"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.