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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cadets and Housewives

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Thanks to my 9-year-old daughter, I now know a thing or two about soap operas. She not only likes to share her favorite shows with her father, but also to hear his opinion.

Most of the series on television are now produced in Russia and, soap operas being soap operas, Russia's "Soldiers" is every bit as good as "Desperate Housewives" from the United States. What amazes me is that there is no real difference between the soldiers, housewives, surgeons and cadets depicted in these shows. They all seem to melt into a single, continuous drama.

The result is a sort of U.S.-Russian mega-soap opera, covering all aspects of life, united by some general premises and a uniform way of portraying them. The main characters don't seem joined in any way other than location -- they live in the same area, serve in the same regiment, attend the same military academy or work in the same clinic. Even if we were to switch some characters, the basic story lines would remain unchanged. The soldiers make the transition to civilian life, the cadets grow up, and the surgeons emigrate and find jobs in U.S. clinics. The U.S. housewife divorces her husband and, in search of the exotic, marries a man from a provincial Russian town. (This last scenario is somewhat less standard but also shown on these programs.

The characters are not united by any common goal or idea. They simply live out their personal lives against the backdrop of their usually humdrum jobs. The focus is more on their place of employment than on basic life questions. No major current events are shown to serve as an organizational framework or unifying thread for the action.

Family, love and occasionally friendship are significant, but anyone operating outside these immediate circles is treated with relative indifference. The very idea that someone might empathize with a stranger is alien to the very nature of these soaps -- and perhaps to many of their viewers as well. Here, whatever does not concern us directly does not concern us at all.

In this regard, two episodes of the program Kadets really shook me up. In one, a young woman whose parents had forbidden her from dating a cadet, pays some punk to pose as her date. After he shocks her parents by talking openly about smoking marijuana, the parents decide the cadet is the better option. In the second, a single cadet pays a model to pose as his date at a cafe.

The only difference between the stories is that the model charges more than the punk.

It apparently never entered the minds of the writers -- and perhaps the minds of viewers -- that one person might help another without any thought of remuneration. The moral is that nobody does anything for anyone else unless they get paid.

The sad truth is that in this sense the shows present an accurate reflection of life today. A good portion of society lives according to these rules.

On April Fool's Day, some jokester in the Moscow suburbs announced he was opening a recruiting station for volunteers to fight with U.S. military forces in Iraq, Syria and Iran. The response was overwhelming. What started out as an April Fool's Day joke was transformed into an act of political provocation. Military journalist Vlad Shurygin joined in as a "consultant," asking would-be conscripts questions like: Will you take the pledge of allegiance to the United States? What if you were sent to Belarus instead? Or Crimea? Applicants has no problem as long as the price was right.

I find it hard to explain to my daughter why I don't like these shows. After all, they so closely resemble everyday life. But that is exactly what we must change if we want the words "honor," "decency" and "mutual aid" to have any meaning for the next generation.

Boris Kagarlitsky is the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.