Memories and Reflections-№2-Windows in the Iron Curtain-Media collection "Driving Idea"

Memories and Reflections

Articles about everyday life


Windows in the Iron Curtain

Donald chewing gum comic pictureDonald chewing gum comic pictureDonald chewing gum comic pictureDonald chewing gum comic pictureDonald chewing gum comic pictureDonald chewing gum comic picture LogoArrow The Soviet children, born in the 1970-1980s, fully felt the influence of the Iron Curtain, by which the Soviet Union was shielded from Western ideology and culture. However, in their children’s life, the bearers of forbidden symbols and meanings of the capitalist world sometimes broke through. One of these messengers, who easily crossed all the barriers and fell directly into the hands of children, was Donald chewing gum, which contained an insert with comics about Disney characters.

The legendary colored inserts, hidden behind the wrappers of the no less legendary Donald chewing gums, destroyed the Soviet Union, perhaps no weaker than the foreign cars that were sometimes imported into the country, issues of glossy magazines, Modern Talking songs, jeans, tape recorders and the first personal computers. All these attributes of a beautiful life influenced mainly the psyche of adults. They were able to learn from their own experience that the objects of Western culture, contrary to the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism and the Soviet struggle against cult of things, not only did not spoil the surrounding reality, but also improved the life and mood of the broad masses of the people, whom the Communist Party constantly promised to make happy by the onset of a bright communist future.

As for the bright colorful inserts with the American cartoon characters depicted on them, they destroyed the belief in the immutable value of the socialist system in the minds of the children. In this regard, it is very symbolic that Walt Disney who invented Donald Duck drake in the 1920s and 1930s was a convinced anti-communist and FBI agent for a long time, and after the war with all his might helped a special commission looking for ideological enemies of America, to find in Hollywood all the hidden communists.

Symbolic was the way which these chewing gums with inserts got into the hands of schoolchildren - it was necessary to go to the central market, to come up to the gypsy women standing in a certain place and buy from them for 10 rubles a transparent cellophane package with ten cherished sweet plates. Thus, goods that were alien in every sense to Soviet culture got to the Soviet territory through unofficial channels, were sold illegally and created a children's ideological underground, where the young consciousness was sheltered from the pressing it propaganda red-kumach horror. Strange as it may seem, all this agitational Octobrist-Pioneer sludge, pumped from somewhere above and being a children's version of state ideology, lost the battle hopelessly to the soundless colored inserts, which, among other things, were filled with scenes from cartoons completely unknown to that kids.

Sometimes these comic pictures were not funny or witty but they did not call to fight with someone, did not demand to swear allegiance to the communist idea, to give someone a solemn promise, sacrifice oneself to the collective and carry out other ritual actions peculiar to the Soviet torture machine. They simply portrayed the adventures of Disney characters, but they were not perceived as just funny pictures. The mere fact of their existence, their glossy smooth reality filled with heroes printed at a high level of typography, eloquently and convincingly said that somewhere there was another world, not covered by the gloom of thoroughly false propaganda and full both of other symbols and other values - more natural and human.

Today, when the heroes of those comic pictures can finally be seen in action at YouTube, having launched a Disney cartoon, the inserts that have been preserved for a long time have not lost their cultural value and even acquired a historical one. Limited by three or four episodes, not accompanied by sound and animated by imagination alone, they nevertheless continue to send those meanings hidden between the frames that were so clearly felt in the gloomy Soviet era. Perhaps, these inserts now remind that even small thin sheets of paper can burn holes through the Iron Curtain and without a single word and sound convey information that the surrounding world is not limited to party slogans, two TV channels, the program "Time", communist idiocy, Pioneer marching, collection of waste paper, Komsomol meetings and increased production obligations.

I remember once in the middle of the 2000s a line in the local advertising newspaper drew my attention to someone’s desire to buy inserts from Donalds, as well as from Turbo chewing gum and some other imported cultural and food artifacts of the Soviet era. Calling to the specified number, I received an invitation to come to the local Youth Creativity House, which, as it is easy to guess was called the Palace of Pioneers in Soviet times. And, I must admit, it really was a Palace — a magnificent foyer with birds in a large aviary, wide corridors, a huge number of rooms for sections, several wings and floors, a giant telescope on the roof unequivocally said that communists really cared of the leisure and professional education of the youth.

At the entrance to the House a young man was standing who turned out to be the head of the radio fans’ section, we went up to him to the second floor, and when he saw the collection which I had brought, he gasped with delight. Inserts carefully being saved the long time ago in a small album for postage stamps, having lain there without movement for twenty years, were preserved as if they had just been extracted from the chewing gums purchased from the gypsy women. The young man immediately sat down at the computer and told someone via the Internet that the Donalds appeared in the state of “ideal of ideals”. Apparently, the reaction of the interlocutor did not keep itself waiting, because the guy expressed a desire to buy all the inserts, but at the same time, he specified that he would not give extra-large money for them.

He explained that it turns out, these comic pictures have long since become in the space of the former Soviet Union cult objects for those who are nostalgic for the pioneer childhood that took place in the 1980s. With all this, the number of well-preserved Donalds is not so great - he showed on the computer pictures for sale, which were clearly not the "ideal of ideals". Apparently, crumpled and discarded, and then picked up and smoothed, sometimes quite severely torn, they were nevertheless offered for considerable money. The guy said that in Moscow the prices for these inserts rushed vertically upward, and, as the interlocutor explained to him at the other end of the web, sometimes you have to go through the whole city to see a semi-torn Donald on arrival, for which you are asked to pay as much as fifty dollars.

The young leader of the radio fans’ section immediately warned that he would not pay such money for the inserts. I decided to sell him all of them for very low price, while keeping for myself a dozen Donalds from that collection. The young man was sympathetic to my wish to keep some pictures for my memory, the transaction took place, and he was clearly pleased with it. I don’t know for which price he resold the comic pictures to the Moscow buyer, but I think the collector from Moscow did not miss his profit and offered them on the same forum for the same fifty dollars that caused him so much bitterness. Today, some Donalds cost $200, and, most likely, this is far from their last price.

The release of that legendary chewing gum stopped around the beginning of the 1990s, and therefore there is no reason to believe that the inserts which have survived since then will not go up. Judging the speed with which their price is rising, someday the reality will be a thousand dollars apiece. It seems that the strings touched by the silent and immobile Disney heroes playing the static pantomime were rather sensitive ones. And surely you can pay any money for the happiness of hearing the melody that they extracted in the children's hearts in that terrible time. LogoArrow

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