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Op-Ed: Russian cartoon Masha and the Bear soft Russian propaganda?

The Times article is behind a paywall.

Masha and the Bear

Masha and the Bear is based on a folk tale with the plot and characters as follows: Masha is a Russian girl who lives in the forest with her pig, goat, and dog. All the animals in the forest are afraid of her as she is constantly forcing them to play with her. One morning, Masha sees a butterfly and inadvertently follows it inside the home of a bear who has gone fishing. While playing there, she makes a big mess. When the Bear returns, he sees the disaster caused by Masha. The Bear tries to get rid of Masha, but he is unsuccessful, and he and Masha become friends. In each episode of the show, Masha is portrayed as a smart, kind, but mischievous little girl who is exploring the world around her. This leads to many funny and entertaining situations. The kind-hearted Bear is always trying to keep Masha out of trouble, but often ends up the unintended victim of her mischief. There are several supporting characters in the series, including Masha’s cousin Dasha, a penguin adopted by the Bear, a young panda cub from China, who is the Bear’s cousin, two wolves who live in an old UAZ ambulance car, a tiger that used to work with the Bear in the circus, and a Female Bear that is the object of the bear’s affections. Characters also include a hare, squirrels and hedgehogs, a pig called Rosie, a goat, and a dog who all live in Masha’s front yard.

The Masha and the Bear animated television series was created by Oleg Kuzokov and produced by the Animaccord Animation Studio in Moscow. The bear tries to keep Masha from disasters. The first episode was in 2009. The series has been hugely successful internationally being translated into 25 languages and has been broadcast in more than one hundred countries. The series has been released on Netflix.

There are many episodes on YouTube that have been immensely successful. The appended video “Recipe for Disaster” has had 3.3 billion views the sixth most viewed video of all time and the most viewed that is not a music video. Many episodes have huge numbers of views. There have been 3 full seasons with 26 episodes each. Thirteen episodes of the fourth season have been already launched.

Article ridiculed by some

Not surprisingly the Russian Embassy staff mocked the article via a tweet: “How UK can find salvation from ‘Masha and the Bear’? Launch an Ant-Cartoon Excellence Centre somewhere in the Baltic? Place all cartoonists on EU sanction list? Clearly a decisive – and a very expensive – approach is needed!”

The head of the cartoon’s production studio Animaccord, Dmitry Loveyko said to Sputnik: “It’s seriously difficult to comment on it, only with a great deal of irony. The Times would have been better off writing that Masha behaves like [former UK Prime Minister Winston] Churchill.”

The evidence that the series is propaganda

The article points to similarities between Masha and the personality of Russian President Putin. The Times quotes Professor Anthony Glees of the University of Buckingham who characterizes Masha as “feisty, even, rather nasty, but also plucky” and who punches above her slight weight. He claims it is not far-fetched to see her as Putinesque. This is somewhat ironic in that in Russia the series has often been criticized for showing kids a poor model of behavior and lacking any positive moral message. As you can see from the porridge episode appended if Masha is supposed to be a model of Putin or Putinesque, it is not a very favorable model as Masha creates a mini-disaster in the episode. Why isn’t the kindly Russian bear the Putinesque figure?

Others have also seen political propaganda in the series, including a Lithuanian lawmaker who has been striving to ban the series from state television. He claims that Masha symbolizes Russian aggression. There are many series and perhaps in some reading propaganda into the particular one makes some sense. What it shows is that people use the frames through which they interpret the world to read things into what they see. There are a variety of comments on the issue on Reddit.

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