"When you lose and fail, it is understandable. When you win and fail, that brings madness."
After nearly two months of watching the miniseries Amerika in little bits and pieces I finally finished it this last week. As I had written before, I think I understand why it has never been rebroadcast.
It was not due to its length or sometimes slow pace. It is due to its content.
It reminds me of Kevin Costner's "Postman". As I recall, that movie did very poorly in the theaters when it was first released. It was even panned at the Oscars that year. Yet, when it was released on video, it was the number one rental for weeks and became a staple on cable channels like TNT. The word of mouth about the movie was enormously strong. At the time I worked in an office type job and the watercooler talk was all about that movie and how much my fellow workers enjoyed it. The underlying theme of America, even at its lowest, but still being possible, was a message that resonated with many people.
Amerika, for me, boils down to two viewpoints: Peter Bradford, played by Robert Urich; and Devin Milford, played by Kris Kristofferson. Bradford, mindful of what has been lost, struggles to find a path forward for the people he leads, Milford is the lighting rod of the story. He has been tempered and emptied of self by prolonged hardship. This hardship has prepared him for his new task and purpose, to lead a new revolution against the Soviet occupation and the newly formed Heartland government.
Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? Some people would argue that nearly eight years of President Obama seem like the ten years of Soviet occupation depicted in the series. Internal exiles, a do nothing congress, socialist thought overtaking society, and other changes being forced are troubling to many.
Bradford, slated to lead the Heartland government, narrates a letter written to his wife:
"You can't look at those eyes and not think of what being an American has meant. Now there's an end to it. Soon, there will be no America. We'll be history, quickly lost and distorted, like Mr. Lincoln himself... I suppose there will have to be new revolutions, with new generations who will have to discover the values which our forefathers handed down to us. If those truths stop being real, maybe it's better to let them go, to let some new generation discover, as though for the first time. Maybe freedom is just one of those things you can't inherit."
Bradford's lamentation rings familiar to us today. How many political establishment types today decry the loss of "reason and common sense?" Yet, Bradford is at war with himself. His frustration about what led to the defeat of the United States is revealed in another conversation with his wife, who really represents his conscious throughout the story:
"Damn, I'm so tired of this "I'm an American" bull! Where was all that patriotism when it counted? Where was that willingness to sacrifice? Nobody wanted to join the damn army to defend the country unless they got paid well! Nobody wanted to give any time to public service unless they could make a career out of it! And I didn't notice a lot of us giving up our lives in the last 10 years!"
Many commentators have written that Amerika was written as a commentary of how they saw America culture going in the 1980s.
Milford becomes the counterpoint to Bradford, which is more poignant by the fact that they had grown up together in the same small Nebraska town. I will discuss Milford in part two.