Sunday, October 30, 2011

Is The Bolshoi a Brand?

Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
The Bolshoy Theatre Under Reconstruction, Photo By Andrew Griffith

The Bolshoi Theater reopened with a grand gala concert after a six years closure for renovation. Hundreds of millions of dollars was spent on the reconstruction, but who counts pennies when the talk is about the main landmarks of the Russian capital and a symbol of Russian culture? Journalists argue if there was an improvement in terms of acoustics, stage light and so on. I am not going to concern myself with
these topics, since I don't have a professional or informed opinion. What really caught my eye was the word “brand” referring to the Bolshoi.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, 'the Bolshoi is one of our greatest national brands.' Some journalists considered the word that comes from marketing offensive for the Bolshoi, which is supposed to be the temple of culture. Others argued that the president is probably right and the Bolshoi is nowadays nothing but a brand, like Vodka, Matrioshka, Perestroika and other stereotypical things that are associated with Russia in the mass media.

A reader may wonder why the stylistically neutral word was such a big deal for journalists? Are they just criticizing the president?

Most likely, they are not. There are two reasons why even loyal Russians may dislike the word “brand” when speaking about the Bolshoi. The first reason is that the word “brand” came to the Russian language from English just recently and refers mostly to consumer goods. As examples, Nike is a brand, as well as Kleenex. Therefore, to the Russian ear, saying “Bolshoi is a brand” is like putting the theater in one row with popular footwear and toilet paper.

Another reason lies deeper. In Russian culture, merchants and traders were generally considered (and sometimes still are) as people who could not understand art. Being a merchant is somewhat seen as being absolutely opposite to the artists in the common mind in Russia. This is nothing but an unfair prejudice. Many successful merchants in Russia were among the greatest patrons of fine arts and supported artists generously. Anyway, making money is dirty work, while dancing and painting pictures is something spiritual, noble and lofty. The word “brand” obviously belongs to the world of money and profit and is an offense when referred to in the realms of art.

I'm not a native English speaker. I do not feel a deep background for each English word I know, so I can not be an unbiased judge here. What do you think, is Bolshoi a brand? Is it Ok to call a theater a “brand”?