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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's New Hip Teenage World




School is out for the day, and 14-year-old Anna Okhodnova has taken up her usual position on a bar stool at Quasar, a rank-smelling downtown dive where she and her friends while away the afternoon smoking, drinking and strutting on their 15-centimeter-platform shoes.


Upstairs, a fog of cigarette smoke almost, but not quite, obliterates the clutter of posters advertising Western beer, alcohol and soft drinks. Downstairs, in a murky basement where thunderous techno music throbs like a bad headache, the ruble equivalent of $3 buys a frenzied 12-minute game of Laser Tag.


"It's the excitement! The more you come, the more you love it,'' said the blond, freckled Okhodnova, whose mother and father know she's here but have been ordered, on pain of teenage wrath, never to trespass into her adolescent domain.


"Our parents,'' the girl explained with a weary sigh, "don't want to understand us.''


The Russians resisted it for decades. They vigilantly guarded their borders, filled the airwaves with classical music and indoctrinated themselves with communist ideology. But now it's here -- that ubiquitous flighty Western teen culture -- and it's being devoured whole by the first post-communist generation of Russian teeny-boppers.


The symptoms are easily recognizable to any American parent: lemminglike consumerism, loud music, hobo clothing, dangerously wacky footwear, sudden crushes on movie stars, black nail polish, sex, drugs, more sex and computer games.


"They got every recent fashion of the United States and of Europe -- but they got it all at once,'' said Guy Barlow, the British general manager of Quasar. "And they've got cash. Not a lot. But they do have money.''


Too young to remember the late communist era, with its daily privations and its underground culture of protest and alienation, Russia's teenagers are growing up in a climate of cultural license that their parents and older siblings could barely have imagined.


"I'm only 15 years older and it's as difficult for me to understand these kids as it is for my parents,'' said Sergei Solovieff, a 30-year-old Moscow marketing executive who has targeted teens in ad campaigns for boots and Turkish-made jeans called Collins-81 for those born in 1981.


"My generation was a generation of protest against the regime," Solovieff added. "This is a generation of consumers. They gobble up Western culture through movies, music and MTV -- stuff they use not because they need it, but because they have it. They don't reject. They accept." Compared to Russian teens of the 1980s and early '90s, they are more likely to be drug addicts, to smoke cigarettes or to catch a sexually transmitted disease.


Nationwide opinion polls also consistently show they are significantly less interested in politics and spurn the traditionally prestigious military and medical professions. They adore advertising, trust every bit of it, openly prefer Western products -- the more expensive, the better -- and overwhelmingly, and charmingly, believe in miracles.


In short, like teens everywhere, they are a complete mystery and trial to their elders.


"We can be confused by all the choices," said Rita Mitrofanova, a wildly popular wise-cracking 27-year-old disc jockey for the rave-music Moscow station, Radio Maximum. "They grew up under this system and already are used to it. You can't confuse them. It's their world, and they can't even imagine how it was before."


And when some Russian teenagers do try to imagine what life was like in the Dark Ages -- before music videos, the Spice Girls and Coca-Cola at every kiosk -- they are not necessarily filled with sympathy.


"When my mother was a child, everyone had the same clothes and the same shoes," said 14-year-old Masha Belova, another Quasar regular who is partial to baggy overalls and chunky gray boots. "Now we have all different styles. But that just means it's harder for us because sometimes other kids laugh at the brave kids who wear the new styles."