the local Dynamo team and Shakhtar, setting off their customary flares (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_Rl_idM0eI). The crowd appears to have enjoyed its own performance more than the match.
Then on 26 April Metallist and Dniepr (Dnipropetrovsk) fans combined forces to parade in Kharkiv, chanting ‘One, united, free Ukraine,’ and singing the same song (http://avmalgin.livejournal.com/4543348.html. By now the words and tune had become part of the repertoire of soccer fans across the country. It allowed them to express a sense of national solidarity in public and to demonstrate contempt for the Russian president who had invaded their territory and had stated ‘Ukraine is not a country.’ The song resounded in the Kyiv stadium on 7 May during a game against Chornomorets (Odesa), and in Poltava on 15 May as that team’s fans paraded through town (www.poltava.pl.ua/news/28062).
Before their big hit, Kharkiv fans had already produced other sensations. Their first hit song translates roughly as ‘Jackass from the Kremlin, you piece of dirt. Shoot us, bomb us. We don’t give a damn.’ The words of the original are much less polite (www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Hfu-E_S1cs). Since then, these fans have come up with new songs and added some pantomime to their repertoire. On 6 April a fan impersonated Putin at a game (www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSVQQOu8HfU).
The anti-Putin song has become a meme and has multiplied rapidly. A dancing Putin dressed in a tuxedo as James Bond (the Russian president is a former secret service man) has been featured in one version (www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsEI0A8sAcE). A rock versions (one of many) features participants from various football clubs across the country and is intercut with images of anti-Putin protests (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXU0SaDkLks).There is an edgy hip-hop production with images of Putin as a fascist (youtube.com/watch?v=efS7q43cn_M), and a compilation tape set to a techno-beat (www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xLFVJDtXlA).
On 14 April an elaborate video montage of battle scenes from the film With Fire and Sword (1999) was combined with a powerful soundtrack. This version has become enormously popular:
The film itself was produced in Poland and directed by Jerzy Hoffman. It depicts the great Ukrainian uprising of 1648 that drove the Polish magnates out of Ukraine and established an independent state.
There is also a popular hard rock version with special effects (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pnt_9B48b7U), and a very amusing version called ‘Unfortunate Incident at a Parade in Moscow’ that shows Russian soldiers singing the song while an embarrassed Putin shifts uncomfortably and onlookers gaze in stunned silence (www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DOK4bfgmyY). Spanish, Polish, Moldovan and other recordings of the song have been produced. Lovers of the tango and guitar can download versions. There are ringtone recordings for cellphones. Numerous bands have made videos of themselves playing the song. One video shows people dancing to the tune in cities around the world (www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4WXGl69Y5o).
Posters, mugs, T-shirts, coasters and key-chains display the words, which have also begun to appear on walls in European cities and on ‘deviant’ art sites. One witnesses affirms that the words went up on 15 May at the Belgorod railway station (in Russia, just across the Ukrainian border). The photograph below shows the words above an announcement of the Moscow-Belgorod train.
The meme has also surfaced in other parts of Russia. On 30 April a man was arrested on Red Square and charged with insulting the president. He held a poster containing only two words: ‘Putin khuylo.’
He told the police that the poster was addressed to Putin, but that no surname was attached to the insulting word. The officer responded: ‘We all know very well who our khuylo is!’ (http://v-n-zb.livejournal.com/7032326.html)
There have been many funny exchanges. A Ukrainian parliamentarian, supposedly a member of a ‘moral commission’ monitoring human rights, requested people to describe their reaction to the song, so that a decision could be made concerning its further distribution and use
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, although some individuals failed to realize that the request was a jest.
The original song has generated countless jokes, some of which have appeared on a website devoted to the ‘Putin Khuylo’ meme (https://vk.com/public67207548). One goes like this:
‘Who are you?’
‘We are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Plague, Hunger and Death.’
‘And what’s that khuylo with you?’
‘That’s a student in training, Putin.’
This site also contains some serious materials. For example, it has posted a Russian film entitled Embarrased to be Russian and made by K. Dmitrii, a Moscow journalist. The film shows photographs of women beings used as human shields by Russian soldiers in Crimea and footage of Putin describing the action. He says: ‘Let them dare shoot their own people while we stand behind them. Not in front of them, but behind them.’ There is also footage of Putin denying the presence of Russian troops in Crimea. He has since admitted that this was a lie. The film is banned in Russia
There are now entertaining videos that remix various clips and versions of the song (http://lj.rossia.org/users/tiphareth/1811936.html). One video has Michelle Obama and the Muppets dancing to the tune (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MV5yCnGY28). In another President Obama and Ellen DeGeneres dance on the latter’s talk show
A list of youtube videos can be found under the heading ‘Putin Huylo.’ Other lists have been compiled by various individuals. One ends with a personal comment: ‘I hope that Putler goes down in history as the addressee of a song about a prick. He wanted to be Hitler, but instead became a figure of ridicule and shame’ (http://lj.rossia.org/users/tiphareth/1811936.html).
Defiance in face of the enemy has a long tradition in Ukraine. Ilya Repin’s famous painting of the Zaporozhians Writing a Letter to the Sultan (1880-91) is a prime example. One version of the apocryphal letter goes as follows:
You are the Satan of Turkey, the accursed devil’s brother, friend and secretary of Lucifer himself! […] We do not fear your army, but will fight you on land and sea. Go to the devil, you cook of Babylon, cartwright of Macedonia, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-skinner of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, Armenian pig, Tatar quiver, Kamianets hangman, Podilian criminal, fiend’s godson, buffoon of the entire world and underworld, our Lord’s fool, pig’s snout, horse’s ass, butcher’s dog, unchristened forehead! Low-life, this is your reply from the Cossacks! You are unworthy of ruling over Christian believers!
Kiss us, in any case, right here …!
Camp commander Ivan Sirko and all his Zaporozhians.
Repin was born and grew up near Kharkiv, and his home is now preserved as a museum. He was a great admirer of the Zaporozhians and made two versions of the famous painting, one of which hangs in the Kharkiv Art Gallery. Incidentally, in the painting the Zaporozhians display two flags: one is yellow and blue, and the other is black and red. In today’s Ukraine both flags have come to symbolize defiance.
Appropriately, therefore, the anti-Putin song originated in Kharkiv.
Zaporozhian solidarity and bravado is celebrated not only in film clips, but also in posters like the following:
The caption (in Russian) reads: ‘Ukraine is not Russia.’ Both paintings are by Repin. The upper one is his Zaporozhians Writing a Letter to the Sultan. The lower on is Barge Haulers on the Volga (1873). [Source: https://vk.com/public67207548]
Similar acts of defiance are common in wartime. Hitler may or may not have had one testicle, but British soldiers cheerfully sang ‘Hitler Has Only Got One Ball’ to the tune of ‘The Colonel Bogey March,’ in this way taunting the enemy and making fun of the Nazi posturing. The ‘Putin khuylo’ meme does the same.
The meme has a seldom-mentioned subtext. A recent Western biography has portrayed Putin as a latent homosexual and suggested that this might explain why he constantly orchestrates stories about his (hetero)sexual prowess (www.inquisitr.com/1050505/vladimir-putin-gay-new-biography-claims-russian-president-is-latently-homosexual/). It might account for his need to advertise his manliness: by posing shirtless (Mussolini-like) in numerous photographs, by being reported as subduing leopards (apparently zoo officials were unable to do this), shooting tigers (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/16/vladimir-putin-tiger-encounter_n_1352911.html) and winning acclaim in sports events. He scored six goals and had five assists in a hockey game in Sochi (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/12/vladimir-putin-plays-hockey_n_5307678.html). It might also go a long way to explaining the rabidly anti-gay stance of his administration.
This former KGB operative is hardly a man with the common touch. Reports of his various accomplishments and exploits more closely resemble press coverage of Kim Jong-il, the late leader of North Korea, who, as Korean media informs, shot eleven holes-in-ones the first time he played golf and then promptly retired from the game (http://nypost.com/2014/05/16/kim-jong-un-takes-aim-at-archery-soccer-success/). For a hilarious take on Putin’s latest act of self-glorification, a medal celebrating Crimea’s annexation, see the following show by the British political comedian John Oliver: youtube.com/watch?v=We1IvUe6KLo&feature=youtu.be. The medal weighs as much as a man-hole cover and is stamped with images of the shirtless Putin on horseback.
Why all this excess on Putin’s part? Perhaps because in 2011 a former personal assistant to the Russian president, Iouri Michaelevitch, wrote a book entitled I Was Putin’s Lover. It was taken off the shelves before official release, and in March of 2014 its author was assassinated in Zurich. Swiss police stated that they found sources of radiation and a rare Russian product, TCDD Dioxin, in the man’s room (http://worldnewsdailyreport.com/man-claiming-to-have-been-vladimir-putins-lover-killed-in-zurich/; http://thejoodlumgroup.com/whats-what/2014/3/25/putin-probably-killed-his-lover).
Although the story has since disappeared from the pages of the Western press, the Putin meme has gained power from suspicions that the Russian president suffers from a sense of sexual inadequacy. This suspicion is captured in the word ‘khuylo,’ which might be more accurately translated as ‘useless appendage’ or ‘limp dick.’ It appears that the Kharkiv football supporters, like the British soldiers who sang ‘Hitler Has Only Got One Ball,’ instinctively sensed a weakness and aimed at it.