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How Dallas Won the Cold War

1:22 PM, Apr 28, 2008 • By JOHN NOONAN
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And here I thought it was Pershing Missiles and the Strategic Defense Initiative, not boring soap operas.

After a long hip parade of unironic countercultural icons such as Luke of "Cool Hand Luke" and Randle Patrick McMurphy of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Dallas" created a new archetype of the anti-hero we loved to hate and hated to love: an establishment tycoon who's always controlling politicians, cheating on his boozy wife and scheming against his own stubbornly loyal family. But no matter how evil various translators tried to make J.R. and his milieu ("Dallas, you merciless universe!" ran the French lyrics added to the wordless theme song), viewers in the nearly 100 countries that gobbled up the show, including in the Warsaw Pact nations, came to believe that they, too, deserved cars as big as boats and a swimming pool the size of a small mansion.

Joseph Stalin is said to have screened the 1940 movie "The Grapes of Wrath" in the Soviet Union to showcase the depredations of life under capitalism. Russian audiences watched the final scenes of the Okies' westward trek aboard overladen, broken-down jalopies -- and marveled that in the United States, even poor people had cars. "Dallas" functioned similarly.

Next up: unifying the Korean Penisula with The Hills.