Radio Yerevan Answers to the 20th Century Paradox

Listeners asked radio Yerevan: What is the easiest way to explain the meaning of the word “communism?

They answered: By means of fists.

Radio Yerevan was asked: “Could an atomic bomb destroy the beautiful city of Yerevan?”

Radio Yerevan answered: “In principle, yes. But Moscow is by far a more beautiful city.”

Radio Yerevan was asked: “Is it true that there is freedom of speech in the Soviet Union the same as there is in the USA?”

Radio Yerevan answered: “In principle, yes. In the USA, you can stand in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, and yell, ´Down with Reagan!´, and you will not be punished. In the Soviet Union, you can stand in the Red Square in Moscow and yell, ´Down with Reagan!´, and you will not be punished.”

Question to radio Yerevan: Is it possible to sleep with an open window?

Answer:In principle, yes. But it is better to sleep with a woman.

   During the 60s’ an American writer based his novel Catch 22 on the idea of governmental propaganda. By satirizing the absurdity and bureaucratic constraints in the American army during  World War II, Joseph Heller manages to trademark the contradictory rules implied on the public that force people in a decision, while presenting an illusion that it was a matter of choice. The paradox of the catch puts the individual into a social trap, making any critical thinking unable to solve the issue. Although the setting of the novel is the American Army, it aims to attract attention to the basis of any system that exploits the citizen by all means. A thousand kilometers away, the radio Yerevan joke was born  to describe the same occurrence in the Soviet Union . During the 60s and 70s’, the radio was the ultimate mass medium, since it covered enormous areas at a fast rate, and at a cheap price. Since television was present only in the party-core, middle class workers had little use of media, apart from Newspapers and Radio.. Radio Yerevan jokes demonstrate the detachment between the public and the state.

   The jokes are divided into two subsets by a simple, but essential element – the presence of political association. The first group (and the larger) emphasizes the strong criticism on the political managerial in the Soviet Union, and the consequences that follow for the society. In the simple anecdote, radio Yerevan “plays” the role of the ruling party, which is normally supposed to provide knowledge on essential topics related to the current political decisions. Instead, the broadcasting company takes its place and bursts with an honesty that the community has so long thrived for.  Some of the jokes, on the other hand, depict the Soviet reality in numerous aspects of life, while reacting in the well-known manner of the Politbureau, “Dear Radio Yerevan, I don’t know what the matter with me is. I don’t love the Party anymore. I feel nothing at all for Comrade Brezhnev or any of the other leaders of the Party. What should I do?” Radio Yerevan answered: “Please send us your name and address.” This way the anecdote expresses the people’s position in an information abyss and their attitude towards the lack of communication.

   It is only by the medium that misleading information is spread throughout at such a fast rate. A radio requires insignificant equipment, which makes it available for large masses of people with different social standards. Furthermore, a DJ’s personality is hardly ever recognized. With no picture of the speaker present, the only identifier left is his voice. However, this can also be easily falsified, since recorded voice sounds different when it is heard in person. If the DJ happens to use a fake name during the talk show, his traces are completely lost. Listeners are left unaware whether the speaker is competent on a subject, what is his background and why should they take his words seriously. In addition, people hardly ever remember every statement in the radio with the arguments that support it. What is left in their heads after the show is over is pure propaganda, which lacks any logical explanation. Paradoxically, the anonymity of the broadcasters raises the plausibility of the talk show, since no one has the knowledge to reject the radio’s theories.  Thus, broadcast services are the ultimate tool towards massive brainwash.

   The farther one is from the origin of regulation, the less censorship is implemented on the medium.  Even though a real talk show on the Q&A basis existed in a Yerevanian radio, surely a similar one was present among the other major broadcasting services in USSR. Yerevan has its significance as a city far from the core of the Communist party, with rebellious citizens, and is surely suitable to present a more realistic view of the radio struggling under Soviet censorship. In the years between 60s-70s Armenians were opposing the methods of the Politbeareu, and were often times successful since at least some information succeeded to reach the society. Hidden under logical fallacies and well-constructed satire, the joke sheds light to various wrongdoings against a state and his multicultural citizens, while also providing a picture of the life that is yet to come.

   The stable structure of these jokes demonstrates the thought manner of the Soviet citizens and their ruined communication skills.  It is so stable, that it does not intend any in-depth exploration of the question, or the answer. Some answers start with a reference to “the principle”, although no evident principle is available, and are followed with an ambiguous and/or a completely irrelevant sentence. Another type of answer uses the if clause, although the clause is invalid for the resolution given. Even the non-political jokes reflect the psychological state of the citizens, who fail to logically solve simple everyday problems. Radio Yerevan becomes a phenomenon that spread throughout all demographic categories and entered the most intimate area of a man’s life. From questions about the love life, to how to cook the dinner, it shows the lack of rationality in the public’s mentality.  In a state where witch-hunt is on the move, man has lost the ability to communicate effectively, which causes him to address the radio for alternative options. Additionally, the lack of knowledge on public affairs and the overly-persuasive information has prevented the birth of logical thought in the listeners. As a result, their questions are most of the times purely rhetorical. They are an ironic illustration of the people’s inability to exchange and process information. No matter the type, or the structure, the radio provides a logical fallacy as an answer to any question, corresponding with the people’s thought processes.

   The Radio-Yerevan jokes have been born as a symbol of the lack of free speech and excessive censorship in the Soviet Union. What was once a simple talk-show based on instant dialogues, turned into an imaginary broadcast company to “serve” the public in problem-solving. The playful jokes are easily digested, and with their short and precise content effortlessly distributed. Yet, today they perform a different function. Yerevan-puns comment on the national mentality of Armenian citizens by describing specific features of their character. Armenians are gossipers, who are always in a rush to spread the word, although they rarely evaluate the rumors critically. In contrast to their negative qualities, Armenians are seen as pragmatic-thinkers but they lack abstract-thinking and are, therefore, inclined to make illogical conjectures. While the joke comments mainly on soviet characteristics, it undoubtedly uses the Armenian nation as its scapegoat, which is by today barely aware of the popularity of the Radio-Yerevan pranks. By hiding under the definition of frivolity, humor becomes the universal way to express crucial socio-political concerns, while it is still customized by cultural and language differences to best fit the surrounding.


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