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Film / Americathon

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"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, Meat Loaf, Elvis Costello, Jay Leno, Howard Hesseman, Cybill Shepherd, 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:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Filmed in 1979, with the events of the plot happening in 1998.
  • Crapsack World: The United States of America is now so flat broke that people live in their cars (and have done so for decades), there is no oil, and a freaking shoe company has the possibility of repossessing the country.
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: Israelis and Palestinians settled their differences by creating the United Hebrab Republic.
  • Cult Soundtrack: With contributions from The Beach Boys, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, the soundtrack actually has a pretty good reputation.
  • Failed Future Forecast: 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.
  • 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.
  • Graceful Loser: Sam Birdwater donates the last $100,000 needed to save the country from repossession, while congratulating Monty Rushmore on a great show.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: A Dark Comedy variation: [the Americathon donations hit the real high gear when Monty Rushmore is shot on stage courtesy of hostile foreign powers trying to stop the Americathon and he pleads for people to give as he lies bleeding on the stage. When the Americathon ends, it's only $100,000 away from the goal, and Chief Birdwater hands that amount to Monty while telling him that it was a hell of a show.
  • Lives in a Van: With gasoline unavailable for years, many people seem to live in their immobile cars. The film's opening sequence starts out in an all-car neighborhood with tiny picket-fenced "yards" around vehicles adapted into homes, with the occasional "duplex" - two station wagons with the gap between them roofed over - for variety, a few cars stacked into a small "apartment complex", and a yellow school bus converted into an elementary school.
  • MegaCorp: Parodied with Nike (which has been bought by Native American Chief Sam Birdwater and renamed "National Indian Knitting Enterprise"). A shoe company is the richest company in America, has loaned plenty of money to the United States, and is going to repossess the country unless Roosevelt can pay up. Cue the "Americathon".
  • 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. One of the acts done for the Americathon is to have the country's top daredevil play bullfighter with the last fueled car in the country.
  • 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. (In the real 1998, as an aside, the cost of a cup of coffee, adjusted for inflation, would have been only $1.12.) Thus, paper money is no good anymore in the United States — it's gold coins or nothing.
  • Ridiculous Repossession: If the Americathon fails, the United States of America will be repossessed by the MegaCorp that loaned the money the Roosevelt presidency used to try (futilely) to prevent the country's bankruptcy. One of the film's major subplots is the attempt by various foreign powers to sabotage the Americathon so they will be able to buy the country from Nike afterwards.
  • Telethon: Or an Americathon.
  • Zany Scheme: The telethon of the title.