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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: American Pop Culture Invades Ends of Earth




Spray-painted on a school near my girlfriend Nonna's house, not far from where the dead cat lay all winter, is some graffiti in English: "For all my niggahs and bitches." In an afterthought, the vandal added, "Tupac lives."


I am sure Nonna grew tired of my endless fascination with the graffiti, just as I grew tired of hearing myself complain that the school janitor really ought to grab a shovel and remove the trampled cat from under the monkey bars.


But it was interesting (the graffiti, not the cat). Here, at the end of the world, the murdered rap star Tupac Shakur had extended the frontiers of American civilization. Would Shakur be pleased to know he added a particularly American ingredient to Russia's lexicon of racial and sexual hate?


Maybe. But a more important question remained unanswered until only last week: What other aspect of American pop culture would next manifest itself in this city? Nose rings? Giant pants? Visible boxer shorts?


The answer, I am pleased to report, is all of the above.


Last week I flew back to Vladivostok from the United States, and the plane was chattering with 13-year-old Russian homeboys who had loaded up on baggy pantaloons and XXL shirts and headscarves knotted in front.


One kid wore both a Shakur kerchief and a T-shirt printed with the rap star's mug and the advice: "Stop the violence."


The girls also showed an American influence. Some were wearing nose rings and shapeless T-shirts. One had bought a pair of Levis with the knees ripped out. (When one of our former reporters, an American, showed up for work dressed like that, our Russian colleagues were stunned. "Is she your new cleaning lady?" they asked.) Another girl sported jeans by a designer who fires a shotgun at each pair before shipping them out to retailers. I imagine there were even a few Russian girls with newly pierced navels, but Nonna refused to let me investigate.


Yes, it is inevitable and necessary that Russia switch to a market economy and Bozo-sized trousers. Still, I have to admit that I will miss the touching yet sophisticated look of Russian girls who haven't yet learned to dress like stevedores -- the polyester skirts and stylish makeup. And I will continue to admire the panache of boys in krutoi haircuts and "Men in Black" outfits.


When I cut through the schoolyard this week, a dog was running around the playground yapping at kids, oblivious to the spot where the cat had been laying for so many weeks. The Tupac graffiti was still on the wall. I doubt it will ever be painted over. Who knows what the school administration is thinking. Maybe paint is too expensive. Or maybe they figure this thing is too big to resist.