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.