With Russia hot in the news, I invite you back almost three decades to a simpler, happier time — the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The year is 1989 and the Communist Party’s grip on various soviet satellite countries is slipping. Civil unrest is running rampant and the future is particularly uncertain. As we stare down this volatile and large-scale political scenario, let us ask one very important question:
What’s on TV tonight?
Well, in the Soviet Union of 1989, the answer was… this:
The outsized head you see floating (flotation begins at 48m 36s) above a packed studio audience belongs to Anatoly Mikhailovich Kashpirovsky, a Ukrainian-born psychotherapist and hypnotist. During this state-sponsored televised event he is exercising the latter profession. Kashpirovsky was renowned for his mass psychic healings, during which he would allegedly make the blind see, heal the wounded, and mitigate the suffering of the Russian people at large. The beneficial effects were intended both for the live studio audience and for those watching on television from around the country.
There are plenty of good character profiles of the man so let us instead focus on his television appearances around 1989. Kashpirovsky was famous for promoting health in his subjects via “psychic tuning”, a sort of mesmerization, but the mass-hypnosis practiced by the popular doctor acquired a curious twist when the crumbling of the USSR seemed inevitable.
His healings were televised on the state-run Channel 1. Perhaps a testament to the desperation at hand, the Kremlin had enlisted the popular psychic to sprinkle propaganda into his broadcasts as a means of placating the tumultuous populace. It seems that even the secular Communist Party isn’t above turning to the paranormal when the shit hits the fan. Once the audience was ostensibly hypnotized (note the sleeping postures, unfocused gazes, and unconscious and repetitive motor movements) Kashpirovsky would slip pro-communist rhetoric into his eerily calm litanies. As revolution swept the streets, millions of Russians were inside watching Kashpirovsky praise Mother Russia on soviet-made TV sets.
Did it work? Apparently not. The USSR fell apart soon after, but Kashpirovsky’s broadcasts remain as an odd testament.
Please enjoy the frumpish suits, bad sweaters, and thick-rimmed eyewear of the chic 1989 studio audience, but this article is not without a note of caution —
If the American airwaves of 2017 are suddenly filled with Dr. Phil’s floating head calmly delivering nationalist rhetoric in his soothing Texan drawl, it might portend that America has reached the end of the line.