One of the more bizarre "cultural exchanges" on Soviet-American record took place in Moscow the other day. Out trotted a deputy minister of culture and favored gadfly, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, to declare that some recent American films have a crude, harmful and officially inspired anti-Soviet theme. The pan dominated a press conference nominally called to tell about the Soviet dancers and others scheduled to visit the United States this year in the post-Geneva-summit thaw.
Others will have to disentangle the mesh of innocent misunderstanding and willful deception in the Soviet complaint. We will merely note that the Kremlin is without standing to join the debate already in progress in the United States on the likes of the "Rocky" and "Rambo" films and, for that matter, on ever other film and television series that gets made here. A totalitarian government that defines orthodoxy, punishes unorthodoxy, peddles untruth and cant at will and renders all literary output official cannot pretend that a free government is similarly responsible for its society's creative flow.
Movies and other products of the popular culture do, of course, relate to the political culture. The influences that have turned American politics rightward in recent years have inevitably found expression in film. But those influences start not with a secret cable from Washington to Hollywood but with real events, such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the repression of Andrei Sakharov.
Not so incidentally, this sensitivity to real life is a leading reason why American movies are interesting -- even when they're bad. Insensitivity to real life is why Soviet movies are dull. Such insensitivity is also why the American films in question, although unavailable to the Soviet public, are much prized by the elite with access to them -- including no doubt the people who gave the press conference: not for any anti-Soviet quality but for the very elements of drama, imagination and raw life that draw American audiences.
There is a raw anti-Soviet message in some of these films. They have been criticized by some Americans for their anti-Sovietism and for their rawness alike. The message, however, is only one of many political and cultural messages bouncing around freely in American society at any given time. On this matter, in any event, Americans need no prodding from spokesmen for a government that deals with its independent-minded creators in ways of which criticism is the mildest.