What was the highlight of seven days watching Russian state TV? Think Jerry Springer

The World
Author Gary Shteyngart.

On New Year's Eve in 2014, author Gary Shteyngart began an experiment.

He wanted to know what it would be like if he spent seven days hunkered down in a hotel room in New York City, with nothing to do but watch Russian state TV. Shteyngart was born in the Soviet Union but grew up in the US. His family emigrated when he was 7.

And with this experiment, he wanted to enter "the television-filtered head space of [his] former countrymen." But watching Russian state television for seven days non-stop turned out to be more challenging than Shteyngart imagined.

Shteyngart wrote about his experience for New York Times Magazine.

Among all the programming he endured through during his week-long quest, one type stood out. "I loved watching the Jerry Springer-type shows," he says.

There was one called "Male/Female."

"A woman in a village was derided by everyone as the village hooker ... [and] she was trying to find the father of her latest child," Shteyngart recalls.

The woman was from the village of Bolsheorlovskoe, 300 miles from Moscow. Shteyngart says what was surprising, was that "everyone just insulted her over and over again."

And the woman did nothing to defend herself.

"In a Jerry Springer-type show, you would expect her to fight back, name calling and bleeping of curse words, but she sat there like a heroine out of Dostoyevsky and just took the punches," Shteyngart says.

To Shteyngart, this episode is emblematic of Russia in general.

"People don’t respond back," he says. "They’re told what the truth is and they accept it and there’s no fighting back."

The exception, according to Shteyngart, comes from very small populations, especially younger people.

Read Shteyngart's complete story in the New York Times Magazine.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.