The piece isn't available online (though there's an interesting slide-show at the website), but Lawrence Wright has a great article on dissident filmmaking in Syria in this week's New Yorker. The whole thing is well worth reading, but here's the paragraph that especially stuck with me:
Although the filmmakers often talked about freedom, they revealed a perverse desire to romanticize the artistic constraints of dictatorship. "The most beautiful Soviet films were produced in the era of Stalin," Abdulhamid told me. "When the Soviet Union collapsed and suddenly you could say whatever you wanted, the Russians began producing the most trivial films. Nobody should be forbidden to say what he wants, but it is a phenomenon that dazzles me: when you're suppressed, you think better."
How perverse is this really, though? I have no desire to romanticize the artistic constraints of dictatorship: indeed I was reading this piece and thinking with huge gratitude of the fact that I do not really have to worry about such things in my own life. (Another article that gave me the same piercing sense of my own not-often-enough-remembered good fortune was Laura Secor's excellent piece in the magazine last year about young Iranian bloggers.) I don't know much about film, but it's not just a glib truism to talk of literature's succumbing to near-oblivion in Russia and former Eastern bloc countries after the fall of communism. That older generation of Russian readers and writers are really, really depressed thinking about the way that now you can read them without penalty the writings of (fill in your favorite dissident writer) hold little appeal for the young. So that the quotation in the article may include components of rationalization or self-justification or consolation and yet have an element of truthfulness as well.