Films Russian History in Popular Culture Teaching Russian History


Just a quick update to my last post on “Ivan the Terrible and the American adolescent.” The show in which I appeared ( declared Hernan Cortes the victor over Ivan the Terrible. Ivan’s weapons were superior but psychological factors, once entered into the “Simulator,” did him in.

I addressed the “controversy” over Ivan’s loss in a segment called the “Aftermath” (they taped at MTV studios last week, picking me up in a limo and dropping me off from home — wish I could get that for my Slavic studies panel). Here’s the segment, which actually has more analysis than mutilated pig corpses:

The experience, well worth it, showed me the challenge of bridging the gap between academic expertise and popular understandings of Russian history – something this blog, in part, is attempting do.

The Russian History Blog, meanwhile, managed to make its presence felt in the world of Deadliest Warrior. Briefly, here’s what happened. A podcast called Deadliest Podcast, which analyzes each show in the snarky and campy spirit of the show itself, came across my blog, which it urged show followers to read. Here are some responses from people not likely to be encountered at the American Historical Association annual conference: The podcast itself, which is quite long, discussed at some length my concerns expressed in the blog about the program. (

My worries seemed to be something of a surprise to some Deadliest Warrior viewers. And Spike producers received one letter from a fan who wondered if I might talk about my concerns for the “Aftermath” show. The producer agreed and during taping I discussed the excessive focus on blood and guts, etc., at the expense of some broader social, political and social context. I did admit, however, that the show served the positive potential function of being a “gateway drug into the study of history for hormonally incapacitated male adolescents.” And it stimulated thinking about comparative history, the role of technology, disease, etc. I also thought that the “Sim” raised the interesting issue of whether it is possible to consider in tandem, and to quantify for purposes of historical analysis, factors such as technology and intangibles such as leadership, charisma, mental instability. A shame they cut that stuff, which was actually complimentary toward the show.

I was surprised, at first, that another point I made didn’t make the Aftermath. While acknowledging Ivan’s self-destructive maniacal tendencies — which ultimately made him the loser in the show — I tried to restore some balance through a metaphor that might appeal to the viewers: strength of schedule (as in comparing two college teams by accounting for the competition in their respective leagues). Ivan’s forces, because they had to operate in the larger Eurasian land mass, had a much stronger strength of schedule compared to Cortes in the New World. Perhaps, I suggested, those factors should have figured more prominently in the “Sim.” But that got cut — and what remained was my discussion of Ivan’s maniacal tendencies. Considering strength of schedule, it seems, would have cast doubt on the result of the show — or maybe I just screwed up my lines.

One reply on “Aftermath!”

Deadliest Warrior has always been a little sketchy, and like you said, dumb mindless fun. It’s really sad that Spike doesn’t necessarily put a lot of effort into it, considering that it’s their biggest show at this point.

Actually, I think that the episode was a high point for you, Andrew. You brought one of Russian history’s most ruthless leaders to a highly popular tv show (even if the producers diluted certain aspects), and you gained a little more credit with your son. You should be proud of yourself.

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