Watching Socialism: The Television Revolution in Eastern Europe

The Wende Museum
The Armory, Culver City, California
June 23 - October 20, 2019

Statárium

What was on TV in the Soviet Bloc? If “propaganda” is your immediate response, Watching Socialism: The Television Revolution in Eastern Europe will complicate the picture. Just like in the West, television was a part of everyday life in the Eastern Bloc, with varied programming, transnational reach, and even subversive potential. Both the capitalist West and the communist East attempted to leverage TV as a medium that represented modernity and progress during the Cold War. While television was indeed a tool that promised to spread communist ideology, the reality was more complex. The state had little control over how viewers received messages in the privacy of their living rooms. Audiences in some communist countries could get television signals from the West, which gave them a peek at the other side. And during the later years of the Cold War, socialist television introduced commercials, copied Western formats, and imported American series. Television was even occasionally appropriated to broadcast countercultural messages.

Co-curated by the Wende Museum and British scholars Sabina Mihelj and Susan Reid, Watching Socialism: The Television Revolution in Eastern Europe features excerpts from news programs as well as sitcoms, cartoons, subversive interventions, and other televised content alongside TV-related magazines, artifacts, toys, and television sets from the Eastern Bloc, offering a chance to experience what it was really like to watch TV on the other side of the Iron Curtain.