As I mentioned in today’s first post, my husband, Bill, is gone this week on a business trip in Bavaria. I don’t have any local buddies to hang out with, so that means I have a lot of empty time on my hands. When Bill was deployed to Iraq back in 2007, I spent a lot of time watching reality TV. At that time, we lived in the States on Fort Belvoir, and we had FiOS (fiber optic cable TV and Internet– which is just becoming a “thing” here in Germany). This was before Apple TV, so I couldn’t spend my time watching relics from my childhood, the way I do today. I’m glad for Apple TV and YouTube, because now I can watch stuff I missed back in the day.
Back in February 1987, I was fifteen years old, and very busy with school and taking care of my horse. I wasn’t at all interested in politics, religion, or current events. I was kind of “dumb” then, as we didn’t have all of the news and information sources we have now. In those days, the Soviet Union was still very much a thing. People worried about nuclear war to the extent that it was a topic on sitcoms, like The Golden Girls. There were a number of Soviet themed films that were released for the big screen. I remember the movie, Red Dawn, came out in 1984, when I was 12 years old. It was the very first PG-13 rated movie, mainly because it was, and still is, a very violent film about Soviets invading the United States. I remember being very “fired up” when I saw that movie the first time. I was young and impressionable, and thought the height of patriotism would be to join the military and fight for my country. Hell, when I was 12, I might have even made the military’s weight standards. 😉 Actually, I’m kidding. As a teenager, I thought I was fat, but I really wasn’t. Like I said… I was kind of dumb in those days… dumber than I am today. But today, I am fatter than I was in the 80s.
Since the Soviet Union was still so threatening, the American Broadcasting Company, otherwise known as ABC, made the mother of all miniseries. It was a seven night EVENT, which even in the era of network TV, was a big production for a miniseries. Most miniseries lasted two or three nights. I was interested in very few of them, because like I said, I was BUSY then… and not interested in politics, religion, or current events. But other people were interested, so ABC made this miniseries called Amerika. It was set in 1997, in a fictional midwestern town called Milford in Nebraska. It starred, Kris Kristofferson, Mariel Hemingway, Cindy Pickett (“Ferris Beuller’s mom”), Christine Lahti, Robert Ulrich, and a very young Lara Flynn Boyle, among other people who are now either dead, or more or less famous than they were in 1987.
The premise of Amerika was that the Soviet Union’s leaders had messed with our elections and that had led to a “bloodless” coup. The United States was no longer. Instead, it was broken up into smaller areas. The flag and national anthem were changed, and the idea of communism was introduced to our capitalistic society. The miniseries was about how the country changed. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and it was obviously based on the propaganda of the time. Remember, the Soviet Union ceased to exist in December 1991, so a lot of today’s adults weren’t around when it was still in existence. But some of us old farts remember it very well.
Well, I completely missed seeing Amerika when it originally aired. It only aired once, because it caused a lot of issues with leaders in the Soviet Union, who were outraged by it. It was also a really long television event that was probably expensive and disruptive to air. In the 80s, we had our “must see TV”, and these kinds of special shows would usurp our old favorites. And then, after just a few years, Amerika seemed over the top and ridiculous, as the Soviet Union literally fell apart, and formerly closed borders started opening. Hell, the movie was set in 1997, but I was actually finishing up my Peace Corps assignment in Armenia, a former Soviet country, in 1997. So, as you can see, it didn’t make a lot of sense to air the program again. It was later released on video, but it doesn’t look like a DVD set was ever released. However… someone did upload the entire series to YouTube. I watched the whole thing in several sittings, as the program is over fourteen hours in length. Even couch potatoes like me need to get up and move sometimes.
I don’t want to get too much into the specific plot of this series, because frankly, it seems like an overwhelming task. As I mentioned up post, the series was set in a fictional town of Milford, which was named after the enterprising American family that helped build it. Some of them still lived in Milford, only to watch their town being overrun by Soviets and American politicians who figuratively “got in bed” with them in a bid to seize power. We watch as people with private businesses can no longer offer what they used to have. A woman who ran a cafe for over thirty years was forced to serve soy products instead of the comfort food she used to offer. Later, everyone is forced into a curfew and heavily armed Soviet soldiers bust the woman’s neon sign, which had been lit for decades. She cries as she’s forced into the back of a truck to be driven off to God knows where.
We see a talented young dancer (Boyle’s character, Jackie Bradford) being ignored when she auditions for a show because she’s too good and would ruin the uniformity of mediocrity of the others. By the way, while I can see where the writers were going with this point, years of watching Soviet athletes and listening to Soviet trained musicians tells me that the culture certainly embraced the talented. They were showcased! Just watch any 70s or 80s era Olympics or a Russian ballet! But the point is, communists didn’t give anyone an incentive to excel, since everyone was “treated equally”. Except they actually weren’t. There were certainly people in communist countries who had it better than others did, due to their stations in life.
We see dissidents being forced into “re-education” camps. Kristofferson’s character, a former politician and 1988 presidential candidate named Devin Milford, had been imprisoned in Texas for trying to fight against the regime and speaking out against corruption. At the beginning of the series, we see him being released and sent into exile in Milford, where he is to stay within 25 miles of his property or risk being jailed or shot. He watches as families lose their homes as Soviet squatters are not recognizing the former Americans’ rights to own land. Children in school are being propagandized with communist principles, which they spout off by rote.
Devin’s eldest son is sent to a psychiatric hospital to be “treated” for thought crimes. He and his fellow patients are shown propaganda while hooked up to electrodes, drugged, and kept in cells. His middle and youngest sons are kept from him. The middle child is bright enough to see through what is happening, but the youngest child becomes very indoctrinated, to the point at which he turns on his father, with a literal gun. Devin’s ex wife, Marion Andrews (Wendy Hughes), is becoming a government leader who wants her ex husband killed.
Fellow Milfordite, Peter Bradford (Robert Ulrich) becomes president, with his wife Amanda (Cindy Pickett) as his first lady. Amanda is very disturbed by all she sees, and tells Bradford that she can be his wife, but not his first lady. Sounds kind of like Melania Trump! Except Amanda is nowhere near as narcissistic and vacuous as Melania is. 😉
And then there’s Kimberly Ballard (Mariel Hemingway), who was very young and beautiful in 1987. She plays a musical theater actress whose work is affected because of censorship. She also gets involved with a Soviet military leader– well… she falls in love with him, and he falls in love with her. But their love can’t survive, because she’s an American through and through, and he’s a Soviet. And politics always take precedence over love.
Like I said, this is a very long series, and to be honest, it was a bit of a plod to get through it. It starts off rather slowly, but then gets more interesting. The musical score may be familiar to some people, too, as the composer of much of the music was Basil Poledouris, the same guy who did the music for the original Red Dawn. In some ways, this film reminded me a bit of Red Dawn, minus most of the violence… at least at first. As Americans start waking up to the reality of communism, a la a frog in slowly heated water, there’s more violent action. Some of it was kind of chilling to see, even by today’s bloodthirsty standards. There are a lot of “dead” people shown– eyes frozen open in shock and horror, as fake blood runs down their faces. In 1987, it was still uncommon for Americans to see mass shooting events.
In some ways, Amerika still seems far fetched and ridiculous. It’s now 2022, and 1997 was a long time ago– 25 years! But realizing that this movie was made in 1987, it’s kind of interesting to see what we had in 1997 that wasn’t yet conceived of in 1987. So, for 1997, Amerika seems pretty quaint and antiquated. However, I moved to Armenia in 1995, which was only about 3.5 years after the Soviet Union fell apart. Things were still very antiquated there in 1995, and things were still pretty much run like they were in the Soviet era. In fact, conditions were worse there at that time, because they were on their own. We had no electricity most of the time; some places had no running water; and almost no one had hot water from a tap. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia in 1995, I took bucket baths with water heated on my kerosene heaters or propane stove. I read books at night by kerosene lamp light. Anything I wanted to buy was behind a counter. And I lived in a series of ugly Soviet era cookie cutter apartments.
But, in other ways, Amerika is scarily prescient. The miniseries was probably conceived of by right wing political conservatives, as it has a very anti-communism message. BUT… as we all know, in 2016, the Russians fucked with our presidential elections. We had a “Republican” leader in Donald Trump, who doesn’t really resemble an old style Republican at all and, in fact, isn’t one. Trump is a fascist, dictator wannabe, and he’s spawned a bunch of power hungry acolytes who would love to follow in his footsteps, even though he’s clearly against freedom and outwardly said the Constitution needs to be “suspended” so he can be put back in power.
Yesterday, there was news about how, on January 17, 2021, South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman sent a text message to Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, calling for Trump to institute “Marshall law”. He means “martial law”, of course. But he was actually calling for Trump to use military force to overturn the legal and fair 2020 presidential election, to prevent Joe Biden from taking his rightful place as the US President. Can you fucking believe it? These are Republicans! Aren’t they supposed to be about smaller government, the Constitution, and freedom for everyone (except women of childbearing age)?
I saw a lot of comments on the Amerika videos. Many people were trashing Biden, and saying that America is headed for the scary communist dystopian reality presented in Amerika. And yet, I lived in a former Soviet country, and I learned that the people living there weren’t bad people. They really weren’t that different than I was. They just came from a poorer country in need of assistance. In the 25 years since I left Armenia, I have been really heartened to see how far the country has come. It’s truly become a cool place to be, in terms of the incredible culture and the insane talents of its citizenry. Meanwhile, the United States is starting to look more like it could go the way of the old Soviet Union, as Trump and his minions try to take over and force us to accept his “leadership”. I’m actually not that afraid of Trump anymore, because he’s old and has been revealed for what he is. BUT… I am afraid of the younger, smarter, more polished, power hungry types in his wake who claim to be patriots and fans of the Constitution, but want to do away with fundamental American principles like separation of church and state, the right to privacy, and not having the military running the government so that the overall unpopular extremist, dictatorial types like Trump can stay in charge.
This week, there was a coup stopped in Germany, which is where I live right now. The people involved in that are now in massive legal trouble. They have been arrested. In the United States, Donald Trump is still a free man, in spite of showing us who he is, and what he wants to do. For some reason, Republicans think their party is still what it was years ago, when it was about keeping government out of people’s private business and keeping taxes low. Do these folks really believe that Trump and his deplorable minions won’t be trying their best to take what’s yours? Trump just wants money and power. But there are people inspired by him who want more. They have shown us… and there are a lot of awful people in public office who care more about being re-elected than doing what is right for the citizens of the United States and running free and FAIR elections, without corruption.
One thing that I did learn, having lived in Armenia, is that abortion wasn’t really a big deal in the Soviet Union. I met many women who’d had them, mainly because birth control wasn’t freely available, and their men didn’t want to bother with condoms. And when you’re making the US equivalent of $10 a month, it’s hard to have enough money to raise children. But, it hasn’t escaped my attention that a lot of Republican business owners who don’t want to pay a living wage, nor do they want to offer birth control coverage on health insurance policies provided through work, are very much against allowing abortion. At least for now. 😉 Some of those folks might eventually realize that religion makes it harder for them to control the masses, as people have a power higher than the state. I think with time, religion and the so-called morals espoused because of “God” will become much less fashionable among Republicans, just as the Constitution apparently has.
Anyway… just like I was in 1987, a lot of Americans are concerned about other things. And they aren’t paying attention, even though we have a lot more ways to pay attention now, than we ever had in the past. I hope some people wake up before we start seeing America turn into Amerika. I don’t even want to say that all Republicans are bad, per se. It’s just that the old school ones are being replaced like MAGAts… like cancer cells, they are taking over.
So, although Amerika was a “plod” to get through, I am glad I took the time to watch it. It made me think. If I had taken more time, I probably could have written a much better blog post about it. But if I manage to inspire someone to watch it and draw their own conclusions, maybe I will have done my good deed for the day. It was eye opening for me, but not in the way that other viewers saw it, apparently. This is the type of thing conservatives would tend to watch, because of that dirty word– communism– and Soviet Union style politics. They don’t see the similarities between Soviet Union style communism and Trump style fascism that I see, like the Trump style desire to suppress the media— something very much in the Soviet playbook. As someone who has experienced life over there, and has voted on either side of the spectrum, I see other, more frightening things. We, as a nation, need to collectively wake up and do something about these deranged, fascist, violent people before it’s too late.
WHEW… I meant for this to be about two movies. Guess I’ll be writing another post, which seems fair enough, since it’s snowing outside right now.