No one has ever accused Russians of being low-key, and that goes double for their marriage proposals. Over the past few years, the popularity of “extreme” marriage proposals has taken off in the country, spawning at least five national businesses in 15 cities. Some of the staged proposals, involving balaclava-clad special ops with very real weapons, have gone viral on social media around the world. Companies like Spetznaz (Special Ops) Show charge would-be grooms to orchestrate a memorable moment for their intended.
Customers pay between $300 and $900 for actors to scare the bejesus out of their fiancees in the form of mock drug busts or other serious violations. Both the proposer and proposee are chased through the streets and dragged from their vehicles on the side of the road. They are then interrogated, while the actors train guns on them. According to Spetznaz proprietor Sergei Rodkin, mock drug busts are the number-one requested scenario, though he laments he doesn’t find them very creative. Only when the charade has reached fever-pitch does the sponsor reveal what’s really going on: Don’t worry, you aren’t going to die! I only want to marry you!
Art Imitates Life
Rodkin has seen his business expand around Russia since he began in 2015. Before that, he staged fake abductions and arrests for friends and family “for free.” Rodkin reports that he’s brought his team to fake-abduct or pretend-arrest families at birthday parties and anniversary celebrations as well as engagement traffic stops. Former military and law enforcement individuals serve as actors, lending a terrifyingly professional feel to the scenarios. Rodkin keeps his employees’ previous experience confidential but insists they know how to make the scene authentic.
As to why these pull-over proposals have become all the rage, one can only guess. Russian psychologist, Polina Soldatova, told the BBC she thinks the extreme proposals are a response to increased policing in Russia in general. The fear that anyone can be arrested at any time is pervasive, and so Russians are combating that fear with simulation pranks. Soldatova says, “These pranks are a way of accepting the fact that the security forces can always come for you. People need a way to reconcile themselves with this reality.” She points to the obvious relief, and even laughter, the fiancees exhibit once they realize what is really going on. She also suggests that anyone who would propose in such a manner must know their significant other would respond positively. Otherwise, it’s just plain bad taste.
Happily Ever After
Though Rodkin states only one intended has turned down a proposal in his years of orchestrating them, that hasn’t stopped people from debating whether accepting such a proposal is wise. BBC Breakfast presenters Dan Walker and Louise Minchin criticized the tactics on their morning show, with Walker describing the fake bust and Minchin asking in disbelief, “Why would she say ‘yes’ after that?!” Cohost Steph McGovern chimed in, “I wouldn’t want to see [my boyfriend] again after that!”
However, a look through the many extreme proposal videos on YouTube proves that high stakes reap big rewards. The newly engaged kiss, hyperventilate and laugh in disbelief that the heart-stopping ruse was really a romantic gesture. One video shows the special ops team showering the newly engaged couple with champagne as they dance in the street, guns still drawn. YouTube commenter izuku Midoriya1 proclaims, “I got scared but this is so cute” and another commenter quips, “It’s the ideal emotional state to decide if you want to marry someone.”
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