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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MEDIA WATCH: Hack Humor Turns Black




Unpaid for the second month in a row or facing salary cuts, threatened with the closure of their papers or their sale to new, possibly more ruthless owners, Russian journalists are f you guessed it f laughing. The Russian press is basically full of the gallows humor that has helped sustain this country through a century of almost incessant crises.


The gloom-and-doom headlines of last month ("Russia Is Bankrupt" or "What Will Happen to Our Motherland and to Us?") have given way to bitterly sarcastic ones, many of them minor gems. "Last Chance to Have a Look at Imported Food" was the front-page teaser in Kommersant Daily for a story on a food industry expo.


The same paper, reporting on former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov's appointment to a post in the Kremlin that carries no salary, said in the headline: "Nemtsov Will Work Like a Miner f Without Pay."


The daily Segodnya, which had some of the most apocalyptic headlines in Moscow after the Aug. 17 ruble devaluation and debt default, is now having fun. "You're on the Right Path, Comrades!" declared a front-page banner headline over a story on the new, Communist-filled government lineup. The photo that ran with the story was of a 1980s Politburo waving benignly to the masses from atop Lenin's Tomb in Red Square.


The normally serious business weekly Interfax-AiF introduced a "political humor" page in its latest issue. "'How did you sleep last night?' one banker asks another," goes one of the jokes on that page. "'Like a baby,' the other answers. 'I woke up every hour and cried.'"


And, in a change from the informative, rather insipid headlines of old, Interfax AiF declared on its front page: "If the Crisis Is All in People's Heads, Why Hit Them on the Head So Hard?"


Naturally, the surviving broadsheets are having a field day with the crisis, as if it is something they invented for their readers' amusement. Moscow's most popular daily, Moskovsky Komsomolets, whose staff recently saw huge pay cuts, is running a subscription campaign under the slogan, "MK Is the Hardest Currency in the Moscow Region," clearly suggesting that, unlike the ruble, the daily is worth more than the paper it's printed on.


On its front page recently, MK ran a rather morbid "joke of the day" dealing with the house in Yekaterinburg where the last tsar's family was executed: "The Ipatyev House is being urgently rebuilt in expectation of the arrival of the Yeltsin family." And, giving sound economic advice probably for the first time in its history, MK ran Alexei Merinov's cartoon in which Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov announces: "We plan to print rubles," and someone in his audience yells, "We'd prefer that you print dollars instead."


Another racy daily, Komsomolskaya Pravda, deep in arrears to its workers and printers, published an anecdote from a small provincial town where an old lady tried to pay for food with a replica of a 100-ruble bill she cut out from a magazine. The KP reporter was clearly sympathetic. "Is it so completely inconceivable these days that they've started printing money in magazines?" he wrote.


If you judge by the movie, there was less laughter on the Titanic as it sank. Which might give you the idea that Russia may not in fact be a sinking ship, or at least not the kind of sinking ship that actually sinks.


In the same newspapers, there have been plenty of reports about people committing suicide or dying of heart attacks when their savings went up in smoke. And it was MK that recently ran the headline, "Russian Soldier: I Got No Chance to Starve or Freeze to Death f My Mate Shot Me." No one pretends that what's going on is actually funny. But those who can laugh at the mess they're in have a fair chance of survival without emigrating.


The weekly Kapital has started running a column by a just-fired investment bank employee. She said she had always wanted to try her hand at journalism. The first column, in the latest issue, contains her rather humorous rundown on the ways in which companies are laying off people f ranging from a compassionate speech by the boss to a locked door that employees face one fine morning.


When an editor at Kapital first saw the piece, he told the columnist, "I hope you don't find a new job for a long time so you can keep writing for us." She laughed merrily. I guess if she can still do that, anyone can.