Newt Gingrich was right. The Soviet Union's takeover of America wasn't achieved through military force, it happened when the Soviets detonated four nuclear devices high in the ionosphere which generated an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that wiped out all electronics in our great nation. Then they demanded our surrender. Unable to use our telephones or our radar, our spineless, liberal government quickly rolled over and the United Nations, led by the East Germans(!), moved an occupying force onto the soil of...Amerika! And turned our great nation...into a police state. Ten years later, our story begins...in 1997.
Amerika was a 14 1/2-hour miniseries broadcast over seven nights in 1987 and it went off like a damp squib. Starring Kris Kirstofferson, Sam Neill, Christine Lahti, Mariel Hemingway and Lara Flynn Boyle, it had news magazines frothing at the mouth for weeks before it aired, but after the first two episodes its ratings dropped drastically and today it's pretty much forgotten. Inspired by columnist Ben Stein's outraged reaction to the perceived liberalism of the nuclear-war-TV-movie, The Day After, this was supposed to show Americans why they were fighting the Cold War. Instead, it killed the maxi-miniseries, bringing to a close an era that brought us the 30 hour War and Remembrance, the 14-hour Winds of War, the 9-hour Roots, the 12-hour Rich Man, Poor Man and the 20-hour Centennial. It also spawned a novelization, and that's what we'll be discussing here today because I suffered through reading the damn thing and now I'm going to share my pain.
They can take our freedom away, but they can't take away our adjectives!
A Communist version of The Thorn Birds, whereas The Day After was all about the madness of nuclear war and how the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction assured our mutual destruction, Amerika was designed to show the perils of appeasement. In the 80's, the geopolitics of the Cold War were often reduced to schoolyard level pop psychology. The Soviets were portrayed as bullies who got what they wanted by using empty threats and physical violence, and anyone who gave in to them and didn't punch them on the nose immediately was pulling a Chamberlain at the Munich Agreements. Real Americans stand up to bullies! Because bullies are really cowards! The fine art of diplomacy in Amerika basically amounts to: kick them where it counts and watch them go running home, crying to their mommy. It's a simplistic view, but hey, it's a simple book.
In books like I, Martha Adams the most heinous crime of the Soviet invaders is being tacky. In USSA the their greatest crime is making rock n'roll illegal. There's some of both of those flavors here, but Amerika is mostly focused on kinky sex and a view of American history that's still parroted by the Tea Party today. The President who turns over the country to the Soviet Union is a spineless surrender monkey who should have gone down fighting, but he's just a symptom of a sickness that has infected post-Vietnam America, destroying our inherent "sense of greatness" with self-doubt. Because being a real American means never questioning yourself, never doubting your (manifest) destiny and never being weak! Appease the liberals today — appease the Commies tomorrow.
And, of course, those wimps in the UN are involved.
The story is pretty simple. An imprisoned American hero (Kris Kristofferson, sporting a patriotic beard) ran a failed campaign for President against a Soviet puppet candidate a few years ago, and now he's just gotten out of prison camp and returned home to Milford, Nebraska. His family have lost their farm, the man who married the girl he loved is governor of what's to be known as "Heartland," a Soviet state carved out of the Midwest. There are two crazy kids who ride around on motorcycles and make sweet freedom love. There's Christine Lahti who is their sister who must give her all-American body to the leader of the local occupying forces because decadent Commies crave our moms and our apple pies (and by "our apple pies" I mean "our vaginas"), and Sam Neill plays a KGB commandant who makes angry S&M love to Mariel Hemingway, an actress who becomes enflamed with the passions of patriotism...and love!
Never quite as good as you want it to be, Amerika smothers its over-the-top moments under a wet blanket of stiff-lipped disapproval and tearful "God Bless America" angst. It's easy to imagine the author of this book as the "Keep America Beautiful" Indian: one teardrop running down his stoic face as he carefully turns it towards the camera.
What's interesting about Amerika is its idea that equality is the enemy. The 90's culture wars that flared up as a response to demands for equal treatment from gays, women, Hispanics and African Americans didn't come out of nowhere. Its roots were in the 80's when the spiritual threat of Communism was portrayed as evil equality. In fiction and in movies, the Soviet Union was shown as a place where everyone was equal and the result was a nightmarish limbo that aspired only to mediocrity. Sort of like Pixar's The Incredibles. The Soviets seduced America with the promise of true equality and now we are, in Kristofferson's not-so-immortal words, "equally enslaved."
"Americans," Kristofferson intones, "have allowed themselves to be immobilized by their own fears. Immobilized by their own selfish concerns. Immobilized by a lack of understanding of the freedom secured by our forefathers..." See, that freedom comes with no guarantees and is risky. But the freedom of everyone under the law is "the security of the slave." And one of the ways "they" make us "equal" and "slaves" is by making us feel guilty about our history. The Soviets of Amerika force children to hate their country by teaching them about our extermination of Native Americans, something only an anti-American educator would want to do.
Later, an American lady traitor says to her KGB handler, "We took the opportunity of the Transition to create an America we believed in. There were millions of people who never participated in the so-called American Dream — feminists, black, all the have-nots had goals not unlike your own. My God, we had an underclass — ten to fifteen percent of the population was perpetually illiterate, on welfare, or in prison. Now finally, that situation is improving."
The ruthless KGB scumbag laughs at her naivete, "Ten to fifteen percent? In Russia, Marion, less than five percent of the people benefit from our society. We who are clever or lucky — party members, scientists, athletes, the military elite, a certain type of artist — we reap the rewards while the other ninety-five percent make all the sacrifices....Our goal is success, not ideology or meaning."
And so the true face of the conflict is revealed: America, a land where those who understand the words of their forefathers can thrive. A land where equality is slavery, but risk is for everyone. The agenda of the feminists and the blacks is the same as the agenda of the Communists, and all their pretty ideology and fancy talk of equality is just a smoke screen for a naked power grab. They are Communists in name only. We've got their number. Deep down they just want to steal our farms and our fax machines and make us poor like them. Also, why won't they let our children express themselves through dance?
"Jackie seemed buoyed up by the recorded music as she gyrated masterfully across the stage alone. She'd chosen a piece by Aaron Copland for this audition — 'Fanfare for the Common Man,' a raucous tone poem that was kinetic, vibrant, redolent of American myth. It called for movements that were expansive, loose-limbed, muscular, for strutting postures that might be feminine but could never be finicky. In her stark white leotard and with a single red ribbon holding back her hair, Jackie mimed a physical wisdom beyond her years. She was part dervish, part temptress. She was riveting."
But the Soviet slavemasters running this audition are not interested in individual excellence:
"'We're looking for the kind of dancer who is able to become part of a corps — one of a group expressing the kind of spirit and attitude we'd like to see in our young people.' The woman's face was a frozen mask; Amanda realized that she could never penetrate her wall of ideology."
TV Guide called the miniseries, "arguably the most boring miniseries in a decade." They're not wrong. I never watched it because even its newspaper ads made me fall asleep. But there is one thing. Late in the miniseries (and the book) the Soviets have the entire United States Congress machine gunned.
With Congressional approval ratings at 5%, making them technically less popular than Communism, this kind of thing might find a whole new audience today.