I watched a documentary on PBS. I didn’t plan on watching it. It came on right after “The Antiques Roadshow” and it sucked me in. It kept me up a half hour past my usual bed time.
The show was part of the “Independent Lens” series and this episode was called “Keeping Romania in Ignorance: Chuck Norris vs. Communism”.
With a title like that I had to see what this was all about.
The episode focused on Romania during the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu which lasted from 1965 to 1989.
It told the story of one man, Teodor Zamfir, who smuggled in video tapes of movies from the western democracies. He did this at great peril to himself and all those involved with his network.
These movies were then crudely over dubbed in the national language (one person dubbed all dialog) and distributed via the black market.
During his reign Ceausescu controlled every aspect of Romanian life including entertainment.
Television was run by the state. If you were one of the lucky few who had a television you got to watch for two hours each day because it only broadcast for two hours a day.
You watched two hours of state run propaganda TV.
Even fewer were lucky enough to have a VCR. (That’s Video Cassette Recorder for all you young ones.)
The bootleg tapes distributed through Teodor Zamfir’s network became an underground phenomenon in Romania.
I’m not going to tell the whole story in this post as I would never be able to do it justice.
Here’s a link to “The Independent Lens” website and trailers about the film. When I originally wrote this the full video was available for viewing on the site but now you have to go to Netflix. If you have Netflix I’d suggest you watch it.
What I found so interesting about this story was how the dissemination of information helped bring down a brutal regime, and how in this “modern” era (the 1960’s through the 1980’s) a regime could be successful for a long time at keeping information from its people, keeping them ignorant.
What else really caught my imagination was how these people and I guess all people hunger for entertainment.
Most of the movies weren’t exactly masterpieces, Oscar winners or contenders. Most were just the average fare of somewhat mindless Hollywood productions. But they did give the viewer a glimpse into what they were missing in western culture and society.
The Romanians would risk their own personal safety and well being to watch these crudely overdubbed movies that many of us in the West just take for granted.
Even the high ranking government officials, who had it pretty well off relative to their fellow countrymen, accepted these video tapes as bribes.
These tapes became more valuable than money.
So the next time someone tries to tell you the arts and entertainment industry is trivial and insignificant, you tell them Chuck Norris, Sly Stallone, John Claude Van Dam and others helped to overthrow a ruthless communist regime.
Art and entertainment exist because it has a purpose.
By the way Mr. Zamfir became very wealthy through his bootleg operation.
I find it interesting how capitalism found a way to thrive and serve the people even in a totalitarian communist society.
© Otis P Smith and About the Groove, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Otis P Smith and About the Groove with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.