It All Seems Just Like Yesterday

I’m not quite sure where I found this picture, but it’s stuck with me for the past few weeks. At first, it seems rather simple, but it reminds me of a lot of Romania’s recent history.

Here’s the picture:

There are several things to unpack here:

  • The man in the photo is Nicolae Guta, a man I’ve written about many times before.
  • You can see (upper lefthand corner) that this is from ProTV. I have a very, very long history with this channel.
  • It’s from the old Teo show (bottom lefthand corner).

If you’re relatively new to Romania (or you’ve been gone a while), you might know who Teo Trandafir is/was. Apparently, she’s back on the air now, but when I knew her, she was the host of her own extremely popular talk show on ProTV (from 2000-2006).

In her time, she was the “Oprah” of Romania. She was opinionated, had a popular show, and had perfectly captured the zeitgeist of a strong, independent Romanian woman.

I’m still not quite sure what happened, but, in 2006, she had a huge falling out with Adrian Sarbu, the head of ProTV at that time. After she left ProTV, her popularity sank, and now she’s just a B-list celebrity.

So, why do I care about a 15-year-old screenshot from a Romanian talk show? Well, it’s because the whole thing perfectly encapsulates Romania from that era.

For one, Guta wasn’t just invited onto the show to sit there (in his ugly jean jacket). Instead, the set-up was that his daughter was going to sing a song about filial piety to him.

Here’s a screenshot of that:

I’ve seen the entire song, and it’s pretty typical over-the-top sentimental stuff. The chorus goes something like, “You’re my father, and I’ll always heed your advice.”

But, here’s the kicker: it’s really obvious that his daughter isn’t singing at all, only lip-synching (called “playback” in Romanian). Therefore, Teo was live broadcasting a lip-synching concert. But Romanian TV does that a lot.

What really struck me, however, was that Nicolae Guta is forced to sit there for at least four minutes, crying and looking miserable the entire time. It truly is surreal. I couldn’t resist turning a brief clip of this spectacle into a GIF.

On one hand, Guta has to have known what was going to happen: his daughter lip-synching a song on the ultra-popular Teo show. And yet his emotions are clearly genuine.

How can that be? Why is he crying for minutes on end? And why did he agree to sit there under the hot lights and bawl like a baby? And why does Teo “comfort” him at one point?

I honestly don’t know, except to say that this entire thing is Romania in a nutshell. Or, at least, it was the Romania I learned to love when I first moved there. It has everything:

  • Poor production values.
  • Overly sentimental.
  • Fake as hell, yet also real.
  • Cheaply manipulative, yet also authentic.
  • Guta, despite his fame and money, is dressed like a day laborer.
  • Teo “comforts” Guta despite the whole thing being pre-arranged.
  • The daughter is singing “to” her father, but she’s staring at the audience the whole time (not him).
  • This spectacle is a “live broadcast” for no reason at all.
  • If Teo loved it, then so did a huge section of the Romanian population.

What can I say? One day, clips like this will be in a museum, and nobody will ever be able to figure out what the hell was going on in Romania in the years before it joined the EU.

But for me, that one image sums up everything I went through.

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