Lots of superhero movies coming out - just last week the blogosphere could marvel over the new Iron Man 3 trailer – and there are more blockbusters down the road. It’s not uncommon to produce several such action-packed flicks per year – and studios would not be doing that unless there was demand for this sort of thing. Well, turns out that superheroes are in demand now just on the silver screen. Again, last week a news story went viral when “Batman” waltzed into a police station in Bradford, UK, to deliver a wanted man, saying “I’ve caught this one for you” to the police officers. The masked crusader then proceeded to leave as suddenly he appeared. This story has a follow-up, too – a local takeaway delivery driver Stan Worby claimed to be the one responsible for this random act of vigilantism – there’s even an interview with this guy. However, the reveal of his identity failed to become a viral hit – probably because it’s just not that exciting – there’s no mystery. Now, if the guy continued to drag in culprits to police stations and became the fear of local criminals – then his identity would indeed be grounds for speculation and excitement. Still, there are others like him – so-called “real-life superheroes”, people with known or unknown identities patrolling streets of cities across the globe with various degrees of support from the public and the authorities – although, as you can guess, the police generally has a firm stance on the whole issue of vigilantism – and that is “don’t do it”. I’ve already covered some of this ‘superheroes’, who often seem to enjoy more fame online than in their hometowns. Some of them are quite generic – they act as, basically, costumed “night watch”. Others are more extravagant – like St. Petersurg Man, who fights to make the city a more clean and polite environment – for example, in one of his webisodes he tackles smokers, throwing cigarette butts on the sidewalk. You know, you have to start somewhere, right? Besides, it’s the little things that make the big picture – I certainly would like to live in a city with no cigarette butts, chewed gum and other trash on the streets. And if it takes a superhero to achieve that, he has my support! Oh, by the way, after his initial, yet short-lived burst of local and internet fame, St. Petersburg Man apparently ran for office as an assistant St. Petersburg’s Governor. He did not win. If we’re talking about really “out there” superheroes, I should mention Super Vaclav, a questionable hero from our neighbor Czech republic. Red mask, shirt and cape, white codpiece and helmet and a helmet-mounted camera help our hero fight injustice, hypocrisy and carelessness of citizens of Prague. His internet stardom is linked with his quest against dog-owners that don’t clean up after their pets – while it may be common practice in the West, people in Russia in particular and I guess Eastern Europe in generally are neither legally nor even morally obliged to take their little doggie-piles and throw them away. Super Vaclav decided he didn’t like stepping in doggie piles, so what does he do? He puts on gloves, ventures out to parks and makes sure the pet owners regret not cleaning up. Oh yes, the gloves serve not just an aesthetic purpose. Super Vaclav made a habit out of picking up the doggie piles and flinging them at the owners! The clip featuring one such went particularly viral after being featured in a Russian YouTube series showcasing amusing videos.
A Russian ‘hero’ of sorts wears no masks and capes, but does require a vehicle to roam around – his trust old Volga – at least, that’s the car the “Punisher” initially used to serve his own brand of street justice. Now, now, it’s nothing malicious. This guy simply drives around and follows the rules of the road – and refuses to let anyone break them.
He has a YouTube channel TaranKrsk. Deciphered and translated into English it would mean "Battering-ram from Krasnoyark". The author started uploading videos September 7th, 2011 and in a few short months managed to gain one thousand subscribers and 300,000 views. So why people like him so much? Well, you know what they say, 'enemy of my enemy is my friend'. The enemies of this 'battering ram' are jerks behind steering wheels – and who likes these guys? Armed with dashcam to film his driving, the only difference between the “Punisher” and other law-abiding drivers is lack of self-preservation instincts. Most of the drivers simply let jerks break the rules and yield to them, afraid of damaging their cars. Not this guy! He simply drives as one legally should and does not break or veer to avoid hitting drivers ignoring the rules and cutting him off. While morally such actions may be questionable, legally he has every right to act as he does. The morality issue has not been settled on, either. Regardless, after a year and a half of sharing his exploits with Russian webgoers, the hero’s channel amassed almost 1600 subscribers and a million and a half views. The guy now even has his own logo, branding, fancy 3D graphics and voiceover in his regular webisodes – it appears the Punisher has struck an agreement with a local television channel. It’s not just some guy driving around ramming cars, either – it’s about a man with a camera and a mission to expose unjust traffic violations to make his city a safer and more orderly place to drive in.
But apparently, he’s not the only Punisher out there. A few weeks ago story of another driver with the same name and the same agenda, but a different car and hometown hit the blogosphere and spread like wildfire. The videos of compilations of these rams started appearing on YouTube about two weeks ago and now collectively they have probably over a million views; his YouTube channel, Volkosob832, has over 5,000 subscribers and almost two and a half million views total. The driver has even become an international internet celebrity after the clips found their way to sites like Reddit and NBCnews. The Punisher from Zelenograd, a satellite town of Moscow, drives around a… bus – and apparently, he already has over 100 rams on his police record. And the best part is, he was deemed to be the victim of each and every one of those accidents. The Punisher, in reality Alexei Volkov, was interviewed by a local newspaper and a translation of this interview can be found at redhotrussia.com – a somewhat of an exploitation site dealing with viral and tabloid content popular in Russia. In a nutshell, he still has a job and management generally doesn’t mind his ramming vehicles or becoming a YouTube star – after all, most of the time it’s the safest way out of a sticky situation – buses drive in the right lane, so the only choice is to swerve left or slam the brakes – both of these choices are not good for the passengers – yes, no passengers were ever injured in any of these ramming incidents. The bottom line is that the driver teaches other drivers respectful and careful driving – and the bill for these lessons is paid by arrogant jerks who perhaps should not be on the road in the first place.
Speaking of driving, Google has cooked up a batch of data from their Street View vans. Street View is exactly what it sounds like – yet I am surprised that somehow some people are still not familiar with it. Basically it allows users to take virtual strolls of mapped streets. In essence, it’s an immense collection of panoramic 360 degree shots, spaced a few meters apart and linked together, so users are free to ‘move’ between them as if walking on the street. Street View Russia was first launched a year ago – and throughout 2012 it only covered Moscow and St. Petersburg. However, it did include Google Art Project – basically, a Street View for museums. Turns out that it was a busy year for the Street View team as now the internet giant has hooked up a whopping 200 cities to its Street View service. Among others, these cities include Yekaterinburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Kazan and Sochi – so if you’re planning on coming over for the 2014 Winter Olympics or perhaps the 2018 FIFA World Cup, you can familiarize yourself with the digital representation of the host cities first. It’s not just about Street View, either – Google is now offering traffic and public transit information for several Russian cities, stepping into territory previously dominated by Yandex. While abroad, I use Google for my navigation purposes, but here in Russia I still stick to Yandex – perhaps Google’s focus on this functionality will make the service truly international and push out regional competitors like Yandex?