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Hollywood Film behind the Iron Curtain: Cold War Nostalgias in Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 January 2021

Department of Global and Intercultural Studies, Miami University. Email:
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This article focusses on the American reception of a British–Romanian documentary about the black market for VHS Hollywood films in 1980s Romania. The film uses two different registers of nostalgia. On the one hand, it functions as an ostalgic media product that engages Eastern European viewers by building upon a sense of continuity with the socialist past. On the other hand, its surprising success in the American conservative blogosphere reveals the endurance of Cold War exceptionalist tropes. My analysis expands current discussions of post-socialist nostalgia, arguing for the relevance of the concept of ostalgia for the field of American studies.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press and British Association for American Studies 2021

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4 In this article, I use the term “Western” and “Eastern” to refer to members of the two blocs created by the Cold War, which remained in effect until 1989.

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14 Liz Wann, “Chuck Norris vs. Communism and the Transformative Power of Film”, Christ & Pop Culture, 1 July 2016, at, accessed 12 March 2019.

15 Holly McKay, “‘Chuck Norris vs. Communism’: How American Movies Helped Overthrow Romanian Regime,” Fox News, 25 Jan. 2015, at, accessed 13 March 2020.

16 Drew Zahn “Chuck Norris Now Credited with Cracking Communism,” WND, 27 Jan. 2015, at, accessed 13 March 2020.

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26 In Romania, the Securitate tried to infiltrate its agents among the radio station's collaborators, and in the 1980s organized systematic and often violent campaigns against Radio Free Europe, pursuing Romanian dissidents and RFE journalists, even abroad. For more on radio consumption in Eastern Europe during communism see Constantin Pârvulescu and Claudiu Turcuș, “Devices of Cultural Europenization,” Studies in Eastern European Cinema, 9, 1 (2018), 3–14. For the story of the disinformation campaigns and assassination attempts carried out against RFE journalists see Petrinca, Ruxandra, “Radio Waves, Memories, and the Politics of Everyday Life in Socialist Romania: The Case of Radio Free Europe,” Centaurus, 61 (2019), 178–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 There is no more data in the Romanian National Film Archives on foreign films that entered the country, either for movie theaters or for television after 1983.

28 Mustață, Dana, “Within Excess Times and a Deficit Space: Cross-border Television as a Transnational Phenomenon in 1980s Romania,” in Fickers, Andreas and Johnson, Cathy, eds., Transnational Television History: A Comparative Approach (New York: Routledge 2013), 89–102, 90Google Scholar.

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30 See interview with director Călugăreanu at, accessed 1 Aug. 2019.

31 Jackson Diehl, “VCRs on Fast Forward in Eastern Europe,” Washington Post, 17 April 1988, at

32 Bayles, Through a Screen Darkly, 63. For more on the relationship between the military and film production also see Suid, Lawrence H., Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Alford, Reel Power, 9–15.

33 For more on how the trauma of Vietnam was represented in Hollywood film see Darda, Joseph, “Kicking the Vietnam Syndrome Narrative: Human Rights, the Nayirah Testimony, and the Gulf War,” American Quarterly, 69, 1 (2017), 7192CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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37 According to György Péteri, the Iron Curtain of harsh border controls and militarized ideological camps existed alongside a more transparent “Nylon Curtain” that separated the competing modernities of the Socialist Bloc and of the West. Through it, people living in the East were constantly aware of the differences in the quality of life and consumer goods their societies could offer, when compared to capitalist economies. See Péteri, György ed., Nylon Curtain: Transnational and Trans-systemic Tendencies in the Cultural Life of State-Socialist Russia and East-Central Europe (Trondheim, Norway: Program on East European Cultures and Societies, 2006)Google Scholar.

38 Consumption patterns in Romania in the 1980s were dismal due to the combination of a global recession and Ceaușescu's self-imposed austerity regime in pursuit of economic and political autonomy. While the 1960s and 1970s had been times of relative consumer abundance, by the 1980s (which is the decade Chuck covers) Ceaușescu had aggressively rationed foodstuffs, gas, electricity, and heat (each person was allotted only half a loaf of bread per day). For more on this devolution of consumption in a Romanian context see Massino, Jill, “From Black Caviar to Blackouts: Gender, Consumption, and Lifestyle in Ceaușescu's Romania,” in Bren, Paulina and Neuburger, Mary, eds., Communism Unwrapped: Consumption in Cold War Eastern Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)Google Scholar.

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42 The list includes actors (Ioan Gyuri Pascu and Adrian Sitaru), a controversial businessman and media personality (Silviu Prigoană), an entrepreneur and film festival director (Christian Grindean), a journalist (Marius Chivu), television and radio personalities (Lavinia Stefan, Vlad Craioveanu and Mihai Dobrovolski), and film critics (Tudor Caranfil and Cristi Luca), among others.

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46 Reifova, 596.

47 Phillips, “Ilinca Călugăreanu Returns,” 2016.

48 White, Hayden, “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory,” History and Theory, 23, 1 (Feb., 1984), 133CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

49 For a discussion on the reception of Lives of Others (2006) as historical text and a comparison with Goodbye Lenin! (2003) see James, Jason, “Coming to Terms through Cinema: The Lives of Others in Germany's Cultural Landscape of Memory,” Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe, 10, 2 (2010), 2940CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

50 Wolff, Larry, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment (Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 1992)Google Scholar.

51 Pease, The New American Exceptionalism, 22.

52 For further readings on the history and theory of American exceptionalism see Rowe, John Carlos, Literary Culture and U.S. Imperialism: From the Revolution to World War II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)Google Scholar; Dawson, Ashley and Schueller, Malini Johar, eds., Exceptional State: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the New Imperialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Spanos, William, American Exceptionalism in the Age of Globalization: The Specter of Vietnam (Albany: SUNY Press, 2009)Google Scholar; Castronovo, Russ and Gillman, Susan, eds., States of Emergency: The Object of American Studies (Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 2009)Google Scholar; Pease, Donald, “Anglo-American Exceptionalisms,” American Quarterly, 66, 1 (March 2014), 197209CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

53 Spanos, William, “American Exceptionalism in the Post-9/11 Era,” Symploke, 21, 1–2 (2013), 291–324, 292Google Scholar; Cha, Taesuh, “American Exceptionalism at the Crossroads: Three Responses,” Political Studies Review, 13 (2015), 351–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kroes, Rob, “Decentering America: The Quest for a Transnational American Studies,” Culture and Society, 55 (2018), 434–39Google ScholarPubMed.

54 Pease, “Anglo-American Exceptionalisms,” 198.

55 Gilmore, Jason et al. , “Make No Exception, Save One: American Exceptionalism, the American Presidency, and the Age of Obama,” Communications Monographs, 83, 4 (2016), 505–20, 514CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 Pease, The New American Exceptionalism, 25.

57 Spanos, “American Exceptionalism in the Post-9/11 Era,” 294.

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