• Meet Wee Masha - The new Russian Superweapon

OVERHEARING my four-year-old daughter sing fluently in Russian about women being happy at home making jam, it was clear I’d failed miserably at parenting – and that Rocky Balboa fought Ivan Drago for nothing.

Like countless parents across the globe, I’d failed to spot a subversive element within the popular Moscow-based cartoon Masha And The Bear. My wee one would often watch it on the iPad as I locked the bathroom door to enjoy a satisfying primal scream in peace. It was either that or set fire to myself to feel alive in some way.

It seems, however, that my somewhat lackadaisical approach to fatherhood had inadvertently exposed my child’s brain to Russian state propaganda – her sweet voice now channelling the death rattle of Western global dominance.

Despite initially deflecting blame towards Steve Jobs for making Pandora’s Box so toddler-friendly, I’ve since come to accept any responsibility in keeping my daughter on a steady diet of perfect princesses, unicorns and happy-ever-afters is mine alone.

Hopefully I’ll be long dead before she can blame me for preparing her for the adult world’s torment with sparkly lies. Masha’s jaunty ode to finding peace within poverty was certainly a jarring contrast to the solid diet of aspirational Disney tripe to which she’d previously been exposed.

Yet if we accept YouTube as the new cultural arbiter of popularity, it appears Masha is actually much, much more popular than all Disney’s princesses combined. Even Leia in the gold bikini. The episode so beloved of my daughter – Recipe for Disaster – currently boasts 3.1 billion views. Probably 3.2 billion by the time you read this. Staggeringly, it is YouTube’s fourth most-viewed video of all time – and, even more remarkably, the streaming portal’s most popular clip that is not a music video. It’s now on 3.3 billion.

Even though the series has been translated into 25 languages and broadcast in more than 100 countries, it’s undoubtedly YouTube that has aided Masha’s guerilla-esque infiltration into the Western cultural psyche. Yet it’s not just we cosy capitalist parasites that are stroking our chins over Masha’s true intentions as we watch her on our big tellies sipping kale smoothies. Russia’s Eastern European neighbours are also suspicious of Masha’s subversive intent, perhaps justifiably so with the recent annexation of Crimea and the West’s shameful see-no-evil, hear-no-evil response.

Some Estonian academics certainly believe there is a subversive hidden agenda to Masha’s antics, with a professor from the University of Tallinn, Priit Hõbemagi, explicitly branding the cartoon part of a new “hybrid war” on Estonian children. He claims the “strong, protective” bear symbolises Russia and metaphorically illustrates the acceptance of “soft power” by Russian troops in the event of future invasion.

This paranoia may echo the most distorted delusions of Josef Stalin after a white widow binge, especially to those who have never watched Masha, but the evidence does support such accusations. In one particular episode, Masha wears a distinct cap of the NKVD, otherwise known as The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs – Stalin’s secret police organisation famed for brutal political repression. On another occasion, the bear’s female love interest leaves him for a bigger, stronger bear. No, he doesn’t get her back with a display of intelligence or sensitivity – that’s it. She’s gone. Bigger, stronger, better. Social eugenics on stabilisers.

Lithuania has also expressed concerns. Politician Laurynas Kasinas has stressed that Masha And The Bear is a weapon from “Russia’s soft power toolkit”. Similar sentiments have also been put forward by Lithuanian state security department chief Darius Jauniškis and even the country’s president, who both claim the cartoon is a “coded political message”.

Not only that, the Council of Public Safety in Ukraine recently urged its government to ban Masha, condemning the show as “the absolute embodiment of the worst advocacy ideas of the Russian Federation” and that it “distorts the minds of children”. Respected Italian journalist Anna Zafesova also recently described Masha as a “Kremlin Trojan horse”, highlighting the potential ban that has been discussed in Poland, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

Masha will not be easily silenced, however. Modern politicians are savvy enough to know that censoring or banning cultural phenomena such as Masha – or YouTube itself – only serves to perfume its allure. Convincing the populace their cat videos must be sacrificed because of a cartoon isn’t an easy sell for any democratic government.

Perhaps passive acceptance of such “soft” propaganda will only be regretted when tanks with Masha painted on the side roll over the border to waves and giggles from our children.

  • But even the Russians are paranoid...

TAKE a breath before nipping onto the dark web for an armour-penetrating bazooka, folks. A Russian flag to drape over your windowsill will be far cheaper and you can get that from eBay. Yet perhaps no action is necessary and Masha isn’t actually the doomsday device envisioned by Russia’s alarmed Eastern European neighbours.

Perhaps it’s typical of Russia’s counter-propagandist reality distortion techniques, but it appears academics from that much-vilified nation have also expressed concern over Masha’s manipulation of kids’ minds. Media outlet planet-today.ru recently published a study by Russian psychologists, who apparently analysed the effect of several TV shows upon the psyche of Russian children.

Of course, Masha topped the charts in terms of potential societal disruption – but any political subversion was pointedly ignored.

The study was more concerned by Masha’s insolent behaviour, which is often ignored and sometimes even encouraged by the bear. There were fears children parroting her surliness and hyperactivity who, eh, lack strict parenting could grow up not understanding right from wrong or societal norms of behaviour.

“Masha very often misbehaves and the bear puts up with it. He does not try to bring her up,” explains Russian psychologist Yana Karina. “She is a very bothersome, hyperactive girl that can stimulate the same behaviour among children who watch.”

Maybe the Russians themselves are waking to the fact they have created a monster – or, more likely, taking great joy in transforming Western children into feral, hateful, animal-abusing brats.

  • Shows that subverted all our minds

WE all know that the “DM” on Dangermouse’s sleek bodysuit really stood for Doc Martin, this plummy crimefighting mouse symbolising the English establishment’s crushing oppression of thousands of mild-mannered civil service workers such as Penfold. But were there any other kids’ TV series which attempted to subvert our tiny minds? Of course – mostly all of them. 

“EARTH! Fire! Wind! Water! Heart! Go planet!” Casually adding a fifth element to suit his green agenda, the self-righteous Captain Planet fought greedy CEOs who polluted rivers and awarded stainless steel pens to those who had served them for decades. Cap rarely used violence, however, preferring to show such sociopaths the error of their ways instead. And we all know that works. If the wonderfully bouffanted Cap really wanted to save the planet, he’d have cut out the hairspray and used his powers to slaughter the world’s cow population to end global warming in an instant.  

PAGANY suggestion that the sun is sentient aside, religious types such as Jerry Falwell, a fundamentalist Southern Baptist pastor, paid particular attention to Tinky Winky, a purple alien teddy thing who carries a purse-like bag. Falwell opined that Tinky Winky was clearly a gay role model. When the world responded “And?”, Jerry countered: “He is purple – the gay pride colour. His antenna is shaped like a triangle – the gay-pride symbol.” Admirably holding back their distain, the show’s creators responded in kind by saying Tinky’s purse was simply a “magic bag”. Perhaps Jerry himself would have been happier in life if he had discovered his own true bag. 

CONCERNING the somewhat mellow adventures of crime-fighting mouse reggae band Da Easy Crew. A moreish substance called “rastamouse cheese” keeps the musicians happy, sharp and receptive to the euphoric wonder of true reality. The BBC has insisted that the characters’ “rasta” voices and relaxed manner should be viewed in terms of the books they were based on, but remained silent on how “Da Mouseland” is such a wondrous utopian nirvana where only love reigns supreme. 

AGAIN, the curiously adept gaydar of the pious was beeping like the version of Goodfellas I once watched on American TV, with Christian pastor Daniel Erickson-Hull of End Times Ministry alleging beloved children’s TV show Rainbow was actually a long-running piece of “gay propaganda”. Again: “And?” But “Pastor D”, as he was known, entered new territory of tin-foil hatted craziness with his personal theory. He claimed the show’s opening sequence, featuring a rainbow opening a book, represented the LGBT symbol “infiltrating the Bible” to “homosexualise all children”. He also wondered aloud if the Rainbow theme tune, encouraging the viewer to “paint the whole world with a rainbow”, was in fact thinly-veiled propaganda to turn the nation gay. Curiously, he never mentioned George. 

APPARENTLY, the Smurfs were race supremacists. This theory arises from the fact they are all one colour and wear “KKK style” pointy white hats – except for ring leader Papa Smurf, who prefers the more authoritative red. You may doubt the veracity of this allegory, but French political scientist Antoine Bueno suggested the clear dictatorial hierarchical structure of Smurf Village hinted at a deeply selective society.

A pretty obvious one. No, not that. I’m talking about the pro-Brexit agenda in favour of good old bendy British bananas. 

NOT many shows push the theory of redhead virility – but explain this, why are all the children in Greendale in possession of fiery locks when the only adult in the village who shares that gene is the permanently smirking Postie? Just wait for any village school scene in the next episode you watch for conclusive evidence. Clearly the highly-sexed Pat was an influence on Father Ted’s philandering milkman Pat Mustard. 
ALTHOUGH not an actual cartoon, the fourth Rocky outing warrants special mention in any article discussing propaganda in mainstream popular culture. As the vertically-challenged American manages to down a 6ft 7in steroid-fuelled Goliath without ever raising his guard, the turncoat Moscow crowd begin chanting his name. What Rocky says next deserves to be quoted in full: “During this fight, I’ve seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about me, and in the way I feel about you. In here, there were two guys killing each other, but I guess that’s better than 20 million. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” 
Wrong, Balboa. You’ve clearly not taken enough punches.