In the early 1980s, the Romanian Communist government broadcast the American TV show Dallas to point out the decadence of Western capitalism. This strategy backfired: The devious (but rich!) J. R. Ewing became a revered icon in parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A popular tourist attraction outside of Bucharest includes a big white log gate that announces (in English) the name, “Southfork Ranch.” Western “decadence” appears to be infectious.
After the downfall of communism, Eastern Europeans emerged from a long winter of deprivation into springtime of abundance. The picture is not all rosy, however. It’s not easy for many people who live in transitional economies to attain consumer goods. This term describes countries such as China, Portugal, and Romania that struggle as they adapt from a controlled, centralized economy to a free-market system. In these situations, rapid changes occur in social, political, and economic dimensions as the populace suddenly is exposed to global communications and external market pressures.
Some of the consequences of the transition to capitalism include a loss of confidence and pride in the local culture, as well as alienation, frustration, and increased stress as citizens sacrifice their leisure time to work ever harder to buy consumer goods. The yearning for the trappings of Western material culture is perhaps most evident in parts of Eastern Europe, where citizens who threw off the shackles of communism now have direct access to coveted consumer goods from the United States and Western Europe — if they can afford them. One analyst observed, “As former subjects of the Soviet empire dream it, the American dream has very little to do with liberty and justice for all and a great deal to do with soap operas and the [now defunct] Sears Catalogue.”