That Time Mikhail Gorbachev Appeared in a Pizza Hut Commercial

The 60-second Pizza Hut advertisement is perhaps the most striking example of capitalism’s victory against the Soviet Union. Although it was originally broadcast more than 20 years ago, the ad continues to circulate on the internet as an interesting tidbit from 1990s politics.

This ad was filmed November 1997 and features Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president. Gorbachev does not speak a single line of dialogue in the ad—nor does he take a bite of pizza, as he reportedly agreed to do the spot with the condition that he would not have to eat on-camera—but he is undeniably the star, as other patrons in the restaurant notice their fallen comrade and debate his significance to Russia, freedom, and pizza.

It’s not hard to see the ad as a notable bit of now-quaint 1990s commentary on the supposed “end of history” and American hegemony—and perhaps an overly optimistic view of how Russia would evolve in the post-Soviet era. If nothing else, it says, capitalism provides cheap pizza for the masses—and that’s far more than communism could ever do.

However, there is more to the meaning than just political commentary. According to the article, Gorbachev accepted to be featured in Pizza Hut’s advertisement. The New York Times He was short of cash six years after his departure as the leader a global superpower. According to some reports, he was paid an undisclosed sum that is believed to have been close to $1 million. Times’ contemporaneous report.

“I thought that it is a people’s matter—food,” he told the paper.

According to University of Massachusetts political science professor Paul Musgrave’s detailed recap of how the ad came to be, filming took place on Thanksgiving—fitting, since the holiday is a quintessentially American celebration of food and the surpluses made possible by capitalism. Musgrave describes the end product as “a beautifully made short film, and an extremely strange advertisement.”

While it is both, the most important part of the advertisement has nothing to do with Gorbachev and pizza. Russians didn’t gather around a hot meal to discuss politics during the Soviet age. It is important to note that during the Soviet era, Russians were not likely to gather over a warm meal and freely discuss politics. ReasonLiz Wolfe, editor at the Russian magazine, describes how much of Soviet social life was set up to keep this from happening. She explains in the December issue that “Prior to revolution, families could freely express their thoughts while sharing and preparing a meal. Stalin believed that privacy was too open for dissident groups to grow and flourish. He decided to get rid of all familial closeness. His new method was to abolish familial intimacy as much as possible. kommunalkasIt would not be possible to escape the watchful eyes of your fellow countryman who may snitch.

Gorbachev did liberalize parts of the economy but restaurant culture had to rebound from Soviet-imposed restrictions. Russians finally had the opportunity to enjoy Pizza Hut. But they also got all of the benefits associated with dining in restaurants.