While writing my book on the anticommunist black legend, I have been collecting examples of “everyday anticommunism.” These are the commonplace references to communism that pop up everywhere, all the time, even in discussions that have nothing to do with communism.
The power of everyday commonplaces is that they act as the cement that binds together a whole background of assumptions and beliefs. They can take many forms but jokes are some of the most powerful.
For generations American racism was supported by jokes about African Americans. Most of these jokes were predicated on the notion of Black inferiority. Occasionally the joke was reversed when a white man was outwitted by a black, but this only served to underscore the point: How stupid do you have to be to be bested by a nigger? The entertainment industry often portrayed African Americans as clowns and buffoons. Everything about them was inferior. Even their lovable characteristics — simple-mindedness and gullibility — were childlike.
The same is done to communism, which is consistently portrayed as ridiculous when it’s not evil and sinister.
Which brings me to an article on Soviet era clothing entitled “Reason to get your knickers in a twist: Underwear in the Soviet Union.” The article takes off from a recent Russian law establishing safety requirements for underwear, stipulating that water absorbency must be at least 6% whereas most synthetics are 3%. As one medical authority put it: “In synthetic undergarments nothing can breathe. It’s just like wearing a cellophane bag!”
What’s wrong with this? Well, some people supposedly are worried about a return to Soviet times when it was allegedly “almost impossible to obtain quality undergarments” and when underwear was just another “story of how people’s lives were abased for the sake of state politics.” We are assured that “memories of what Soviet citizens wore under their clothes are simultaneously comic and tragic.”
And just what was so wrong with Soviet era underwear? Apparently it wasn’t sexy and frilly enough:
When the country fell apart in 1991, Soviet women replaced their comfortable – but not terribly attractive – undergarments of domestic manufacture with panties – often erotic and synthetic – imported from the West.”
Under the Soviet woman’s skirt, there was “high-quality ugliness.” The builders of communism had no time for pretty underwear. “Communism and panties are mutually exclusive!”
Nevertheless, as the article admits, this unsexy Soviet underwear was of “high quality.” In fact, quality and lack of threats to health were “much more important” than style. And, as a companion article states, speaking of Soviet era clothing in general,
To give credit where it is due though, it should be said that many of those items were of excellent quality: they lasted for years and were often passed down to younger generations.
So there we have it: Soviet era underwear was comfortable, durable, high-quality, and healthy. But it wasn’t lacy, frilly, flimsy, sexy, bright and colorful, and of such low moisture absorbency as to be unhealthy. It was, instead, an example of how under Communism “people’s lives were abased for the sake of state politics.”
But what about capitalist underwear? Why does the market create a demand for flimsy, uncomfortable, unhealthy underwear? Why have people been persuaded to wear these things? Does anyone believe humans are born with a natural desire for thongs?
Capitalism creates this demand just like it creates a zillion other frivolous and harmful demands: because without expanding and ever-changing consumer demand the capitalist profit engine will poop out. This is abasement for the sake of market profits.
Just think of all the jokes you could make about thongs (“butt floss”). Are these jokes ever used to condemn capitalism? Aren’t thongs “simultaneously comic and tragic?”
Oh, and by the way, one more thing:
Many Russians today feel nostalgic for the 1960s and some fashion trends of that era are back in style. Shorts worn over tights have become a fashion standard all over the world, and Russian fashionistas have a real fetish for the dresses their grandmothers wore during that time.
Nostalgic? For the 1960s? For communist functional wear over capitalist butt floss? No way!