I’ve always been a John Ritter fan. That’s why I wanted to rewatch “Americathon“, a movie I vaguely remembered from my childhood. Was it a bad movie? Well, there’s probably a reason I could only find it on VHS all these years … on eBay. But then I tried Google Play the other day, and behold, for a few bucks, my wife (reluctantly) and I streamed it to her laptop for the evening’s entertainment.

The synopsis: America fell so far in debt, it had to do a telethon to prevent foreclosure, meaning an uber-wealthy Native American who held the debt would take possession of all the land. Ironically, he didn’t want it, especially New York. But an imperious world power (an alliance of Arabs and Jews) played the antagonists, under the motivation that if they stopped the telethon’s success, they could buy America from the new owner. There’s also talk of selling cities, monuments, etc..

Oh, and we all live in land-locked cars and other vehicles, with all transportation on foot or bicycle, since we ran out of oil. Whatever. Even though it lacks memorable moments (and has a few I would prefer to forget), and oddly has no effective slapstick, it is nominally funny because it is farcical.

More detail can be found in the Wikipedia entry for the movie.

Did it age well? Well, it was a snapshot of the time’s expectations, an extrapolation of problems and fears. It gets it horribly wrong in many ways (it’s farce, after all), but in one way it is glaringly wrong in the OPPOSITE direction.

The movie came out in 1979, when national debt was $826.5 Billion. The story takes place in a future 1998, where the country need to pay off a meager $400 Billion. In our universe’s timeline the actual debt for that year was $5.5 TRILLION.

Today, the amount of debt the United States is in so mind-staggering (topping $17 Trillion this year), people from a few years ago guessing where we would be today … well … it would probably be something like this:

So who is the joke on?

Are these numbers just squiggles with commas? Have the people in 1979 earned out ridicule and laughter by supposing big debt has real consequences? Or have we somehow masked our own impending demise with numbness, apathy, or crying-wolf political rhetoric?

Please, someone tell me. Is there a punchline I’m not getting?