Chuck Norris vs Communism
By Emily Skarbek
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.