Emily Skarbek  

Chuck Norris vs Communism

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Irina Nistor has one of the most famous voices in Romania. While working as a translator of censored television programs in Romania under the Communist regime, she secretly dubbed over 3,000 banned movie titles on VHS tapes smuggled in from the West. The black market for these films flourished during the Cold War, bringing visions of life outside communism into the minds of the many.

The humorously titled documentary Chuck Norris VS Communism beautifully captures Irina's story and the impact Western movies had on the imaginations of Romanians living under authoritarianism.

Watching the film for the first time, I was quite taken with how people spoke about the meaningful ways that these low-quality bootleg films affected their perceptions of what was possible in other societies. (Even today, there are parallel stories of prevalence and importance of bootleg cassette tapes in American prisons.)

The point is that the daily life depicted in the poor quality VHS tapes that circulated throughout the country challenged what authorities had forced them to experience and allowed them to see. The story is of entrepreneurs who risked prosecution to make money satisfying consumer demand and some because they thought what they were doing was a virtuous means of protesting a repressive regime.

The film highlights the importance of the exchange of ideas that occurs where markets spring up. This experience and benefit of hindsight allows for a fresh perspective on recent events like the charges by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps that Kim Kardashian is subverting Iranian culture. Here this seems almost silly, but to women who find these visions of commercial society and the Western world inspiring or empowering in one way or another - and are being locked up as a result - the stakes are much higher.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
David R. Henderson writes:

Well said, Emily.

In five minutes of searching, I have not found this video either for sale or on YouTube. Where did you see it?

Thank you.

Emily Skarbek writes:

Richard, I linked to the IMDB page in hopes of helping readers in the US find the movie. As of April 1 I believe it is available on Netflix worldwide. Hope that helps!

Lawrence H White writes:

The film is currently available on Netflix. (It's been in my list but I haven't watched it yet.)

Shane L writes:

This is a fascinating phenomenon, and interesting to note that West Europeans and North Americans of the 1980s were not watching smuggled, dubbed Soviet cinema.

It also brings to mind a strange observation by Brian Keenan in his book An Evil Cradling (1992) about his time as a hostage of the Islamic Jihad in Lebanon. Keenan was a Northern Irish teacher who was captured simply because he was a white Westerner who it was hoped could be used to force the hand of the British government. He suffered violence and torture in prison, but perhaps above all the suffered emotional and mental trauma of pointless solitary confinement.

Desperate for stimulation, Keenan quizzed his guards, who fantasised aloud about their hopes for violent martyrdom but could not answer his questions about Islam and appeared to know very little about their own faith. Instead they were deeply familiar with brutal American action movies of the 1980s, featuring the extraordinary machismo of characters like Rambo. Before his imprisonment he remembered seeing a violent action film in a Beirut cinema, where local men "would moan and groan in a kind of ecstasy, crying out the names of the weapons". Gangs of armed militia drove around the troubled city, firing assault rifles into the air and dressed as "caricatures of Rambo": headbands knotted above the ear and bullet belts slung over their shoulders.

"It is a curious paradox that this Rambo figure, this all-American hero, was the stereotype which these young Arab revolutionaries had adopted. They had taken on the cult figure of the Great Satan they so despised and who they claimed was responsible for all the evil in the world."

Keenan wondered about the impact these violent American movies had on his captors:

"Often we talked about how the violence of men like our guards was at least partially conditioned by the glut of American video violence, and how their twisted, obsessional concern with sexuality was in part a response to the slew of nudity in the western films they saw.
"

I would question the role of video violence in inspiring their own violence, but perhaps it did give these men a perverted vision of the United States, one that both thrilled and revolted them.

I found and enjoyed this YouTube, which seems to be our film.

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