How TV's 'Dallas' Won the Cold War

The oil-and-sex soaked TV show Dallas is back on the small screen. The unapologetically odious J.R., the unappealingly ethical Bobby and the uncontrollaby alcoholic Sue Ellen are all back, along with a new crew of young, hardbodied hotties to pull in viewers who have yet to start pulling in Social Security checks.

During its original run from 1978 to 1991, Dallas was an international cultural phenomenon with ratings higher than late-’70s interest rates. It was the most or second-most watched show in the United States for half a decade, showing up in ABBA songs and Ozzy Osbourne videos, and spinning off the megahit Knots Landing.

But Dallas’ greatest impact ultimately wasn’t in these United States but in communist Romania, where it helped topple the brutal Ceausescu regime.

Dallas
was the last Western show allowed during the nightmarish 1980s because President Nicolae Ceausescu thought it showcased all that was wrong with capitalism. In fact, the show provided a luxuriant alternative to a communism that was forcing people to wait more than a decade to buy the most rattletrap communist-produced cars.

“I think we were directly or indirectly responsible for the fall of the [communism],” Larry Hagman told the Associated Press a decade ago. “They would see the wealthy Ewings and say, ‘Hey, we don’t have all this stuff.’"

After the dictator and his wife were shot on Christmas Eve 1989, the pilot episode of Dallas—with a previously censored sex scene spliced back in—was one of the first foreign shows broadcast on liberated Romanian TV.

The impact of Dallas on global worldviews reminds us that “vulgar” popular culture is every bit as important as chin-stroking political discourse in fomenting real social change.

Throwaway cultural products influence far-flung societies in ways that are impossible for anyone, even dictators, to predict or control.

That lesson is more relevant than ever in a world where movies, TV shows, and music cross borders with impunity and the free West engages the semi-free East, whether in China or Iran. If the United States is interested in spreading American values and institutions, TV shows may go a lot further than armored personnel carriers.

Like Mikhail Gorbachev, poodle haircuts, and Members Only jackets, Dallas didn’t long survive the post–Cold War world it helped create. But like an uncontainable gusher in a Texas oil field, the original series left us far richer than we ever dreamed possible.

About 2.30 minutes. Produced by Meredith Bragg. Written by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. For a fuller treatment of this topic, go here.

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  • R C Dean||

    After the dictator and his wife were shot on Christmas Eve 1989,

    Good times, good times . . . .

  • Pip||

    I remember that. Santa was very good to Romania that year.

  • Paul.||

    Yeah, I remember the trial they had in the basement of that building. Kind of creepy but, man, the dude was a towering figure of douch.

  • Chloe||

    His wife was no better.

  • DEG||

    A little teaser:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhTflHfPhgc

    There is a series of videos on youtube that look like the whole trial and execution. No subtitles and parts of the series are an hour or so.

  • anon||

    I liked that video. Communists that completely centralize power deny wrongdoing when shit goes down.

    Reminds me a lot of Obama.

  • Paul.||

    I'm watching the video... I like the official charge that he "starved the soul of a nation".

    Seriously, can we bring those charges to our current crop of leaders?

  • Paul.||

    The impact of Dallas on global worldviews reminds us that “vulgar” popular culture is every bit as important as chin-stroking political discourse in fomenting real social change.

    I think this hilights the need for another Married with Children discussion.

  • ||

    Here goes: I saw Christina Applegate on some current show on the TV when I was at the club (muted)...and she's fat. I wish I could scrub that image from my brain. That's something I never, ever wanted to see.

  • ||

    at the club

    That's what you get for slacking off at your gloryhole job, you lazy dickhead. Keep your eyes down and remember what you're for.

  • ||

    I get breaks! It's mandated in my fluffers' union contract!

  • ||

    "Fluffer's Local 538. Look for the union label!"

  • ||

    SCAB! (In so, so many ways.)

  • ||

    The doctor gave me shot for that. Wait, it was you who gave me the shot, you quack!

  • ||

    I never give my own shots, fool. That's why God invented nurses. And you fucked him/her/it/Warty, didn't you?

    This is worse than joshua corning's and Brett's terminal cases of Patchouli Poisoning Syndrome.

  • ||

    Man I'm glad you're around today doc. I have had the worst diarrhea for the last couple of days. I mean, it's like I'm pissing water-down Hershey's chocolate syrup out of my butt.

    I feel fine otherwise though. Pepto only relieves the symptoms temporarily. Any suggestions?

    p.s. The only benefit I thought one was supposed to get from dyptheria/cholera was at least you could lose weight. But I haven't even done that! So it's all for nothing.

  • ||

    Fat and shitting uncontrollably is no way to go through life, Jimbo.

  • ||

    I dunno, I could get used to it. The comedic noises my sphincter makes followed by the sound of falling water are a big comedic hit in the bathroom.

  • ||

    Diet wise, more meat protein. Easy on the roughage and other foods that soften stools. Fluids as tolerated (avoid caffeinated bevs). Easy on the booze.

    Immodium AD (loperamide) taken as directed on package.

    If it keeps up more than another day, see your doc, ARNP, or other RX'ing practitioner about antibiotics.

  • ||

    I'll give it a whirle, thanks for the tips.

  • anon||

    Also: Rice.

  • ||

    Anytime.

    Make sure and drink plenty of fluids. I don't want you getting dehydrated.

    Also, try to avoid spicy foods as well (I recall you have a love of them) as they also can irritate the bowel.

    Diarrhea is an overstimulation of the bowel, and that's why you are having...problems. I don't know if it's diet related (possibly food bourne) or you picked up a bug. If your stool doesn't firm up in a day, and you go to the doc (or whomever), inquire about pro-biotics concomitantly with a Ab RX. I RX them with Ab when colon bugs are present, and increases the efficacy of the Ab and helps to restore normal flora.

  • ||

    Easy on the rimmjobs for a few days, Jimbo.

  • ||

    Rimmjobs? Did I learn nothing about spelling in all my perverted acts classes?

  • Ted S.||

  • ||

    Wow, you remembered I put habenero and cayenne on everything I eat?

    That's more impressive than Warty remembering my love of rimmjobbss.

  • ||

    I have a good memory, Jimbo. :-)

    Besides, your wife is Chinese, and I imagine many (if not most) of the dishes she prepares are pretty spicy.

  • ||

    ...dishes she prepares...

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • ||

    Ok then, perhaps I see a root cause of your problems here, Jimbo! :-D

  • anon||

    Here goes: I saw Christina Applegate on some current show on the TV when I was at the club (muted)...and she's fat.

    You didn't answer the question though: Would John fuck her?

  • Paul.||

    Miss Applegate would have to get really fat before I would refuse her my hotel key.

  • Raymond Luxury Yach-t||

    Porn against radical Islamic fundamentalism!

  • Pro Libertate||

    I liked Dallas when it had the guy from the old Winn-Dixie commercial on it. Winn-Dixie: The Beef People.

  • The Other Kevin||

    We need to get to work right away on a TV series starring a group of monocle and top-hat clad characters. Think of the influence it will have on the world.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Phallus.

  • ||

    Behold, *Gynasty*!

    (Spam? Really squirrelz?)

  • R C Dean||

    Hold that one for the spinoff.

  • Chloe||

    What Downton Abbey should have been.

  • ||

    More like, "Go'down on Abbey," Chloe. I think that is the Antipodean version.

  • Chloe||

    Great, now I'm going to have that theme song stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Thanks Reason!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Me, too. Fuck.

  • ||

    Duran Duran to the rescue!"

    It even doubles as homage to Ron Bailey!

  • ||

    Speaking of, I had never seen the uncensored Girls of Film video till recently. Excellent, excellent. Obviously NSFW.

  • tarran||

    One of James P Hogan's books apparently was translated into Polish and very popular with the university students that were active auxiliaries to the Solidarity union.

    When he went to Poland, the guys who had arranged the printing paid Hogan his royalties, ~$8.00 thanks to inflation. In his autobiography, Hogan says that his hosts said his book was the only work by a libertarian author from the West that the government permitted to be published (mainly because they thought it was Sci Fi rather than libertarian polemic) and thus had an outside influence on the kids fed up with Communism.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I've read a couple of his books. Which one was it?

  • tarran||

    I can't remember. I think it's Voyage from Yesteryear.

    My copy of Rockets, Redheads, and Revolution is MIA currently, so I can't look it up.

  • tarran||

    I suspect Voyage from Yesteryear made it through the censors because:

    1) The bad guys are the government of the U.S. starship trying to establish imperial rule over the Chironians.

    2) The Chironian post-scarcity libertarian anarchist society reads kind of like Marx' prediction of a Communist utopia after the state has withered away.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    The Soviet Union fell... and liberals have been pissed off ever since.

  • ||

    After the dictator and his wife were http://www.maillotfr.com/ shot on Christmas Eve 1989, the pilot episode of Dallas—with a previously censored sex scene spliced back in—was one of the first foreign shows broadcast on liberated Romanian TV.

  • joy||

    70s interest rates. It was the most or second-most watched show in the United States for half a decade, showing up in ABBA songs and Ozzy Osbourne videos, http://www.petwinkel.com/pet-armani-c-19.html and spinning off the megahit Knots Landing.

  • Reijoh||

    There is an Estonian Film called Disco And The Atomic War http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8Ocuy6LsDw about people in northern Estonia watching Finnish TV stations. Dallas was very popular. They tried to jam and do other things to prevent people from watching. The best idea then seemed to show sports at times when Finns are showing American series or programs on current affairs. To do this the Soviet Estonian TV needed Finnish TV Guide and subscribed for it. Now, as the TV guide was not a Communist paper, it first had to be checked for contents in Moscow. This procedure, of course, took so long that when the Estonian TV people got the guide, it was already a week or two too old.
    The Communist party people in southern Estonia were asking for a link station, so that people in the south could also see Finnish TV. They had a problem of people moving to northern parts and seeing better TV programs (yes, even Dallas was better than the Soviet stuff)was one those reasons.
    After regaining independence Estonians do not watch Finnish TV. What was once too radical and the forbidden fruit is not anymore interesting. By the way, because of the Finnish TV, Estonians were the only people in Soviet Union that knew that Lech Walesa wore a moustache.

  • DonTaylor||

    “vulgar” popular culture;

    good one!

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