Pussy Riot’s humour and the social media: Self-irony, subversion, and solidarity

Berenice Pahl


This paper seeks to demonstrate that both the media impact and political success of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot rest on their use of new media, on the one hand, and on an aesthetic principle of humour, on the other, or, more specifically, on a kind of humour that is both self-reflexive and subversive. Pussy Riot operate through a style of guerrilla communication that re-signifies signs and symbols for their own purpose in a self-ironical, comical manner. I will indicate the contradictions and ambiguities of various interpretive frameworks – which not only create humour but are particularly motivating factors in the (personal) decision to become politically active. The speed with which one can communicate within social networks made it possible that infectious laughter about the absurdity of the events in Moscow was able to spread so rapidly. Reassurance and the community’s solidarity were closely connected to the fun and joy of the individual internet user.


Pussy Riot, new media, feminism, YouTube, humor, self-irony, guerrilla communication, solidarity, rhizome

Full Text:



Apte, M. (1985). Humour and Laughter: An Anthropological Approach. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Bachmaier, H. (2005). Texte zur Theorie der Komik. Stuttgart: Reclam.

Bakhtin, M. (1984). Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Barreca, R., ed. (1988). Last Laughs. Perspectives on Women and Comedy. New York, N.Y.: Gordon and Breach.

Barreca, R. (1991). They Used to Call Me Snow White... But I Drifted. Women’s Strategic Use of Humour. New York, N.Y.: Penguin.

Bergson, H. (1911). Laughter. An Essay on the Meanings of Comic. New York, N.Y.: McMillan. Retrieved December 22, 2016 from https://ia802700.us.archive.org/22/items/laughteranessay00berggoog/laughteranessay00berggoog.pdf.

Berger, P. L. (1997). Redeeming Laughter. The Comic Dimension of Human Experience. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Burchell, K. (2015). ‘Infiltrating the space, hijacking the platform: Pussy Riot, Sochi protests, and media events’. Participations. Journal of Audience and Reception Studies. Vol: 12, Issue 1. Retrieved December 22, 2016 from http://www.participations.org/Volume%2012/Issue%201/36.pdf.

Burgess, J. & Green, J. (2009). YouTube. Online Video and Participatory Culture. Molden: Polity.

Chiaro, D. & Baccolini, R. (2014). ‘Humour: A many gendered thing’, in Chiaro, D. & Baccolini, R. (eds.), Gender and Humour. Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives, New York, N.Y.: Routledge, pp. 1–12.

Cixous, H. (1976). ‘The love of the Medusa’. Signs. Journal of Women in Culture and Society (1/4). Retrieved December 22, 2016 from http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/493306.

Coser, R.L. (1960). ‘Laughter among colleagues’. Psychiatry 23, pp. 81–95.

Critchley, S. (2002). On Humour. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Day, A. (2011). Satire + Dissent. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Degot, E. (2012). ‘Russland: Fast niemand glaubt traditionell an Gott’. Die Welt Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://www.welt.de/print/welt_kompakt/article106157429/Russland-Fast-niemand-glaubt-traditionell-an-Gott.html.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.

Demenok, A. (2014) Pussy Riot und andere Sünden. Putins Russland und die Kunst. TV documentary; 3sat. Produced by Schmidt & Petzel Fernsehfilme.

Douglas, M. (1968). ‘The social control of cognition: Some factors in joke perception’. Man 3, pp. 361–376. Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://doi.org/10.2307/2798875.

DPA (2012). ‘Pussy Riot entschuldigt sich bei orthodoxen Christen’. Hamburger Abendblatt. Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://www.abendblatt.de/politik/ausland/article108442247/Pussy-Riot-entschuldigt-sich-bei-orthodoxen-Christen.html.

Epstein, I. (2015). ‘Introduction: The global dimensions of contemporary youth protest’, in Epstein, I. (ed.), The Whole World is Texting. Youth Protest in the Information Age, Rotterdam: Sense, pp. 1–24.

Euteneuer, J. (2014). ‘Wo die virtuellen Mauern stehen. Der türkische Ministerpräsident wil Facebook und YouTube verbieten. Er ist nicht alleine – viele Staaten zensieren das Internet’. Frankfurter Allgemeine. Retrieved October 6, 2016 from http://www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/netzwirtschaft/facebook-und-youtube-wer-das-internet-zensiert-12835972.html.

Fischer-Lichte, E. (2008). The Transformative Power of Performance. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Finley, K. (1993). Enough is Enough. Weekly Meditations for Living Dysfunctionally. New York, N.Y.: Poseidon Press.

Freud, S. (1928). ‘Humour’. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 9, pp. 1–6.

Gablik, S. (1994). ‘You don’t have to have a penis to be a genius. The Guerilla Girls have infiltrated the American art world’. Women’s Art Magazine 60, pp. 6–11.

Gathmann, M. (2009). ‘Empörung garantiert. Die russische Kunstguerilla’. FAZ. Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/empoerung-garantiert-die-russische-kunst-guerrilla-1893676.html.

Gerbaudo, P. (2012). Tweets and the Streets. Social Media and Contemporary Activism. London: Pluto Press.

Goldberg, R. (2011). Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. New York, N.Y.: Thames & Hudson.

Gray, F. (1994). Women and Laughter. London: MacMillan.

Gurewitch, M. (1962). The Comedy of Romantic Irony. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Hardt, M. & Negri, A. (2009). Common Wealth. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Hobbes, T. (1651). Leviathan. The First Part: Of Men. Retrieved December 22, 2016 from https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/748/leviathan.pdf.

Hutcheon, L. (1994). Irony’s Edge. The Theory and Politics of Irony. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Hutcheson, F. (1987/1750). ‘Reflections upon laughter’, in Morreall, J. (ed.), The Philosophy of Laughter and Humour. New York, N.Y.: New York University Press.

Ioffe, J. (2012). ‘Pussy Riot v. Putin: A front row seat at a Russian dark comedy’. New Republic. Retrieved December 22, 2016 from http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/105846/how-punk-rock-show-trial-became-russias-greatest-gonzo-artwork?page=0,1.

Irigaray, L. (1985). This Sex Witch Is Not One. Ithaka, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Isaac, J. A. (1996). Feminism and Contemporary Art: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Laughter. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Jenkins, M. (1986). ‘What’s so funny?: Joking among women’, in Bremmer, S. & Caskey, N. & Moonwoman, B. (eds.), Proceedings of the First Berkeley Women and Language Conference. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Kaufmann, G. (1991). In Stiches. A Patchwork of Feminist Humour and Satire. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.

Kobets, S. (2001). ‘Iurodstvo: Foolishness in Christ’, in Steeves, P (ed.), The Modern Encyclopedia of Religions in Russia and Eurasia. Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press. Retrieved December 22, 2016 from http://www.slavdom.com/index.php?id=35.

Kotthoff, H. (1988). ‘Vom Laecheln der Mona Lisa zum Lachen der Hyaenen’, in Kotthoff, H. (ed.), Das Gelaechter der Geschlechter. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, pp. 121-165.

Kotthoff, H. (2006). ‘Introduction’. Journal of Pragmatics. Special Issue: Gender and Humour 38 (1), pp. 1–3.

Kube Ventura, H. (2001). Politische Kunst, Begriffe in den 1990er Jahren im deutschsprachigen Raum. Wien: Edition Selene.

Langston, H. (2012). ‘Meeting Pussy Riot’. VICE Magazine. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from http://www.vice.com/read/A-Russian-Pussy-Riot.

Little, J. (1983). Comedy and the Woman Writer, Wolf, Spark, and Feminism. Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press.

Martin, R. A. (2007). The Psychology of Humour. An Integrative Approach. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Academic Press.

Merrill, L. (1988). ‘Feminist humour: Rebellious and self-affirming’, Women’s Studies 15, pp. 271–280.

Milevska, S. (2006). ‘Participatory art. A paradigm shift from objects to subjects’. Springerin. Retrieved December 21, 2016 from http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2006-06-02-milevska-en.html.

Milner Davis, J. (2014). ‘Traditional comic conflicts in farce and roles for women’, in Chiaro, D. & Baccolini, R. (ed.), Gender and Humour. Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives. New York, N.Y.: Routledge, pp. 30–52.

Morreall, J. (2009). Comic Relief. A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humour. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Morreall, J. (ed.) (1987). The Philosophy of Laughter and Humour. New York, N.Y.: New York University Press.

Muecke, D.C. (1969). The Compass of Irony. London: Methuen.

Mulkay, M. (1988). On Humour. Its Nature and Its Place in Modern Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Panov, A. (2012). ‘Pussy Riot prank in Cathedral has Russians divided in their assessments’. Russia Beyond the Headlines. Retrieved December 28, 2015 from http://rbth.com/articles/2012/03/27/for_what_should_pussy_riot_be_responsible_and_how_15183.html.

Papacharissi, Z. (2015). Affective Publics. Sentiment, Technology, and Politics. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.

Parvulescu, A. (2010). Laughter. Notes on a Passion. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Plessner, H. (1970). Laughing and Crying: A Study of the Limits of Human Behaviour. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press.

Polletta, F. (2006). It Was Like a Fever. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

Radulescu, D. (2012). Women’s Comedic Art as Social Revolution. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company.

Rancière, J. (2006). The Politics of Aesthetics. London: Bloomsbury Continuum.

Robertson, A. (2016). ‘Why is YouTube being accused of censuring vloggers? Nothing has changed but everything is terrible’. The Verge. Retrieved October 6, 2016 from http://www.theverge.com/2016/9/1/12753108/youtube-is-over-party-advertising-monetization-censorship.

Rorty, R. (1989). Contingency, Irony and Solidarity. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press.

Rowe, K. (1995). The Unruly Women. Gender and the Genres of Laughter. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press.

Russell, D. (2002). ‘Self-deprecatory humour and the female comic: Self-destruction or comedic construction?’. Thirdspace: A Journal of Feminist Theory & Culture 2 (1). Retrieved December 22, 2016 from http://journals.sfu.ca/thirdspace/index.php/journal/article/viewArticle/d_russell/68.

Russo, M. (1995). The Female Grotesque. Risk, Excess and Modernity. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Schümer, D. (2002). ‘Lachen mit Bachtin’. Merkur. Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken 9–10, pp. 847–853.

Schörle, E. (2007). Die Verhöflichung des Lachens. Bielefeld: Aisthesis.

Segschneider J. & Heinrich, H. (2013). ‘Pussy Riot: Feministische und anarchistische Performance Kunst’. Pop Zeitschrift. Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://www.pop-zeitschrift.de/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/aufsatz-segschneider-heinrich-pussy-riot.pdf.

Shifman, L. (2014). Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Stott, A. (2014). Comedy. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Tolokonnikova, N. (2012). ‘Pussy Riot closing statement’. WebCite. Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://www.webcitation.org/6Bj0xl2pT.

Walker, N. A. (1988). A Very Serious Thing: Women’s Humour and American Culture. Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.

Ventura, H. K. (2001). Politische Kunst Begriffe. In den 1990er im deutchsprachigen Raum. Wien: Edition Selene.

Virno, P. (2005). A Grammar of the Multitude. For an Analyses of Contemporary Forms of Life. New York, N.Y.: MIT Press Semiotext(e).

Weisstein, N. (1973). ‘Why we aren’t laughing anymore’. Ms. Magazin 2 (5), pp. 49–51, 88–90.

Willems, J. (2014). ‘Why “punk”? Religion, anarchism and feminism in Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer’. Religion, State & Society 42 (4), pp. 403–419. Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09637494.2014.988397.

White, E. (1992). ‘Revolution girl-style now. Notes from the teenage feminist rock ’n’ roll underground’. Chicago Reader. Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/revolution-girl-style-now/Content?oid=880507.

Yaqub, M. & Silova, I. (2015). ‘Remixing Riot: The reappropriation of Pussy Riot through user-generated imagery across the Russian internet’, in Epstein, I. (ed.), The Whole World is Texting: Youth Protest in the Information Age, Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, pp. 115–137.

Zijderveld, A. (1976). Humor und Gesellschaft. Eine Soziologie des Humors und des Lachens. Graz: Styria.

Žižek, S. (2012). ‘The true blasphemy’. Chtodelat News. Retrieved October 24, 2016 from http://chtodelat.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/the-true-blasphemy-slavoj-zizek-on-pussy-riot/.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7592/EJHR2016.4.4.pahl


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Publication ethics and malpractice statement