AMERICAN STIOB: Or, What Late-Socialist Aesthetics of Parody Reveal about Contemporary Political Culture in the West



This essay asks what the study of socialism and its legacies still offers anthropology of the contemporary world and argues that studying late-socialist aesthetics and practices can provide unexpected insight into late-liberal political culture, communication, and subjectivity. In the first half of the essay, we concentrate on a particular mode of parody (known in Russia as stiob) that imitated and inhabited the formal features of authoritative discourse to such an extent that it was often difficult to tell whether it was a form of sincere support, subtle ridicule, or a peculiar mixture of the two. In the second half of the essay, we show that what seem to be archetypically late-socialist aesthetics of parody are actually becoming significantly more familiar in places like the United States as well (e.g., The Colbert Report, the Yes Men, The Onion). Through an analysis of the institutional and ideological conditions of “hypernormalization” in late-socialist political culture that enabled the critical parodic potential of stiob, we argue that analogous trends in Western political communication and political ideology have contributed to the rising intuitiveness and popularity of stioblike interventions in late liberalism too.