Liberty. It’s a simple idea, but it’s also the linchpin of a complex system of values and practices: justice, prosperity, responsibility, toleration, cooperation, and peace. Many people believe that liberty is the core political value of modern civilization itself, the one that gives substance and form to all the other values of social life. They’re called libertarians.
The death of actor
Larry Hagman will no doubt bring many to write about his
remarkable television career that included stints as Maj. Anthony
Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie and J.R. Ewing on
Dallas. But as Reason TV reported earlier this year,
Romanians will remember him for helping overthrow communism.
The oil-and-sex soaked TV show
Dallas is back on the small screen. The
unapologetically odious J.R., the unappealingly ethical Bobby and
the uncontrollaby alcoholic Sue Ellen are all back, along with a
new crew of young, hardbodied hotties to pull in viewers who have
yet to start pulling in Social Security checks.
During its original run from 1978 to 1991, Dallas was
an international cultural phenomenon with ratings higher than
late-’70s interest rates. It was the most or second-most watched
show in the United States for half a decade, showing up in ABBA
songs and Ozzy Osbourne videos, and spinning off the megahit Knots
But Dallas’ greatest impact ultimately wasn’t in these
United States but in communist Romania, where it helped topple the
brutal Ceausescu regime.
Dallas was the last Western show allowed during the
nightmarish 1980s because President Nicolae Ceausescu thought it
showcased all that was wrong with capitalism. In fact, the show
provided a luxuriant alternative to a communism that was forcing
people to wait more than a decade to buy the most rattletrap
“I think we were directly or indirectly responsible for the fall
of the [communism],” Larry Hagman told the Associated Press a
decade ago. “They would see the wealthy Ewings and say, ‘Hey, we
don’t have all this stuff.’"
After the dictator and his wife were shot on Christmas Eve 1989,
the pilot episode of Dallas—with a previously censored sex
scene spliced back in—was one of the first foreign shows broadcast
on liberated Romanian TV.
The impact of Dallas on global worldviews reminds us
that “vulgar” popular culture is every bit as important as
chin-stroking political discourse in fomenting real social
Throwaway cultural products influence far-flung societies in
ways that are impossible for anyone, even dictators, to predict or
That lesson is more relevant than ever in a world where movies,
TV shows, and music cross borders with impunity and the free West
engages the semi-free East, whether in China or Iran. If the United
States is interested in spreading American values and institutions,
TV shows may go a lot further than armored personnel carriers.
Like Mikhail Gorbachev, poodle haircuts, and Members Only
jackets, Dallas didn’t long survive the post–Cold War
world it helped create. But like an uncontainable gusher in a Texas
oil field, the original series left us far richer than we ever