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Americathon (also known as Americathon 1998) is a 1979 American comedy film starring John Ritter, Fred Willard, Peter Riegert, Harvey Korman, and Nancy Morgan, with narration by George Carlin, based on a play by Firesign Theatre alumni Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman. Others credited in the film include Jay Leno, Meat Loaf, Tommy Lasorda, and Chief Dan George, with a musical performance by Elvis Costello.
The premise of the film is that, sometime in the then-near future (1998), the USA has run out of oil, and many Americans are literally living in their (now stationary) cars and either jog or ride bicycles to travel. The federal government, housed in “The Western White House” (a sub-leased condominium in Marina del Rey, California), is near national bankruptcy and in danger of being foreclosed by a cartel of Native Americans in control of Nike (which has been renamed “National Indian Knitting Enterprise”). President Chet Roosevelt (Ritter) hires television consultant Eric McMerkin (Riegert) to help produce a national raffle. Instead, they decide that the only way enough money can be raised to save America is to run a telethon, and hire TV celebrity Monty Rushmore (Korman) to host it.
The soundtrack features “It’s A Beautiful Day” by The Beach Boys, “Crawling To The USA” by Elvis Costello and “Get A Move On” by Eddie Money. Dorothy Stratten appears, uncredited and in a brief non-speaking role, in a Playboy bunny style outfit during a scene where Meat Loaf’s character gives blood. John Carradine was to have played “Uncle Sam” in this film, but his scenes were edited.
Since the storyline was set 20 years into the future, several satirical forecasts were made, nearly all of which have since come true:
The People’s Republic of China embracing capitalism and becoming a global economic superpower.
Cliques of Native Americans becoming wealthy (although in reality much of their wealth would come from the gaming industry, mostly from tribal casinos).
Nike becoming a huge multinational conglomerate (In 1979, their “Tailwind” running shoe was just starting to gain popularity).
Vietnam becoming a major tourist attraction among Asia’s wealthy and powerful (this was also predicted in Back To The Future Part II, as seen on billboards and on TV commercials, with the airline that takes most Americans there being US Air).
The continued existence and popularity of The Beach Boys in 1998.
The collapse of the USSR.
The depletion of US crude oil production, which, according to Hubbert’s Peak theory, was already underway for several years at the time the film was made (Hubbert estimated in 1956 that the year of peak oil extraction in the United States would be 1970.).
Jogging suits becoming fashionable as “casual wear”.
Reality television reaching absurd limits. (The telethon includes a boxing match between a mother and son. The son is played by Jay Leno.).
An America with a devalued dollar and heavily in debt to foreign lenders.
Network television dealing with previously taboo subjects accepted as normal. (Monty Rushmore stars in the sit-com, “Both Father and Mother”, and plays a cross-dressing single father in the titular role. The film’s narrative also mentions “The Schlong Show”, a game show where contestants are judged by their reproductive organs.)
Smoking being banned.
A great increase in homelessness (Homelessness began to greatly increase in major U.S. cities during the recession of 1982 and the simultaneous cutting of the Section 8 program by the Reagan Administration).