Estonia addresses its redneck problem

  • 2007-03-21
  • By Joel Alas

DUMB AND DUMBER: The underground film "Tulnukas" has become an Internet cult sensation with its all-too-accurate portrayal of the Estonian redneck subculture.

TALLINN - "They are all idiots," sings Vaiko Eplik, shaggy-haired Estonian alternative rock musician. His song, roughly translated, is called "Men from small towns are dumb." It speaks of his disappointment at seeing the male population of rural Estonia destroy itself on vodka, bigotry and high-speed cars. "There are so many angry young men who have this enormous amount of aggression, and don't know what to do with it," Eplik says.

In Estonia, such angry young men have earned their own nickname: "rullnokk." The name is derived from the favorite fashion accessory of this subculture 's an American baseball cap, its visor tightly compressed into a sharp peak.If searching for an English language equivalent to rullnokk, look no further than the term "redneck." The similarities between the redneck cultures of western nations and that of the Estonian rullnokk are immediately apparent.
Like rednecks, rullnokks draw pride from the size and sound of their vehicles, typically second-hand BMWs with ridiculously loud sound systems. They wear a uniform of brand-name sports clothes, often blue or black tracksuits with white sneakers. They celebrate the misogynistic treatment of women. They use a hybrid language and a vocabulary that consists more of curse words than dictionary verbs or adjectives.

In the fast-developing post-independence economy, the number of newly rich Estonians is matched by the number of those who are still poor. With such dramatic social stratification, the emergence of a resentful army of working class young men is inevitable.
Until recently, rullnokks have been the ne'er-do-well types that grandmothers click their tongues about, the anti-social element that children are warned about by admonishing teachers.
But lately the artistic community of Estonia has derived its own way of addressing the rullnokk problem 's by parodying it.
Eplik's song 's in fact, a whole album on the theme 's is just one part of the artistic outcry against rullnokks. Their stereotypical behavior is also the source of inspiration behind a hugely popular short film that has now earned cult status amongst young people both in Estonia and abroad.
The film is called "Tulnukas," the Eesti word for 'alien.' In just 22 minutes, it caustically deconstructs the rullnokk mindset, simply by reflecting it.

The cult success of "Tulnukas" is largely due to its accuracy. As one viewer put it, "It's not a fictional movie, it's more of a documentary."
In "Tulnukas," Valdis, a young redneck, is hit on the head by a shovel, inducing a bout of amnesia. When he awakes Valdis starts to question why he and his friends behave the way they do. His rullnokk mates spend the rest of the film attempting to remind Valdis of "the life." They drool over each other's modified BMWs, listen to mind-numbing dance music, and gorge themselves on junk food as they plot to bash some "hairies" 's long-haired rock music fans.
The movie became immensely popular after it was released on the two major Internet video sites, YouTube and Google Video. It attracted international attention when versions with English and Finnish subtitles were uploaded to the Internet. The film has now been viewed by an incredible 500,000 people, making it one of the most popular Estonian films ever produced.
The writer and director of "Tulnukas" is Rasmus Merivoo, a 23-year old graduate of the Tallinn University film school (now called the Baltic Film and Media School). Merivoo created the film as his graduation project, using a 50,000 kroon grant from the Culture Capital fund.

"It's a subculture," says Merivoo of the rullnokk phenomenon.
"These people are like clones. They tune everything; their cars, their language. Everything must be faster and louder. They follow the rules of the group, they wear the same clothes like a uniform to make themselves feel stronger as a group."
The idea of the film was to encourage such people to attempt a bit of individualism, Merivoo says.
"They don't ever stop to ask why they do the same things as everyone else. Why do we listen to music so loud we can't even hear it? Why do we all wear our caps the same way? These same questions are being asked by the Estonian public now. This movie isn't out to say that these people are bad, but that they exist, and I hope that they will ask themselves some questions."
Redneck attitudes are not restricted to Estonia, and neither is Estonia unique in addressing the problem through comedy. In Canada, the show (and now movie) "Trailer Park Boys" treads on similar ground to "Tulnukas" as it parodies a group of drop-outs living in low-cost housing estates. On U.S. television "My Name Is Earl" uses a redneck in a southern town as its anti-hero. Australia has the TV show "Pizza," which follows the oafish behavior of pizza delivery drivers, and also "Kath and Kim," a comedy that laughs at two uncultured suburban women. The New Zealand animation series "Bro'Town" has achieved cult status by taking a similar path, focusing on stereotypical portrayals of young Maori men.

The underground success of "Tulnukas" has made Merivoo the hottest young director in the country. He now has investors willing to throw money at his new projects, and has already written a feature film that defines other aspects of Estonian culture.
"I didn't set out to make a hit, I had no pressure to sell anything to anyone. There were no channels of approval to say what I could or could not do. So I decided to make something completely different from most Estonian films," he said.
"A lot of people don't like Estonian films, because they try to have too much of a message. They overdo it, they are afraid of having just a simple story about real people. Now people are starting to look at student films. They hope something more interesting is coming," he added.

Did "Tulnukas" hit its target? Would a rullnokk change his ways after watching the film? Probably not, muses Merivoo, because the humor goes over their heads. "They don't understand that they are watching themselves when they watch my movie. The laugh at the jokes and the things the characters do, but they don't realize that it is about what's wrong with them."
Vaiko Eplik is among those who class "Tulnukas" as documentary rather than fiction. The singer has had first-hand experience with the more intolerant members of the Estonian community. Back in 2003, Eplik was Estonia's hope in the Eurovision Song Contest with his band Ruffus.

"I had a few incidents with rullnokks after Eurovision. I got punched a couple of times by these types of people after I didn't do so well in the competition," Eplik says.
There's a hint of irony in Eplik's song about men from small villages. He himself is from a small town, and says only the intervention of his no-nonsense father prevented him from heading down the rullnokk path.
"This subculture was born when I was in school. When I was 14 I almost became one of them. I thought it was pretty cool to go around drinking gin out of a plastic bottle, wearing these kinds of clothes. But thankfully my dad told me to get my ass back into line and go to singing lessons."

Eplik has a theory about how the rullnukk movement came about.
"When Estonia first became independent, for the first 10 years there were no serious youth organizations or programs. Now we are an EU country, and kids can go hang out at a youth center, start a band, or go somewhere and play pool. But these people, the rullnokks, didn't have an alternative when they were at a vulnerable age. It's not just in Estonia, though. These types of guys are everywhere."
Like Merivoo, Eplik says he doesn't aim to belittle rednecks by singing about them. Rather, he hopes his songs will cause people to think about their actions.
"I feel compassion toward them. For something to have an impact, though, it has to be realistic, true and shocking. That's what the movie is, and I hope that's what my songs are also."