What might make Vladimir Putin think twice? That’s the question on everyone’s lips as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues for another bloody day, leaving death, destruction and tragedy in its wake. Well, Disney has its answer: stop Russian children from watching the latest Pixar film.
Disney has announced that it is pausing all theatrical releases in Russia, in response to the ‘unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the tragic humanitarian crisis’. ‘We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation’, the company said in a press release.
The first film to be affected will be Turning Red, the latest Pixar romp, which was slated for release in Russia on 10 March. It tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets too excited or stressed. Your move, Putin.
Other studios are now desperately following Disney’s lead. Warner Bros has announced it is pausing the release of The Batman. ‘We will continue to monitor the situation as it evolves’, Warner Bros said, as if it were the UN rather than a purveyor of popcorn flicks. ‘We hope for a swift and peaceful resolution to this tragedy.’ Sony Pictures has also said it will delay all film releases.
The West seems to be sleepwalking into a full-blown cultural boycott of Russia. Eurovision has already kicked Russia out. Its organisers said last week that Russia’s inclusion could ‘bring the competition into disrepute’. Various prominent artists are also halting exhibitions or collaborations in Russia in protest against the invasion.
The outrage of individual artists is understandable, and the corporate virtue-signalling was all but inevitable. Companies are now apparently expected to posture against the ills of the world, such as when Ben & Jerry’s soberly pledged to dismantle white supremacy after the murder of George Floyd. But the cultural industries should think carefully about what they are doing.
The Russian people are not the Russian government. To treat them as one plays precisely into the hands of Putin, who is keen to portray the West as aiming to bring the proud Russian people to heel. Treating Russian audiences and arts venues as if they are morally tainted, unworthy of doing business with, does little to challenge Putin’s narrative.
There is also something both cruel and absurd about depriving Russian eight-year-olds of an afternoon out at the cinema for the crimes of their president. Such boycotts are at once self-flattering, mean-spirited and utterly pointless. They will do nothing to change the dynamics in Ukraine, while choking off the international flow of culture.
We seem to live in an age in which knee-jerk censorship and vapid virtue-signalling is our answer to absolutely everything. We must Speak Out and Do Something even when what we’re expected to say is ridiculous and the Something we intend to Do is illiberal and counterproductive.
If we want to defend liberal values in an increasingly authoritarian world, a cultural boycott of Russia is really not the way to do it.