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Producing Whiteness through Format Adaptation: US Post-Soviet Diaspora on Transnational TV (Online Talk)

GEM Lab Events

MAR. 25th, 2021

Thursday, March 25th, 2021 (Online Event)

Claudia Sadowski-Smith (Arizona State University), moderated by Masha Salazkina (Concordia.)


Introduction to Series and Speaker

Masha Salazkina

Producing Whiteness through Format Adaptation: The US Post-Soviet Diaspora on Transnational Reality TV (Talk)

Claudia Sadowski-Smith

Comments and Observations

Masha Salazkina

Topics: Neoliberalism and Cold War Rhetoric, Disengagement of Post-Soviet Immigration from the discourse  of Race, Latin American culture popularity starting in the Soviet Union era (dance and cinema), the social systems that propagated the ballroom dancing skillset in post-soviet Russia, Reality TV and the exoticism of post-soviet cuisine and culture. Is this in part due to the difficulty of racially positioning these groups in order to make them economically viable?


Claudia Sadowski-Smith

Topics: Discussion of the malleable use of racial groups when US media addresses post-soviet subject in different contexts. The racial discourse on the media portrayal of the Boston Marathon Bombers, the Tsarnaev Brothers.


Masha Salazkina / Claudia Sadowski-Smith

Topics: The historical formation of ballroom and latin dancing in post-soviet culture and it’s entanglement with cold-war rhetoric. The history of effective and non-effective cultural affinity building for Latin American cultural elements within the Russian and diasporic communities. The narrowness of dance styles used in Dancing with the Stars and how it “Europeanizes” and whitens the ballroom.

Question Period 

Disclaimer: Questions where the asker could not be reached for consent for their image have had the question transcribed with text to speech narration.

Q&A 1 

Topics: The concept of “Not Quite White” and how it was seen by research subjects. The racial discourse amongst post-soviet immigrants and how/whether it relates back to popular Russian media discourse. Differences in waves of post-soviet migration to the US.

Q&A 2 

Topics: The use of spray tanning by Russian / Post-Soviet ballroom dancers and the racial discourse around it. How US context is related to the reading of the use of spray tan as culturally appropriative. The internal illogicality of the term “whiteness” and how that relates to post-soviet immigrants, “whiteness” as a US construct. The flattening of pre-existing identities and groups.

Q&A 3

Topics: Use of the concept of “Whiteness” as a shield against perceived oncoming racial discrimination. How the adoption or non-adoption of “whiteness” relates to more modern generations of post-soviet immigrants. Discussion of the show Russian Dolls. Intra national marriages, mail order brides. Parallel behaviors seen in relation to “white passing” Latin American women that are brought to the US for the purpose of marriage and their precarious status within the US context they are brought into. The discussion of upward mobility and racial discourse within Reality TV. The importation of “whiteness” and the expectation of full and immediate integration into North American whiteness along with the loss of their transnational identities.


Topics:Discussion of the case of Pelham Parkway neighbourhood in the Bronx and the interrelation of post-soviet immigrants and pre-existing latinx communities in the area.

Q&A 4 

Topics: The concept of “European-ness” in post-soviet immigrants to the UK and other countries. The lack of “whiteness” discussions in these parts of the diaspora, it’s replacement with “being European” and whether there is a relationship there between the two terms. What the concept of “European” means to the post-soviet diaspora in terms of a social category. Race and Ethnicity and how different forms of this are being contextualized in other fields and context. The historical and current stratification of race and how it divides the classes and drives hostility. How “whiteness” is still entangled, if not one to one associated, with the classification of “European”.


Link to original event post.

Located at the intersection of media and migration studies, this talk examines the representation of post-Soviet migration on transnational reality TV. Because performers with transnational ties are frequently cast to help facilitate the adaptation of popular formats to new cultural or national contexts, reality TV lends itself particularly well to an analysis of the mediated constitution of underrepresented migrant groups like the post-Soviet diaspora in the United States. Yet the demands of format adaptation restrict even shows produced by post-Soviet migrants to tired narratives of immigrant adaptation that racialize cast members as collectively “white” and uniquely different from other contemporary US migrant groups. The complexity and diversity of the post-Soviet diaspora only finds expression in migrants’ social media postings and interviews surrounding the shows.

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