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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Raw Dobkin, Crass Cheney

In a telling demonstration of how today's interactive technology really does make the world a global village, an obscure Ukrainian politician has emerged this month as an international entertainment phenomenon. Or the global village idiot. Or both. Somewhere Marshall McLuhan is surely laughing when he isn't gnashing his teeth.

Mikhail Dobkin is the mayor of Kharkiv, not much of a launching pad for universal celebrity. Yet on YouTube -- an internationally popular website for sharing videos -- a short feature starring Dobkin has now been enjoyed by well over half a million viewers worldwide. The five-minute clip, entirely in Russian, consists of nothing more than Dobkin sitting behind a desk rehearsing a campaign spot for local television. Yet it has become the sixth most popular video for the entire YouTube nation over the past month, outdrawing such mega-hits as former U.S. President Bill Clinton's "Help Improve the World" and "Iran So Far," the Saturday Night Live send-up of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yep, Mayor Dobkin is a major hit.

The secret behind hizzoner's overnight success is alarmingly simple: In the video, Dobkin curses a blue streak, like a sailor, a trooper or the original tinker who uttered that damn. The mayor and the campaign ad's director snipe at each other like a foul-mouthed Laurel and Hardy for nearly the whole five minutes as candidate Dobkin stumbles through a hackneyed campaign speech promising better roads and city services "for all Kharkivites."

In rough, denatured approximation -- which is all you can do to convey cursing in another language -- the dialogue runs in part: "Why the [expletive] can't you just read what's written there, Misha, you [expletive]?" "Because you wrote such a retarded, [expletive] text, that's why!" "Stop smacking your [expletive] lips, just read it the way it is!" "Could you quit your [expletive] shouting already?" "C'mon, [expletive] it, two more takes on this [expletive] and we're done, OK?"

While 2007 is indeed the Year of the Russian Language, this episode clearly won't make the highlight reel at Pushkin House. But not everything here is Dobkin-depressive. Within its enormous volume of viewers, the video has attracted considerable positive commentary from Russian speakers and others (thanks to a loosely English-subtitled version). Along with apocalyptic laments about a nation whose ruling elite swear like stevedores, one finds heartfelt thumbs-ups such as "Terrific! Hilarious!" " Kharkiv, thanks for raising our spirits here in Irkutsk!" "Better these regular muzhiki than a bunch of [expletive] heads we don't know!" and "Lucky Kharkivites, what a great mayor!"

Upbeat remarks like these likely point to a higher (OK, lower) truth lurking somewhere beyond the classic public relations maxim, "There's no such thing as bad publicity." Despite the vileness of his language, campaigner Dobkin comes across not only as crude, but also genuine in his own way, which is how all politicians want to be perceived, of course. And how constituents everywhere want to perceive them. As one English-language viewer revealingly commented, "I wish our politicians [could] be this open."

They sometimes are, of course, but we seldom catch them at it -- and there's usually not a lot to enjoy when we do. President Vladimir Putin has crudely threatened to dismember Chechen rebels and circumcise a French reporter. As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush wedged a cowboy-booted foot into his yap by calling a respected journalist a "major-league [expletive]."

Yet the anti-Nobel Prize for civic erudition surely goes to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. Confounded by inquiries into his honesty and integrity in the very Senate over which he presides, Cheney beheld his primary questioner, a distinguished gentleman from Vermont, and imperiously intoned, "Go [expletive] yourself."

Dobkin may be a scalawag or a scoundrel; he is certainly a boor who casually uses obscenities. But consider Cheney. Never casual, he not only uses obscenities, he is one -- a furtive, base and unapologetic manipulator whose speech and behavior are "offensive to accepted standards of decency" in a democracy. Idiot-shmidiot -- give me Dobkin any time.

In January 2009, the world Cheney has been obscenely despoiling will finally get to tell him where to go. Meanwhile, in his "secure location," safe from scrutiny by you, me, Congress and YouTube, Cheney should prepare himself for this event by carefully rolling up this column for filing purposes. He clearly knows exactly where to stick it.

Mark H. Teeter teaches English and Russian-American relations in Moscow.