Never Doubt The Power of the Press


In my never ending quest to track down and document every time Romania is portrayed in entertainment media, I came across a strange connection. You might remember a few weeks ago I discussed an episode of Criminal Minds wherein one of the “FBI agents” supposedly recognizes the bad guys as being from Romania because she (the FBI agent) supposedly remembered hearing Romanian from when she was a child and her mother was posted “overseas”. There’s a video clip at the link if you don’t remember this.

Criminal Minds is obviously a show of very low quality in general but through other avenues of research I later discovered that the back story is that this FBI agent’s mother was supposedly an ambassador and career diplomat. The mother makes an appearance in another episode of Criminal Minds because she (the mother) supposedly speaks and understands Russian. Again with the mixing up of Russia and Romania just because they both were once Communist and begin with the letter R. Sigh…

Nonetheless, the FBI agent’s mother who was “posted overseas” was played in that episode by Kate Jackson, who is mostly famous because she was one of the original Charlie’s Angels from the 1970’s. But what few people remember today (and rightly so) is that she was once the star of a crappy show called “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” in the mid-1980’s, where she was the “plucky housewife” (Amanda King) who managed to run into a CIA agent (codenamed “Scarecrow”) on a train (in America!) and then use her peppy optimism and dogged determination to become a CIA agent herself of sorts. If you’ve never heard of this show, you didn’t miss much.

However on December 5, 1986 Scarecrow and Mrs. King (SMK) had an episode where one of the bad guys was a Romanian. In this case, the evil Romanian’s name was “Emil Dursak” which God only knows how that is Romanian. His accent of course is completely wrong and I was actually guessing it was Greek before seeing on IMDB that the actor was, in fact, Greek.

The truth is that the Romanian connection in this episode is very weak. Mostly all the evil Dursak is doing is supplying a missile to the bigger bad guy, an American publisher of multiple newspapers, a white guy inexplicably named “Raoul Nesbitt” in the episode. I really think the writers must’ve been drunk or incredibly bored because the plot line in this show defies believe.

Besides the mismatched character names, Nesbitt, who is a kind of Rupert Murdoch in that he owns a vast print media empire, is collaborating with Dursak the Romanian in order to cripple America’s “Star Wars” program by using a single missile (hilariously supposed to be launched from a Lear jet) to contaminate a fictional material named “tritonium” upon which the program is dependent.

But why is an American media mogul trying to destroy an American military program? As odd as it sounds, it’s almost entirely so he can sell more newspapers. The episode shows over and over again Nesbitt cackling with delight as he both 1) openly blackmails government officials and b) manipulates the rest of the media into repeating his (deliberately false) propaganda. It’s unbelievably creepy actually because it’s like the reverse of Operation Mockingbird.

But because this is an episode of SMK, the “good” agents of the CIA infiltrate Nesbitt’s newspaper and end up foiling the evil guys’ plans. Below you can see a short clip where Nesbitt brags to Dursak the Romanian about how easy it is for him (Nesbitt) to launch this widespread false propaganda campaign because “unlike in Bucharest” in America there is freedom of the press. Dursak the Romanian is both shocked and appalled by this and is constantly stressed out about it during the episode, shown by his non-stop consumption of antacid pills (which you see in this clip as he digs in his shirt pocket for one).

Pretty bizarre, all in all.

BTW in case you are wondering why I bother at all to go dig up ancient episodes of forgotten shows with only the most tenuous connections to Romania, I think an explanation is warranted. Quite frankly, SMK was a popular show at the time and it’s likely I once saw this episode when it was broadcast in America even though I have no conscious memory of it. I had a lot of other things on my mind in 1986 besides Romania, that’s for sure.

But what I am interested in is a larger understanding of exactly how Romania has been portrayed over the years in mainstream entertainment media. Even though I and most other people do not consciously remember these plot lines, over time they sort of seep into our understanding and what we consider our “awareness”. Adding all these little pieces from different TV shows and films allows us to assemble them into a larger picture.

I guess you could say my two main goals here on the blog are understanding (and sometimes changing) the overall perspective that Romanians have about Romania as well as the perspective that outsiders have about Romania. There are about 10 million television episodes and films that discuss life in America, which inform the way people who live here think about the country of my birth. But because there are so few western media portrayals of Romania, it’s actually possible for one person to get a handle on them and really understand where most outsiders are coming from. When you’re Romanian and you grew up in Romania, you really have no concept of exactly how little is known about your nation and entire culture and history until you take a step back and look at it from an outsider’s perspective.

In other words, I’m doing the background research that the clowns at the Ministry of Tourism should’ve done a long time ago. You can’t influence people and get them to visit this wonderful country until you understand what they already think about the place. Idiotic campaigns like Carpathian Garden are proof of this. The number of tourists that Romania is missing out on is staggering.

Sigh…

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Categorised in: crappy guides to Romania, TV/Film

16 Responses »

  1. “Criminal Minds is obviously a show of very low quality in general…”
    The ratings beg to differ.
    You insulted my favorite show. I had to comment on that, even though I know I’ll never change your mind and you’ll never change mine. Let’s pretend I also posted something insulting your favorite whatever, too, for good measure.
    *off-topic ends*

    • Oh please….Don’t act all offended because he has a different opinion than yours geez. Everybody likes things that countless others don’t.

    • The very fact that CM has FBI agents wearing BEARDS for god’s sakes shows just how out of touch with reality the show is. Real FBI agents wish they had the resources and speed these clowns on the show do. You can certainly click on the link for my breakdown of the incredibly shitty plot of that one episode for more of my thoughts on the matter.

      As for ratings = quality, I’d remind you that a mixture of corn syrup and coloring has more popularity than water in America so I’d hardly consider widespread appeal as some kind of endorsement of quality :)

  2. Funnily enough I know very well both series (Criminal Minds is OK but sometimes off reality and Scarecrow and Mrs King I used to watch just because it was so unlikely to happen in a real world!). Funnily enoughI sawboth series, and I could mention so many more (especially fromGerman TV) where Romanian areaong top 3 of chosen bad guys. If I am frustrated? At the beginning yes, now I chose to change the attitude of singular people, in one to one discussions. That is my contribution and I bet it has more impact than the Gardens!!!!,

  3. Sam, I also remember a stupid US movie some 20 years ago about an American writer who meets a pretty Romanian gymnast who has defected from a Circus show on tour in the US. She is being followed by Romanian Securitate agents and the writer gives her shelter in his villa (how convenient!) and obviously falls in love with her. The movie was pretty garbage, so no wonder I can’t remember its name! But for a Romanian it was funny to watch the gymnast and the cruel agents talks in “Romanian”…

    Maybe you can also remember one episode of the X-Files where agents Mulder and Scully have to deal with the ancient Romanian “Calusari” ritual. Of course, the “Romanian” language heard in that episode was nothing but invented gibberish.

    And finally, there was an episode of “Law & Order” titled “Securitate”, with the lawyer pleading that his Romanian immigrant client (whose name was, of course, Iliescu) who was charged with murder was “not guilty due to cultural insanity”, claiming he had been “conditioned to violence in his homeland”. How about that? Ha, ha!

    I’m sure there are many other examples of such stereotypes in movies (and also in books) written about Romania and Romanians. So I guess you’re right about Elena Udrea’s clowns not doing their job (I know, she is no longer the Minister, but she and her Louis Vuitton bag will last forever in our memory…)

  4. @Sam – in some Tatort series, I could try to locate the names let’s see if I fnd something. I remember one from Munster where they just said that Bulgaria has a direct border with Moldova (th republic).

  5. A South Park episode has some misconceptions about Romania (maybe done on purpose, to highlight the lack of knowledge of this country in the west): http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s04e03-quintuplets-2000. Regardless, South Park remains my favorite show by far – its understanding of American society (and of the ridiculousness of various types and trends) is unequaled.

  6. Judging from the reactions to this youtube video (from the South Park episode about Elian Gonzales, but using Romanian girls for the plot), http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=tnBNOyMh6rc, I am coming to the realization that most of my fellow Romanians – the ones who post on youtube, anyway – are borderline retarded and that I should consider myself lucky I don’t live there to deal with so much idiocy around me… I didn’t remember people being so stupid back in the day in Romania, maybe I am getting old or maybe they didn’t have the venues to express themselves and to show us what goes on inside their empty cavernous skull cavitities, but it is truly frightening to realize these people are all around you in society; to be fair, the same percentage of violent idiotic monkeys live in all societies (in some they are hopefully better contained) but until recently I had a much higher opinion of my own people. They – like those responding to this youtube video – are the ones who give Romanians a bad name, and do a lot worse damage to the reputation of the country than the original media clips.

    • I had a similar reaction when the Anthony Bourdain (food critic) site was flooded with criticism of his show my touchy (and apparently not very bright) Romanians, because he had presented Romania in a less than ideal light, based on his experiences there. The comment section, and the Romanians’ idiotic barrages, did a lot more damage to Romania’s image than the original show itself.

      • While I like this show, Mr. Bourdain was clearly on a mission, no offense. Starting from the Russian guide and deliberately choosing to act like a fussy middle aged woman. I also heard him stating, in an episode about New York, that he wanted to eat something Eastern European, something really good which meant a Russian dish from a Russian restaurant, “not like the Romanian restaurant” next to it.

  7. Sam, that episode of The Scarecrow and Mrs. King reminds me of the James Bond Movie, “Tomorrow Never Dies” about a newspaper mogul that tries to start a war between the British and North Koreans, just to sell newspapers. Sam, another American TV series that featured Romania, for about a year, is NCIS Los Angeles. Another show, which I thoroughly enjoy, is Top Gear on BBC America. Not just because of the cars, but they are hilarious at the same time. They had a episode where they went to Romania to, as they put it, search out the worlds best road (or something to that effect) and it was the Transfăgărășan Highway. If I remember correctly they showed a lot of Romania (even got lost in a small town in rural Romania).

  8. Hi,
    An episode of Seinfeld had a romanian character – his girlfriend at the time was a romanian gymnast. In fact, Jerry was hoping to bed her, thinking she must have some secret gymnastic sex moves. But he had some trouble getting there because he had no idea what to talk about other than Ceausescu :)

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