When “Russian Dolls,” the since canceled Lifetime reality show about a gaggle of Russian women living in Brighton Beach, premiered on the Lifetime Network, my Brighton friends and I gathered around a television to mark the occasion. What we were expecting was something akin to a Russiafied “Jersey Shore.” What we saw was, remarkably, much worse. The Dolls were shamelessly portrayed as superficial, vain, and none too bright; shining examples of the untranslatable Russian word poshlost, meaning something like “self-satisfied vulgarity.”
It’s unfortunate that, given the opportunity to spotlight such a unique cultural goldmine like Little Odessa, producers of the show took the tasteless, asinine route, with the obvious intent to try and boost ratings. Really, the only thing setting “Russian Dolls” apart from other trashy reality shows in the same vein is the demographic in question. (Viewers may not have realized the characters portrayed on the show are not only Russian, but also Jewish.)
In the culture-starved world of reality programming, positive role models are few and far between. These shows reinforce loathsome stereotypes that already exist in society: the Russian Dolls very obviously encompass two stereotypes commonly referred to in local slang as JAP (Jewish American Princess) and OTB (Off The Boat).
This isn’t the first time Russian Jews have been made a mockery of in popular culture, and it won’t be the last. But it is not our job as cultural consumers to be offended or take any of these stereotypes seriously. It is our job to defy them, and to carve out our own positive roles in society, in spite of the negative ones delegated to us by some arbitrary typecasts.
Samantha Shokin, 22, is a senior at NYU Gallatin concentrating in literary journalism. She was born in NYC and currently lives in Brooklyn with her mother and father, who emigrated from Ukraine and Lithuania, respectively.