MOSCOW—Humiliation is part of many “reality shows,” but some are worse than others. And in Russia, one stands out. Let’s Get Married is a version of The Bachelor presided over by a panel of women who delight in demeaning their subjects. And for 10 years on Russia’s most-watched network, Channel One, they’ve gotten away with it, dissing the bachelors and bachelorettes, their kids, their parents—whoever was brave enough or fool enough to go on the show. But that was before 12-year-old Anastasia came on with her father.
Last October, Anastasia and her dad, Anton Titov, a 46-year-old U.S.-educated neurosurgeon, decided they would take part in Let’s Get Married despite its reputation. The divorcé and his daughter are close. They’ve traveled the world together, enjoy the same sports, and think alike on many subjects. This seemed an adventure, and Titov really was looking for a wife.
Besides, the show’s producers assured the family that Anastasia would be treated with respect. At the beginning of the program she presented bouquets of flowers to the three middle-age presenters. Poised, pretty, with dark brown hair, big brown eyes, and braces, she said that she truly wanted her father to find a new spouse.
But things went wrong in the next few minutes. It became clear that Anastasia had things she wanted to say, and she refused to play by the rules that would have her bending before the onslaught of the show’s main host, the physically imposing and very overbearing cold-blue-eyed Larisa Guzeyeva. Several times, Guzeyeva interrupted Anastasia: “No, no! You listen to me.” Then the presenter insulted her, calling her “insincere and disagreeable” and, an odd thing to say to a 12-year-old, “worse than any mother-in-law.”
After the show aired, Anastasia and her father saw how Russia’s trolls joined in the opprobrium and amplified the attacks. Hundreds of TV viewers wrote hostile comments about Anastasia, some wanting to “knock her teeth out” and “strangle her.”
That’s when Anastasia decided she would launch what she proudly calls her online video “campaign” directed at Channel One.
“I do not think that the hate-thirsty TV hosts should be allowed to traumatize the psyches of children,” Anastasia told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview.
Indeed, aggressive attacks are Guzeyeva’s style. In one show last year, she insulted her guests, a 35-year-old potential bride named Darya and Darya’s mother, for not accepting the proposed grooms. Guzyeva told both women they were “fools” and said to Darya, “You are as empty and angry as your mother.”
Last September, Guzeyeva yelled at a 14-year-old girl who dared to disagree with her: “I would take a belt, drag you into a dark room—don’t listen to me child-care authorities—and beat you so much.” Guzeyeva continued, even when the girl’s eyes filled up with tears. “You should burst into tears, look at yourself in the mirror and say that you are a little monster.”
Probably, it is time Russian child-welfare authorities did pay attention.
In Anastasia’s own video address about the show, viewed by more than 12,000 people so far, she insists that what she said in the original footage had been edited to show both her and her father in a negative light. Anastasia calls for prosecutors and members of the Russian parliament, the Duma, to request a copy of the original footage from the management of Channel One so they can see how much the show’s presenters had worked to humiliate her. (She pointedly begins her video with a photograph of President Vladimir Putin presenting an award to Channel One CEO Konstantin Ernst.)
We reached out to the presenter of Let’s Get Married, Larisa Guzeyeva, asking for a comment about Anastasia’s campaign.
“If she decided to grow famous using my name as a flag she can wave, I am not interested in this,” Guzeyeva told The Daily Beast. On the show, contestants are asked about the kind of people they admire, and Anastasia tried to explain to the presenters why she became interested in “a strong woman,” Maya Plesetskaya, after she read the famous ballerina’s memoirs, but she was immediately interrupted.
Stubborn and thoughtful, Anastasia found ways to surprise the presenters. She refused, for instance, to give the show’s host astrologer her date of birth, saying she does not believe in the pseudo-science of astrology. Unlike some other girls, Anastasia did not cry on the show. She stayed calm, explaining to the presenters that she was interested in media, and in issues such as politics, religion, and feminism.
That was taken as a provocation. In Russia, feminism is considered a Western sin, and feminists often are treated as extremists. “Feminism is when women reject men helping them with a coat,” Guzeyeva told Anastasia.
In her interview with The Daily Beast, Anastasia said that she has studied online at an American school, taken online music classes, and she is mature enough to control her own social environment, unlike other teenagers who’ve been humiliated and traumatized on Channel One.
On the show, Anastasia asked why Guzeyeva thought that she was not sincere. The TV host responded to the girl in an authoritarian tone: “Everything about you is far-fetched, baby, I can see that.” Celebrity comedian and showman Maksim Galkin recently said in an interview for the online publication Gazeta.ru that Russian television lacks “pure kindness, humor and sincerity,” but Anastasia is not the only young person trying to break out of the old molds.
This year Russian authorities have already seen a riot of teenagers online, trying to teach their elders and officialdom to smile and chill.
In one video, air cadets—future members of the Russian military—posted a scene of themselves twerking to Benny Benassi’s hit song “Satisfaction.” The cadets had nothing on but their underwear and uniform caps. And after authorities threatened to expel the future pilots of Ulyanovsk Institute of Civil Aviation, the incident inspired viral flashmobs. Within days people all over the country were twerking in support of the Ulyanovsk cadets. Even Saint Petersburg pensioners twerked in solidarity.
Anastasia’s avowed feminism also has touched a nerve. More than 10,000 Russian women die from domestic violence every year: beaten to death, thrown out of windows, burned, or strangled. Yet last year the Russian parliament adopted a bill that reduced the punishment for men beating their wives and children from up to two years in prison to 15 days in jail, 360 hours of labor, or a $500 fine.
Anna Rivina from the Nasiliyu.net (No to Violence) project of women struggling against domestic violence welcomes Anastasia’s campaign. Rivina believes that it shows that the younger generation of Russians are ready to say no to hypocrisy. “When I see bright young people like Anastasia, I want them to ignore hypocritical moralists who should have stayed with their opinions in the last century,” Rivina told The Daily Beast. “It is very important for our people to learn how to respect themselves.” Anastasia’s campaign means to teach Russia to respect women as much as men, and to be kind.
Happily, Anastasia did not lose friends as a result of the public humiliation. A group of her mostly male classmates supported her in the video address. Thousands of random people have joined her.
“So far I have not seen any reaction from Channel One,” Anastasia told The Daily Beast. “But I am pleased to realize that people of different ages and political views support my campaign.
“What the show’s presenters did to me was real cyberbullying,” Anastasia told The Daily Beast. She said she does not want to position her campaign anywhere on the political spectrum. “I have my entire life ahead of me.” Anastasia stresses that her campaign has a very specific target. “For 10 years, Let’s Get Married presenters have been publicly humiliating children, their mothers, older women, even kids with autism—this is unacceptable.”