Film / Americathon

"If you plan to miss this movie, better miss it quickly; I doubt if it'll be around to miss for long."
Roger Ebert, panning the film

A satirical comedy from 1979, adapted from the play by The Firesign Theatre alumi Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman. Directed by Neal Israel, and featuring a cast that includes John Ritter, Harvey Korman, Peter Riegert, Fred Willard, Elvis Costello, Jay Leno, and (as the Narrator) George Carlin.

In the (then-future) year 1998, America is broke. The country has ran out of fuel and now everyone is living in their non-running cars and traveling by foot, skate, or bike. The President has to resort to selling the White House and moving into a sublet condo named the Western White House. Not only that, but the country is on the verge of foreclosure unless it can raise 400 billion dollars in 30 days. The solution? To have a non-stop telethon — or an Americathon — but those who would rather see the U.S.A. fall will stop at nothing to sabotage it.

This film provides examples of:

  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: Israelis and Palestinians settled their differences by creating the United Hebrab Republic.
  • Fallen States of America: Bankrupt and out of oil.
  • Fantastic Racism: Implied by a protest sign reading, "Equality for Test Tube Children". The world's first in vitro fertilization birth had recently occurred at the time the film was made, so this has a bit of a Ripped from the Headlines air to it.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: The Soviet Union still exists, but lost most of its territory to China after a nuclear war. On the other hand, the film accurately predicts China's emergence as a capitalist superpower.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: The current president is Chet Roosevelt. His predecessor was David Eisenhower.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: President Chet Roosevelt is a parody of California governor and presidential hopeful Jerry Brown. Regarding his last name, the intended joke is that he, in fact, has nothing in common with either Theodore Roosevelt or Franklin D. Roosevelt, something which is Lampshaded by the narrator.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Chet Roosevelt is President Personable to an annoying degree. In his speech, he finishes by saying to the people, "This is the President and I love you," and when he gets sworn in, he hugs the Justice of the Peace. Naturally, he's also a bit of a President Buffoon. Incidentally, John Ritter would, at the time of filming, be too young to be president according to the Constitution.
  • Post-Peak Oil: America has completely run out of fuel by 1998 (there was energy crisis in 1979, so the idea wasn't inconceivable). People now live in cars, and everyone bikes and jogs on highways.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: In one scene a bum asks for $25 to get himself a cup of coffee. Justified by the fact that double-digit inflation that seemed invincible, coupled with slow or nonexistent growth ("stagflation") was a very real chronic economic problem during the 1970s, and had it continued at the same pace that's probably what a cup of coffee, about 50 cents at the time of the film's release, would have cost by 1998.
  • Telethon: Or an Americathon.
  • Zany Scheme: The telethon of the title.