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Capitalist Entertainment Under the Iron Curtain » Previous Historical Journal » News

Capitalist Entertainment Under the Iron Curtain » Previous Historical Journal » News

July 30, 2023 at 10:35 am Tamás Patrick Mravec

During the decades of existing socialism, several generations grew up with television being one or two channels at most, and nothing close to the wide range available today. As a result, some television programmes, especially popular Western series, achieved significant viewership and still hold a special place in the collective memory of Hungarian society. Their adventurous stories were lived by millions at the same moment in front of the screen, and they continue to be a common point of reference. How could such a large number of capitalist film “products” appear in Hungary, which belonged to the Soviet sphere of interest, and what made them so successful?

Travel offers and spectators

For a long time, the characteristics of Western capitalist television and socialist television were thought to be sharply delineated from each other, with the former characterized by loud entertainment and the latter by a slower spirit of agitation.

However, existing research – such as Emre Anikow's 2016 study “TV Socialism” – suggests that many interactions between the two blocs can be detected in the history of television. In the case of television, the Iron Curtain did not mean a sharp dividing line, just as there were similarities in editorial principles, such that individual programs could wander between the two poles.

Interoperability also resulted in part from the nature of television broadcasting, which was difficult to confine within physical boundaries. It happened, for example, that it was possible for a short time to receive West German television programs on the devices of citizens of the German Democratic Republic, or for a short time, in the more politically isolated Albania. Estonian residents travel north en masse on weekends so as not to miss the latest episodes of Finnish TV series.

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Television co-production represents a more conscious form of cooperation, with Hungarian television playing a role in producing many series, primarily in the 1980s in collaboration with Western producers.

TV Gallery is free

The simplest and most comprehensive form of interoperability between the two blocs was the import of television programmes. Hundreds of Western TV series came to Hungary and the Eastern Bloc in this way, mostly from the United Kingdom, France, the United States and Germany.

This discrepancy is explained primarily by economic constraints, in addition to the numerous arguments detailed in the article. In global terms, MTV was considered a small fish, and broadcasting only internally produced programs was very expensive, even with a relatively short amount of time. Thus, he not only needed to exchange within friendly countries, but he also needed to buy from the West.

The full article can be found in Múlt-kor Historical Review 2023. In its summer issue Readable.

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