An outbreak of boredom has struck the Soviet capital, and although some of the causes have been diagnosed, the cures appear to be elusive.
The roots of the problem, according to official Soviet sources, include "dull" newspapers, "mediocre" Soviet movies and increasingly conservative television shows.
Some Muscovites add another gripe: a dearth of vodka under the tough anti-alcoholism laws. Higher prices and decreased availability have made the favorite Russian refreshment a cherished household treat. During a New Year's party last week several locals bawled out an American guest for bringing just one bottle of vodka.
It is a sign of the times here -- of higher expectations and a spirit of self-criticism -- that the lack of color in Moscow's social life and the dullness of the Soviet media have become public issues at all.
LONG ACCUSTOMED TO a narrow choice of social and media outlets, to loud, packed restaurants, extensive television reports about factory production in Soviet provinces, to neo-socialist realist movies and to skewed newspaper reports, Soviets are voicing complaints about them more and more openly.
When he cracked down hard on drinking last year, Mikhail Gorbachev promised to upgrade the quality of the entertainment alternatives, including public recreation facilities.
He also has called for more frank reporting and sharper criticism of social problems by the Soviet media.
So far the calls for jazzing up newspaper reports and cranking out better TV broadcasts and feature films have been loud -- and the changes minimal.
The Communist Party organ Pravda singled out the Soviet press as one cause of widespread boredom nearly a month ago. In a front-page editorial it complained that Soviet newspapers are "dry" and "have turned into a dull pattern of repetitive announcements."
Within weeks, Izvestia, Sovietskaya Rossiya and other official newspapers rushed to echo the point in various forums, including their letters columns.
Just two days ago, A. Krjukov, a student from Tashkent voiced a pithy complaint about the press in a letter to the editors of Izvestia, the mass-circulation government newspaper.
"As soon as you want to demonstrate capitalism," Krjukov said, "you start playing an old record about the horrors of unemployment." But, he added quickly, "I've heard that the unemployed get benefits enough to enable them to live pretty well."
SOVIET FILMS, TOO, shoulder part of the burden for boring the public, according to Nikolai Kriuchkov, a leading Soviet actor, and other personalities of the Soviet celluloid world. In an article in the Moscow-based weekly Literary Gazette last week Kriuchkov said Soviet films are "very mediocre."
Kriuchkov's comment heightened an ongoing campaign against Goskino, the state commission for cinematography, but Moscow actors and would-be moviegoers alike say the lack of imagination in the film industry is pervasive and they are not very hopeful about the near-term prospects for improvement.
Asked by a Sovietskaya Rossiya reporter why he didn't go to the movies, a Moscow worker said, "Why should I continue my work day after it is finished?" according to a report in the popular Soviet newspaper.
Watching television at home seems hardly more inspiring.
In the last year, Soviet televiewers have complained frequently that programs about Soviet society and politics are becoming "more conservative," and broadcasts of new films and theater premieres are becoming more and more rare, according to a dispatch in Izvestia last week.
SOVIETS RELY HEAVILY on television for entertainment as well as news. In many areas of the country where cinemas and theaters are scarce or nonexistent, it provides the sole outlet to the outside world.
Even if the roots of boredom in Moscow are clear, the remedies are more complicated.
The main reason for the difficulty in enlivening Soviet newspapers, films, and television, a Soviet television official explained, is that most Soviet media authorities see a conflict between spicing up the content of programs and ensuring that they continue to perform their role as propaganda vehicles.
THEY FEEL THAT the desire of people for entertainment conflicts with the desire of the government to influence people through propaganda, the official said.
Despite Pravda's blast against the rest of the Soviet press, regular readers say they doubt that the tone and format of the party newspaper -- and others officially published here -- has changed much in the nearly seven decades since Joseph Stalin edited it. But they note that under Mikhail Gorbachev the tendency to criticize officials, official institutions and the press itself has broadened.
That, said one western reader of Pravda, is already a hedge against the mundane.