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City of Zero: Manipulation of Consciousness in the USSR
City of Zero: Manipulation of Consciousness in the USSR

In 1988, Karen Shakhnazarov's film "City of Zero" was released, which still remains almost unknown to the general public.

In his book "Manipulation of Consciousness" (2000) Sergei Kara-Murza calls "City of Zero" "the magic flute of perestroika" Union.

“In it [the film - approx. author] shows how in two days it is possible to bring a normal and reasonable person to a state where he completely ceases to understand what is happening, loses the ability to distinguish between reality and the products of the imagination, the will to resist and even to salvation is paralyzed in him. And all this without violence, only by influencing his consciousness and feelings”*.

However, the scale of the film goes beyond a narrow historical period, and the methods of manipulating public consciousness, shown openly and deliberately exaggerated, and therefore frightening, remain relevant to this day.

In one of his interviews, Shakhnazarov claimed that City of Zero was conceived as a comedy of the absurd, but then outgrew the original idea.

The opposite is evidenced by the almost final scene, where all the heroes gather under an oak tree, which is broken when they try to pick a branch from it. This oak tree is not at all an allegory of the "tree of Russian statehood", as Kara-Murza claims, but a direct reference to the "Golden Branch" by James Frazer (1890), in which the author describes not only the secret ritual of the change of power in antiquity, but also how this ritual gradually degenerated, and the power lost its sacred character **.

The plot of the film itself is extremely simple. Engineer Varakin comes from Moscow to a provincial city to agree on the technical details of changing the air conditioners that the local plant produces. This is followed by a series of incredible and ridiculous events, but Varakin never manages to get out of the city.

So, what methods of destruction of the consciousness of an ordinary person are described in the film? Let's name only the main ones. Those wishing to learn more can watch the film itself.

1. Removal of cultural taboos

A person finds himself in a situation that contradicts all his beliefs, but which is perceived or demonstrated by society as normal. There is a dissonance between a person's own concepts and generally accepted ones.

Note that a taboo is not a law, that is, not an external prohibition, which requires external condemnation.

Taboos are a person's own beliefs, formed as a result of his communication with society, these prohibitions are not formulated directly, but their observance guarantees both the stability of the psyche of the person himself and the stability of the society in which they were formed.

2. Destruction of historical memory

The rewriting of history does not take place in some separate inconvenient moments, the very foundation is violated, which is impossible until the first method of manipulation is applied.

This is not so much about changing recent history as about denying events that happened a long time ago - the earlier the rewriting of history begins, the more power this method will have on society. To build a new building, you need to start with a new foundation.

These two methods are practically shock therapy and cannot be applied for a long time - a person, as a rational being, strives for order and, having received time for reflection and realization, realizes the absurdity of what is happening.

To consolidate the effect, it is necessary to apply one of the following methods (it is possible to use both at once, although they are directly opposite).

3. The authority of science

Giving the absurd an intelligible form. Modern science is so complex that it is practically incomprehensible to the common man in the street.It is impossible to check the calculations in everyday conditions or by logical thinking, and the structuring of information, even if imaginary, has a calming effect. Namely, this is necessary for a person who has experienced the first methods of manipulation.

4. Blood absurdity

Introduction to the system of an element against which the absurdity loses its meaning. For any normal person, the death and suffering of his own kind are the priority for the sake of which you can sacrifice everything else, even your own convictions.

In the film, this is clearly shown: the main character Varakin is brought a cake in the form of his own head and they say that the chef will shoot himself if Varakin does not try this cake. He, of course, refuses. But when the chef really shoots himself, the situation no longer seems so absurd - what does it mean to try some kind of cake in comparison with a person's life?

And, finally, the very title of the film. Zero is a position in roulette, when the casino wins everything, the bets of all players are literally "zeroed". The one who conceived the game beats everyone at once.

At the same time, "zero" is "zero", a reference point on the coordinate line and reduction to this point means the beginning of the construction of a new system.

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