What is never a concern — either for the studio executive who greenlights a Smurfs or Conan, or the grown-up ‘80s kid who queues up for them — is whether those projects were actually any good, which of course they weren’t; they’re bathed in the golden glow of childhood memory, their recall of the quality of said entertainment drenched in the absolute certainty of youth. “I remember loving Footloose,” reasons the film producer on one side of the ticket booth and the consumer on the other, though neither of them were driving at the time of its release, to say nothing of making informed cinematic judgments, “so it must have been great.” But it wasn’t. It wasn’t then, and it certainly isn’t now.
And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with Hollywood right now — and with Washington, DC. For as ticket buyers across America shelled out their hard-earned twelve or so dollars ($3 more for 3-D!) to watch Smurfs gallivant across New York City, with the voices of C-list celebrities spewing D-grade puns from their CG-animated maws, a group of nihilist thugs were holding the country hostage to the whims of their particular ‘80s nostalgia. They did not wax rhapsodic for little blue cartoon creatures or muscle-bound barbarians; they capitulated before the memory of the man who said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem,” and did their level best to burn said government right down to the ground.
The specter of Reagan’s brilliance and the genius of his fiscal conservatism hovers over the Tea Party (and, by extension, the Republican Party that quivers in their shadow) as surely and as unquestionably as the memory of the utter awesomeness of Transformers cartoons and Top Gun informs the output of major studios; the assumptions are equally ill-informed and rose-colored, though obviously the former can do a hell of a lot more damage. I was eight years old when I thought The Cannonball Run was the greatest movie of all time, and thus not of an age to know any better; most the Congressional Republicans who worship at the altar of Reagan were old enough to understand the damage that Reaganomics would do to the country but not care, because those who bore the brunt of that damage were poor and sad and different (“The secret message behind the election of Ronald Reagan on November 4th was that some people belong in this country, and some people don’t; that some people are worthy, and some are worthless; that certain opinions are sanctified, and some are evil; and that, with the blessing of God, God’s messengers will separate the one from the other.”—Greil Marcus, January 1981).
So this summer, those junior Alex P. Keatons turned a budgetary formality into a national crisis, one in which the same poor and unfortunate (and, bonus, old people) that Reagan had in his sights were immediately targeted, because they are the beneficiaries of government programs, and government is the problem. And the notion of expanding the tax burden of the comically-richest Americans (this is Scrooge McDuck territory — or, to better extend the ‘80s metaphor, Silver Spoons) is anathema to them, even though Reagan’s initial (and, don’t forget, somewhat retracted) slashing of those top tax rates, along with his military spending bender, resulted in the kind of ballooning deficits and debt that are supposed to be at issue — a tripling of the national debt (the largest peacetime increase in history), along with the conversion of deficit-related interest costs into the fastest-rising element of the budget. U-S-A, U-S-A.
Of course, for all of his talk of the power of the free market and the obsolescence of government, whether Reagan would have actually favored defaulting on the national debt is pure absurdity — he was an ideologue, but not a moron. Such a distinction does not hold for his Tea Party groupies. The current crop of ’80s film remakes promise to go bigger, louder, brasher; computer-generated kicks in three dimensions, offering thrills far beyond that earthbound Conan of your youth. Meanwhile, across the land, Americans brace for the impact of 3-D Reaganomics.