The Russian Reversal, more technically called the transpositional pun, is a type of joke popularized by Ukrainian comedian Yakov Smirnoff. It is based on taking a statement about capitalist United States and inverting it to describe the then-communist Russia as an Orwellian hellhole. Smirnoff later added the prefix "Soviet" to indicate the jokes were meant to target the past regime, as opposed to The New Russia. For instance:
In a federal society, it's your vote that counts. In a feudal society, it's your Count that votes.
From Watchmen, a Played for Drama example when Rorshach dumps a pot of bubbling-hot fry fat over a fellow inmate's head when the man tries to pick a fight with him in the chow line, mortally wounding his would-be attacker:
Rorshach: "None of you understand. I'm not locked up in here with you." (dumps the fat on the inmate)"You're locked up in here with ME!"
From the Axis Powers Hetalia fic "It's a small world after all": the characters get kidnapped by fangirls. Russia responds "In Russia, fangirls don't kidnap chibis, chibis kidnap them, da?"
''Ambition'', a short Harry Potter fic by Rorschach's Blot, references the Watchmen line above. The speaker, in this case, is Harry himself. A pack of Ravenclaws lived to regret it.
In Reality Is FluidBenjamin Sisko mildly chides Eleya for her derisive attitude towards the Bajoran prophecies.* She worships the Prophets, but she doesn't pay much attention to the prophecies due to their tendency towards Prophecy Twists.
Sisko: You may not put much stock in the prophecies but the prophecies put stock in you.
The Wrong Reflection has a chapter titled "Storm Before the Calm" rather than "Calm Before the Storm".
One of the first examples, and a contemporary with Yakov Smirnoff's standup comedy, comes from the movie Spaceballs, when the henchman of galactic gangster "Pizza the Hut" warns Lone Starr about what will happen if he and Barf don't pay a million spacebucks:
Arc Words from V for Vendetta: "People shouldn't be afraid of their government, governments should be afraid of their people."
Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy: "You want him, you have to go through us! Or more accurately, we go through you!"
Machete: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!"
Friedrich Nietzsche: "If you gaze for long enough into the abyss, the abyss gazes back [into you]."
From Ye Gods! by Tom Holt:
When Jason opened his eyes, all he could see was a perfectly ordinary Underground carriage, and Virgil sitting on one of the seats, meditatively stirring a large pile of ash and charred bones. Jason winced. "Let me guess," he said, "this is a No Smoking carriage." "On the contrary," Virgil replied. "Only here, the train smokes the people."
MAD in an 1962 issue: "Russian politics can best be understood by comparing them with American politics. For instance, in America, politicians have to kiss babies, and if they don't, the mothers can take their offices away from them. In Russia, the system is somewhat different. To get food, mothers have to kiss politicians and if they don't, the politicians can take their babies away from them."
Subverted in the philosophy book Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar, when describing the difference between capitalism and communism.
Under capitalism, man exploits his fellow man. Under communism, the opposite is true.
This is a pretty common joke in the old Eastern Bloc. It's also been used as an East German "Fritzchen" joke, although it's been told as a Russian/Soviet "Vovochka" joke, as well.
Mike Myers parodies this on a behind-the-scenes feature on the DVD for The Cat In The Hat, combining it with a running joke. "Under capitalism, man exploits his fellow man. Under communism, it's the complete opposite. *pause* Because of the sand which is there."
In Mid-Flinx, Teal warns Aimee about the flower in her hair: "You do not wear the cristif, the cristif wears you." Unfortunately for Aimee, Teal's not making a Yakov Smirnoff reference: The "flower" is an invasive parasite, which sends its tendrils fatally bursting from Aimee's flesh seconds later.
In nonfiction text The Steampunk Bible, a troper is quoted about whether the Steampunk movement has jumped the shark:
"Here in America, is very good, everyone watch television. In Old Country, television watches you!"
MST3K had a Yakov Smirnoff knockoff saying: "In your country, you watch movie The Rock. In my country, we break rock in Gulag!"
Used in Grimm. As the Blutbad (werewolf) Monroe explains to Nick, the Grimm, while human children are told stories of all the different monsters who make up the Wesen world who will come to get them if they are bad, Wesen children are told the same kind of stories about the Grimms.
The Tom Baker era Doctor Who arc "The Seeds of Doom" featured a plant-monster called a Krynoid. At one point the Doctor observes, "Well, on most planets, the animals eat the vegetation. On planets where the Krynoid gets established, the vegetation eats the animals."
Since it was the Cold War, no Soviet reference is made, but the original intro of I Dream of Jeannie ends with "...and there in this house, the girl in the bottle plays spin the astronaut."
In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Gamekeeper," SG-1's Planet of the Week has a deserted but apparently well-tended garden, and an overgrown greenhouse in the center of it.
Daniel: I love what they've done with the place. Jack:(seeing several people plugged into chairs in suspended animation) I love what the place has done with them.
In The Big Bang Theory, when Leonard and Sheldon argue in the episode "The Staircase Implementation":
Leonard: Screw the roommate agreement! Sheldon: No, you don't screw the roommate agreement. The roommate agreement screws you!
In Deadwood, after someone says "Fuck the future," the county commissioner replies, "You can't fuck the future, sir, the future fucks you."
Times have changed And we've often rewound the clock Since the Puritans got a shock When they landed on Plymouth Rock. If today any shock they should try to stem 'Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock Plymouth Rock would land on them.
In the musical Leave It to Me! (1938), set largely in Soviet Russia, journalist Buck Thomas is handed a telegram by a messenger. He reaches in his pocket for a tip, but the messenger tells him:
Graustein: No tipping. In Soviet Russia, messenger tips you. Thomas: Propaganda. Graustein: Correct.
In "Monica" from I Love My Wife, the effects the eponymous girl has on people include "Men go ape/Apes go man."
A wordless strip of Nerf NOW!! shows a bunch of people in what's evidently Soviet Russia, standing side by side at a bus stop. When enough people arrive to completely fill the panel, their lower bodies bloodily vanish. According to The Rant, "... Tetris plays you."
Yakov Smirnoff's "In Soviet Russia" version went memetic long after the fall of communism. The Internet being what it is, these jokes ignored any attempts to make it seem Orwellian in favour of non-sequiturs like "In Soviet Russia, motorcycle rides YOU!!"
In the middle of a serious discussion about a guy getting his arms blown off by a bomb, some dipshit drops in with, "In Soviet Russia, bomb disarms you!!" This got a well-deserved Dude, Not Funny! reaction.
Despair.inc advertised a t-shirt which mocked the bail-out General Motors received with the text: 'In Soviet America, the car drives you... bankrupt'
Twice in SF Debris's review of the ST:TNG episode "The Naked Now", referring to the Soviet-built ship Tsiolkovsky:
(as Picard) You know, number one, in your country, you send ships into space, but in Soviet Russia, ship sends YOU into space! Well, looks like they're screwed; unable to muck with the tractor beam that can only pull things...it looks like that ship seeking boulder is going to take out the Enterprise and Tsiolkovsky, which won't make them happy back in Soviet Russia. Wait, that's it! In Soviet Russia, tractor beam will PUSH!
Weebl's "Russian Dancing Men" has an image of a Whac-a-Mole machine with the caption, "Do not whack Russian, Russian whaks [sic] you."
The internet short paying tribute to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Tomatoes Eat You.
"That's Lobstertainment!": Zoidberg's brief career as a stand-up comedian consisted solely of this type of joke.
Zoidberg: Earth! What a planet! On Earth, you enjoy eating a tasty clam. On my planet, clams enjoy eating a tasty you! (glass clinking)
Used and lampshaded in "Crimes Of The Hot":
Fry: That ice dispenser is so big, the ice crushes you! *laughs to self* Yakov Smirnoff said that. Leela: No he didn't.
There was The Simpsons episode with a revue of stars of The Eighties in a song "Ode To Branson". There is the line "So sit back, relax, and watch our revue," and Yakov slides in and says with a homophone pun, "In Soviet Union, review watches you!" This probably had a hand in revitalizing the meme for the Internet crowd.
After Grandpa causes his mischief on stage, Smirnoff subverts this trope by commenting "In Russia, stage is for performers only."
The King of the Hill episode guest starring Smirnoff has him buying one of these jokes from Bobby, despite the comedian's protestations that he has abandoned this type of material in favor of relationship humor. But give Bobby credit, at least he plays with the trope. "In America, you put 'In God We Trust' on the money. In Russia, we have no money!" Yakov pays for the joke and says keep 'em coming.
Animaniacs had this line in the episode "The Girl with the Googily Goop":
Dot: You don't need to go to the potty! Wakko: Oh, yes, I do! Dot: Nah! In these cartoons, the potty comes to you!
H. G. Wells is quoted as saying, "If we don't end war, war will end us."
During the 1978 World Chess Championship match between the World Champion Anatoly Karpov of the Soviet Union and ex-Soviet Viktor Korchnoi of Switzerland, there were seemingly endless negotiations about playing conditions thanks to Korchnoi's defector status and the mutual hostility between the contestants. At one point during the negotiations, a Soviet chess official declared (paraphrased, but this is mostly verbatim): "Since we, the Soviet Union, are the strongest country in the world, we do not accept conditions - we impose them!"
During the investigation of the sinking of RMS Titanic, one of the few surviving officers was questioned about when he left the ship. His answer was: "I didn't. The ship left me", which meant that he stayed on the ship until the deck was swallowed by the sea, leaving him trailing water.