I was first introduced to AdMe.ru by an almost-babushka Russian language teacher in Moldova. Trying to be both a babushka and a language teacher at the same time, for conversation practice she sometimes printed how-to articles on being happy. The articles were full of advice like eliminating the words “can’t” and frequently saying “thank you.”
I originally subscribed to AdMe.ru on Facebook for language practice, but it is the positivity – the trendy new noun positiv in Russian – that keep me mindlessly scrolling through their cartoon-illustrated listicles, arts-and-crafts videos, and feel-good facts about ducks four years later. I’m not alone. Their Facebook has over five million subscribers, making it the third most popular Russian language site (and their DIY sister site, Beri i delai, which roughly translates as “Get to it,”comes in fourth). Their Youtube channel does even better, with over ten million subscribers.
The high proportion of young mother stories, celebrity then-and-now comparisons, and home decorating content, as well as the site’s use of the previously cool word for cool (kruto – we are now two slang generations beyond that, through prikolno to klyovo) would make you think the site is for women in their 30s. According to a 2014 staff photo, this appears to be the approximate demographic of the writers, too. However, in reality the audience is more eclectic. Here are just a few subscribers that I happen to be friends with on Facebook: a female college student from Azerbaijan, a male entrepreneur in his 30’s from Ukraine, and an elderly Moldovan choir teacher. It is a Russian – dot ru – site, but the outlet is perhaps even more popular in Russia’s near abroad than in Russia itself; the VKontakte (Russia’s most popular social media) page has “only” 1.5 million subscribers.
A diverse audience may be responsible for the site’s apparent paradoxes – or, perhaps, these paradoxes illustrate that post-Soviet day-to-day values and culture are more nuanced than you’d think. On the one hand, the site takes stances radical for the region, like men are attractive with long hair, and – PSA – getting cold doesn’t actually give you a cold. On the other hand, sometimes ideas not widely embraced in the former Soviet Union, such as mental health and feminism, are given airtime but subjected to sketchy science, hot takes, and lukewarm reactionism: Deal with anxiety by doing house chores, rather than seeing a therapist! See men’s reaction to feminist photoshoots! Women are “excellent, unpredictable” creatures, whose “entire essence” is contained in 23 texts!
While much of the content is tied to the external world, there is also a healthy dose of over-the-top on-brand Russia. A recent post, for instance, asked users to replace a word in a movie title with kolbasa (sausage). A few of the 1,000+ comments: “Seventeen moments of sausage,” “Moscow doesn’t believe in sausage” – but also, “50 shades of sausage.”
AdMe’s tone is grassroots-edgy, which seems to be received much better than outlets pushing liberal social values in overt alignment with the West. AdMe used to cover advertising, before expanding to all forms of creativity and beyond. Their expertise in messaging is clear. The site may seem baffling to outsiders, but clearly responds to its the needs of its readers (figuratively and literally – they actually regularly respond to comments on posts, emojis and all), just like the gif-dense lists and quizzes of Buzzfeed scratched an itch millennials didn’t know they had. From a listicle of adult symbols in Alice in Wonderland to a video of adult uses of crayons, AdMe is a master at putting a modern flourish on the familiar, nostalgic even. It is a deep-rooted Russianness that lets AdMe push the boundaries of its readers’ comfort zone – and lighthearted pressure from the inside helps the comfort zone to slowly expand.
Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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