Just Sue Ellen Stories

"How 'Dallas' Won the Cold War," the Nick Gillespie/me co-production in this weekend's Washington Post, drew some interesting testimonial responses. A sampling:

In 1987 [...] I visited Bukhara in Uzbekistan. At one point, we were invited into the living area behind a shop, where the owner took out a video cassette and played it for us. It was a grainy episode of "Dallas," dubbed in Finnish. (We learned later that Estonians would record the Finnish version of "Dallas"--and other Western TV shows also--off of Helsinki TV, easily seen Tallinn. These would then circulate throughout the USSR.) Our host grilled us intensely about each of the appliances in Miss Ellie's kitchen. Thus did visions of Southfork reach even unto Central Asia.

*

In the summer of 1983 I was traveling through Europe with my Brother. One of the countries we visited was Romania. I recall meeting [a] 20-30 year old Romanian male. His first question to me was "Who shot JR"? I was surprised to hear such a question. He said he watched the series however [the] episodes they see were a few seasons behind. It was unfortunate for I could not answer his question.

*

I was there when Dallas won the Cold War, with an American tour group, just after Dallas started running.  Wherever we went--Moscow, St Petersburg, Odessa, Kiev, everywhere!--the touring day could not begin till after the morning episode was over, since neither the driver nor guide would stir till then.  Same thing for the late-afternoon epidsode, the tour had to end before it began.  And it was not only our driver and guide--auto and pedestran traffic just disappeared from the streets during those two hours.  I think I remember being told it was Boris Yeltsin's party that sponsored the twice-a-day showing ... and ran political messages in the commercial breaks since they knew everyone in the, then, USSR, would be watching.

*

Do you remember a news story following the opening of Albania?  Boat people from Albania started coming across to Italy and landing on the beaches in droves, causing a headache for the Italian police.  One policeman reported that when he approached a group of Albanian boat people, they said, "Is this Dallas?"


*

In the late 80s, probably 1987, I was in Inverness, Scotland.  My then wife and I went out to a pub. We walked in and saw the entire bar looking in our direction and up to a TV that was placed above the door. There was dead silence except for the American accents on the television.  As we proceeded into the place and bellied up to the bar, we turned to look and on the screen was Dallas. The entire place was mesmerized.  

*

It's probably the most important show ever, as ridiculous as that might sound. Its impact on the rest of the world was even more profound than its impact in the U.S.

I would propose that Baywatch continued the Dallas phenomenon in the late 80s and 90s. To people outside the U.S., and particularly in Germany, Baywatch symbolized the myth of California: A place to live freely and enjoy the abundance of the earth. Must have been very attractive to the East Germans who could get the program and wanted very much to travel, and to the West Germans who were sick of the whole big government, nanny state thing. When the Wall came down in 1989, David Hasselhoff (brilliantly) flew to Berlin right away to give a "Freedom" concert at the Brandenburger Tor.

Over in the comments at my personal blog, one of my favorite film writers, David Ehrenstein, adds:

The impact of Dallas cannot be underestimated. At heart it was little more than a louche retread of Sirk's Written on the Wind and Stevens' Giant but with the unabashed vulgarity of Russ Meyer thrown in for good measure.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was obsessed with the show, assigning two of his most valuable boyfriends (Udo Kier and Raul Gimenez) all-important taping duties. He didn't want to miss a nanosecond. Needless to say Berlin Alexanderplatz is rather different in overall presentation. But its dark heart is much the same.

At Commentary magazine, Abe Greenwald searches for the new diverting Dallas in our modern twilight struggle, and comes up with ... Hillary vs. Obama! Still, my favorite response was probably this:

Good article, I enjoyed it but there is one failing. To wit: Contrary to popular belief, this is no evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald shot/killed JFK.

Some related nuggets from the reason vault: The Second Romanian Revolution Will Be Televised, and Charles Paul Freund's classic In Praise of Vulgarity.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Chance Yohman||

    Ron Paul was on Bloomberg Late Night recently:
    http://media.bloomberg.com/bb/avfile/Views/Night_Talk/vEUxTH42fvHU.mp3

  • ||

    Dallas in Eastern Europe, Hasselhoff in Germany, Jerry Lewis in France.

    It's strange what cultural products from American end up with these big followings.

    Also, didn't the West Germans in the 1990s respond to their theorized unhappiness with "the big govenrment nanny state thing" respond by electing an SD/Green government?

  • ||

    As a businessperson, I long for the days when I could do a ten-second flip through a stack of greenbar, see the oil deal was lucrative, tell the proposer my lawyer would have the papers to him tomorrow, and make $10 million before heading off to the Oil Baron's Club for three drinks, lunch and some afternoon delight with the mistress du jour. What, I mis-remember???

  • Guy Montag||

    In the late 80s, probably 1987, I was in Inverness, Scotland. My then wife and I went out to a pub. We walked in and saw the entire bar looking in our direction and up to a TV that was placed above the door. There was dead silence except for the American accents on the television. As we proceeded into the place and bellied up to the bar, we turned to look and on the screen was Dallas. The entire place was mesmerized.

    Glad to see that Dallas made inroads against Socialism within the British Empire too.

  • Guy Montag||

    Just remembered! My favorite episode of The Young Ones was a takeoff on Dallas! Vivian and that SPIV guy made Neil and The People's Poet "dig for oil" in the basement with a pick-axe.

  • Untermensch||

    The impact of Dallas cannot be underestimated

    I think the commenter meant rather the opposite... I can rather easily underestimate its importance.

  • the innominate one||

    Where was Oswald when JR was shot? Was anyone watching the grassy knolls on Southfork Ranch?

  • ||

    Dallas sucks.

  • ||

    You suck. Dallas rules.

  • ||

    Give it up Welch. You can't save yourself from embarassment through spurious and/or irrelevant testimonials. And American tourists don't count. I was there, I was in the USSR - as far as I remember Dallas had no significant impact there whatsoever. Mexican telenovelas had far more impact on the average Soviet citizen. In fact "Dallas" the TV show doesn't even merit a mention in Russian wikipedia, not even in the fairly long entry on the actual city of Dallas. I've been looking on Russian language websites for one, even one, mention of "Dallas" playing an important role in Russian's lives in the 80s. Nothing, ничего. Just admit you pulled the whole thing out of your ass, you'll feel a lot cleaner.

  • Brandybuck||

    Contrary to the overwhelming evidence, there is no evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK.

  • Aaron Brown||

    Good article, I enjoyed it but there is one failing. To wit: Contrary to popular belief, this is no evidence that Lee Harvey Oswald shot/killed JFK.


    This reminds me of a Bertrand Russell anecdote:

    On one occasion a man came to ask me to recommend some of my books, as he was interested in philosophy. I did so, but he returned next day saying that he had been reading one of them, and had found only one statement he could understand, and that one seemed to him false. I asked him what it was, and he said it was the statement that Julius Caesar is dead. When I asked him why he did not agree, he drew himself up and said: "Because I am Julius Caesar."

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement