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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Was There Life Before Television?

Were it not for the tragic loss of life, it would be hard not to look at the events of the past week without a certain amount of gleeful satisfaction.

For a few days, anyway, the Ostankino fire was a revolutionary’s dream come true: Blank screens where once there was a steady feed of politics, pulp and chewing gum ads. With no daily fix of "O Schastlivchik!" or "Dorozhny Patrul," anarchy might very well be at hand.

Even for lesser zealots — librarians, gardeners, chess players — the fire seemed like a reminder that it was time to step back and take a little pleasure in the simpler things in life. Reading. Exercising. Taking a break from the daily onslaught of bad news. But once again, the babushka backlash has proved too powerful to ignore. It seems unfair to take away the final refuge of a nation that has been denied nearly every other comfort as well.

It would be nice to think that people living in Russia would spend their TV-free week dropping in on neighbors for visits, taking their dogs for extra-long walks or catching up on the new edition of "War and Peace."

But television is a drug with exponential staying power — the more you have, the more you want. The scramble for satellite dishes has proven there’s no easy vacation from the pleasures of the small screen.

In general, life without television is an entertaining — and unlikely — conceit in countries that suffer an embarrassment of riches. In a nation like Russia, where television is virtually the only form of leisure that some people can afford, the Ostankino fire is proving a rather grim social experiment. No one should be brought to tears over an unexpected lapse in soap opera programming.

But the despair over the blackout, of course, is about more than empty screens. It’s about a country that rests on 30-year-old achievements that have long since outlived their practical value. It’s about resistance to change, indifference to safety standards and a general willingness to neglect infrastructure.

It’s no surprise that the big winner to emerge from the Ostankino crisis, Media-MOST’s Vladimir Gusinsky, is also behind some of Russian television’s most innovative and independent programming. Progressive approaches to enterprise rarely get a big round of applause from the state, but this time around they gave the people what they wanted: an escape from the terrors of an unlit screen.

And watching the Ostankino tower burn on THT was some of the most captivating television in months.