The Crazy Sociology Experiment Buried in a Russian Game Show
You remember the ultra-popular game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, right? It was a cultural phenomenon that dominated the prime time television lineup like no other game show ever had or likely ever will. The show was packed with drama, had an adorable host, and most importantly, allowed the person answering the questions to ask for help from the audience and people at home.
"On the keypad in front of you, please enter how many dicks you'd like our contestant to suck ..."
Those pleas for help from other people came in the form of "lifelines" that could be used if a particularly tough question had the player stumped. One allowed you to call any person in the world, provided you actually knew them, and ask them for help. There was another that allowed you to poll the studio audience. It's in that particular gameplay twist that a fundamental difference between two formerly hostile nations reveals itself.
In the U.S. version, it's claimed that when polled, the audience provided the right answer an astounding 91 percent of the time, making the "ask the audience" option one of the most trusted and popular on the show. Like any other TV series, though, Millionaire didn't only air in the United States.
In Soviet Russia, the title cards have no goddamn clue what's happening.
As noted in Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour, contestants on the Russian version of the show quickly became wary of asking the audience anything, because they'd almost always give the wrong answer. You may assume that this is the result of a government health agenda built around the regular consumption of vodka, but you're wrong. As it turns out, it's believed that Russian audiences would intentionally try to sabotage contestants on the show.
See, historically in Russia, everyone in a given community was expected to pitch in; everyone was expected to suffer and to help out. Minor favors like the borrowing of matches, money, and supplies weren't just common, they were expected. However, this collective sense of entitlement meant that anyone who stood out or attempted to make it on his own was immediately shunned and the favors that were once commonplace became nonexistent. For the record, this is the very definition of standing out:
Whatever the opposite of schadenfreude is, it's happening here.
Just imagine growing up with someone, spending years going through the same struggles, the same experiences, your friendship forged by the feeling of togetherness you got by weathering what life threw at you. Then one day, out of nowhere, that person is given a pile of money and you're told to eat shit. In Russia, that person is no longer entitled to the help of the community, because that wouldn't be fair.
The act of getting rich is frowned upon by the Russians, as they see it as unfair to everyone else. Why should Dimitri get a million rubles instead of Sergei? When is it Sergei's turn?
If you don't believe us, we have a couple of videos you should check out. First, a contestant in Russia:
Spoiler alert: He wins. That's not what's important, though. Instead, jump ahead to the part where it's announced that he won and pay attention to the audience response. Sure, there are some cheers and pageantry, but it almost seems reluctant. People are clapping because there's probably a giant screen with the word "Applause!" on it. The host is using words like "fantastic" to describe the events, but he doesn't seem like he really means it. It's all very businesslike.
Now, check out the response from an American audience when a contestant on that version of the show pulls off the same feat.
The Russian words for "millionaire" and "talentless fuckbasket" are synonyms.
Again, listen to the cheers from the audience and note the response overall to his win. You would honestly think the entire goddamn audience just won a million dollars.
In America, the audience viewed the million-dollar prize as a reason to congratulate a fellow human on accomplishing something great. In Russia, the audience viewed the million-ruple prize as a reason to mourn the fact that there's one less person to share the rampant poverty and despair with.
That's harsh, Russia.