Posted by: Ali Davis | June 12, 2011

Huckstory: The Reagan Revolution and a Heaping Helping of Moral Clarity

When we last checked in on our time travelers, we were still in the prologue and in Simon’s lab (garage?) talking about the vast swathes of time and space that were suddenly open to them.

Oh, and Dalia (I realized on my second viewing that they’re spelling it this way and it’s driving me up the walls) and Bully Brother keep insulting Simon, over and over, right in front of him. Neither Addison nor Barley tells them to knock it the hell off.

I don’t understand why Simon didn’t give the time machine a pass and start straight in on the death ray project.

Instead, he apparently invents continuity errors.

He tells Addison that taking the time machine for a spin is way too dangerous, but within a couple of lines says that they’re all going on this amazing adventure without anyone really talking him out of his original position.

There’s also an overlong, ridiculous explanation of how his time machine uses sound to convert blah blah blah into blah and thus they’ll be able to blah and if you think I’m going to pause and reverse my way through that enough times to accurately describe it you are out of your mind, and then we zoom in on a poster (or an ad?) of Dalia playing trumpet, and so clearly at some point she was key to them being able to travel, but I guess that part of the story got cut.

So now she just inexplicably rides in Simon’s sidecar (for some reason, the time machine involves bicycles) and then insults him the second she’s out.

In a way, the disorienting cuts and continuity errors make sense to me. This is Huckabee’s world, kids, so you’d better start learning to take things on faith.

Before they use the time machine, the greatest adventure invented in all of history, the kids go to class. Which makes no sense. Can’t they go time traveling and then come back at their leisure to a time before class? Isn’t that the whole genius of having a time machine?

Whatever their reasons, they decide to put off the heady joy of exploration and go to school. Hilariously, it seems to be just these kids in class with one or two other students and rows of empty desks.

What, the animators couldn’t afford to hire extras? If that’s the case, why spend the time and money it took to draw the empty desks?

It’s a good thing they went to history class, though, because it’s time to discuss the late 1970’s! The teacher lists some terrible things about the late 1970’s:

“Imagine a world where America gets pushed around by other countries. The economy is in turmoil. People are losing their jobs, and the government is telling us what we can and can’t do.”

Addison chimes in: “Sounds a lot like today.”

Burn.

The kids are assigned to find out why the late 70’s sucked and why the 80’s were awesome and what President Ronald Reagan had to do with it.

I wish I could make his name appear in a golden, sparkly font. So does this video.

At the intonation of the sacred words, Ronald Reagan, the kids realize that there is no better use for their time machine, and so we’re back in the garage where we started.

We also meet Dalia’s dad and Simon’s grandma, who are delighted to run into each other because it turns out they’re old friends: Years ago they met in Berlin and got to talking and Grandma was so impressed that she gave Dalia’s dad a job. Yay!

Everybody chats about Reagan for a minute, because who doesn’t?

Dalia, who is black, is briefly skeptical about Reagan being The Greatest Human Being of All Time, or at least that he helped “people like us,” but her dad sets her straight. He tells her that without Reagan, she might not even be here.

That made my eyeballs goink out of their sockets, but that’s not what he means.

This is as good a time as any to explain the function of each character, which has become clear to me over two full viewings and countless recheck-sections-for-recapping-accuracy micro-viewings, during which I believe I burned off several past lives’ worth of bad karma.

Blonde, blue-eyed Addison is the sassy Main Kid, our narrator and clearly the one we’re meant to identify with, and perhaps aspire to be. She loves learning the right kind of history, and man, does she love her some Reagan. She has a lot to learn, but is certainly able to swing in with an explanation or a “computer graphic” when no adults are on hand.

Simon is the Nerd. That’s kind of it so far. He gets to answer an occasional question, but mostly he has convenient inventions and gadgets.

Bully Brother (who, it turns out, is named Connor) is so far inexplicable. He bullies Simon and is never called on it by anyone else. He also has, as I mentioned, no other function – Barley takes care of the brawn when it is needed. I was incorrect about the number of lines he has after the prologue: I believe he has four, two of which are Bullying Moments and two of which are one-word exclamations.

In his online pitch for his videos, Mike Huckabee mentions that we’ll learn an Important Lesson on Bullying, so I guess Connor’s role will one day become clear. …And then he’ll stop getting lines altogether. I almost feel sorry for him.

Barley, as I mentioned in the recap of the prologue, is a complete dumb-ass, and I couldn’t figure out why Arkansas boy Huckabee would allow such a vicious Southern stereotype to be perpetuated in his own video series.

With repeat viewings, though, I’ve realized that Barley is meant to be the noble dumb-ass. He only understands things on a gut level, jumps into physical fights even when cooler heads tell him it’s a terrible idea, and loves God and patriotism.

Welcome to what Mike Huckabee thinks you should be, America: The character who doesn’t know what the word “taxes” means. Literally and figuratively.

Which brings us to Dalia. She’s the Black Character, but also the Spoiled Rich Girl (for which she can thank Ronald Reagan and let none of us forget that ever again!)

Her existence allows her black Republican, Reagan-lovin’ dad to exist, which is a valuable service in itself, because it teaches us that Reagan helped everyone equally as long as they deserved it so no other arguments on that point, OK?

But mostly Dalia, as a Rich Girl and a Nonwhite Girl, exists to bring up the liberal arguments. In far-right world, there’s a widespread trope that all liberals are either clueless elitists or nonwhite, so I think it’s nicely efficient that Dalia is both.

Don’t worry that there’s any tension, though: All of Dalia’s liberal arguments or questions are dispatched with a single line from another character, which Dalia immediately accepts. Which is what all liberals would do if only they had Huckabee’s grasp of the facts.*

*Except for the ones who are just being liberal because they hate America.

So anyway, black people who lived through the ‘80s love Ronald Reagan. Or at least they should.

On to the most uncomfortable moment in the whole production: Since Dalia’s dad and Simon’s grandma are friends from way back, they go inside to catch up while the kids have their study group, which is perfectly normal.

But that’s not how the actress playing Simon’s grandma delivers the line. She suggests they go inside and… catch up.

Which is a very different thing. She even puts a little lilt in her voice when she says “catch up.” The hell?

Given that, it’s tough to blame the kids for running to the time machine to take their minds off the fact that Dalia’s dad and Simon’s grandma are apparently sexing each other up.

And before you know it, we’re in someplace new! Someplace awful.

As Addison helpfully explains,  “This icky place is America in the 1970’s.”

Washington, DC, in 1977, to be exact! The kids are immediately confronted by a knife-wielding muggers. Their leader is wearing the outfit of choice of tough guys in any era: a tank top that says “DISCO.”

Because of the slapdash nature of this video, I’m going to go ahead and assume that that costuming choice is just a ham-handed attempt at adding a little time-period ambiance and not anything that I should be reading any other meaning into.

Another kid runs up and [SPOILER!] saves the time travelers through valiant nerdery. They all notice that it’s another dweeb – and in fact are briefly unable to tell Simon and the new nerd apart, even though Simon is Asian and the new nerd is (foreshadowing!) black.

Perhaps they’ve been getting supplemental classes social studies classes from Sharron Angle.

Bully Brother finally gets in a line as he and Dalia insult New Nerd (and Simon) seconds after he saved them from getting knifed. Again, no one intervenes, but Simon is so happy to have found another nerd that he doesn’t take off in his time machine and abandon their smug asses.

New Nerd takes them back to his place and apologizes that it’s a mess – his mom works three jobs and doesn’t have time to clean. Presumably New Nerd can’t help with that because he’s a boy and if he tries to pick up his own socks his testosterone will rush up into his throat all at once and cut off his air supply.

New Nerd is, however, able to tidily sum up what has gone wrong here in our nation’s Dark Ages:

“People are out of work, and some of their morals are just gone!”

He also explains that people don’t have any money because taxes are so high. Barley, as mentioned before, has never heard of this word. Perhaps his parents have protected him from the knowledge lest he suffer a breakdown.

New nerd then reveals his name….Oh, my Reagan, he’s young Dalia’s Dad!

Bully Brother cashes out the last of his full sentences by teasing Dalia and creating the second weirdest moment of the video: He notes that Dalia’s young nerd dad is just like Simon and then says “You love Simon!”

I had to go back and re-watch that moment a couple of times. Mostly because it made me suspect that the script had been written by space aliens who had no practical experience in childhood insults.

I mean, yes, “You looove him!” is definitely an old standard, but in my day it was used to suggest that the teasee was romantically attracted to the uncool object of affections and perhaps even wanted to hold hands with and/or kiiiiiiiiss him.

What it definitely did not mean was “You feel profound daughterly affection and respect towards him!”

I mean, seriously: What the hell?

Is this inability to distinguish between amorous love and familial love a widespread thing on the far right? Does it have something to do with the way they keep suggesting that gay marriage will lead to incest and interspecies marriage? Are they really that close to the edge at all times? Or is it just this video being weird again?

We may never know. Like all great art, The Reagan Revolution raises more questions than it answers.

Let’s stop worrying about it and jump to 1979 instead!

The kids take their leave of Dalia’s dad, but Simon’s wallet falls out of his pocket as he’s getting off the couch. Will that prove to be significant later on? In this video, you really can’t tell.

We find Simon’s future grandma in the prime of her diplomatic career, negotiating with some Foreigners who, based on their accents, are from the key nation of FrancoGermaRussIranistan.

At least we can be comfortably certain that Huckabee’s company isn’t hiring any subversive union actors.

These disreputable foreign types won’t sign a treaty because President Carter won’t build new weapons to protect them from the Soviets.

If there is one thing (other than Reaganly adoration) you will learn from this video, it is this: Mike Huckabee fucking hates Jimmy Carter.

I tend to think of former President Carter as a gentle soul who builds houses with Habitat for Humanity and tries to get people not to blow each other up quite so much.

But after watching this video, I’m pretty sure that if Mike Huckabee were in a saloon and Jimmy Carter walked in, Huckabee would shout “NYAUUUUGGGHH,” smash a bottle on the bar, and run straight at him.

Which would not be out of step with the diplomatic philosophy of this DVD at all.

A random guy who is suddenly standing behind Simon’s grandma points out that Carter is trying to build international bridges by promoting peace and goodwill around the world.

“Ha ha ha!” laughs one of the Foreigners in exactly three laughs, “This is why he gets no respect from the Soviet Union. They respect the fist and laugh at the weakness of the outstretched hand!”

The Foreigners go away and the kids creepily follow Simon’s grandma home. They knock on her door and ask if they can come in and learn things.

Simon’s grandma is a high-ranking diplomat in the Cold War, and as such, is no fool.

“You’re not young Soviet spies, are you?”

The kids say that they are not, and she makes them show ID. Because where would spies get fake documents? Simon, of course, doesn’t have his, but Grandma decides the hell with it and lets them all in.

Simon’s grandma explains international relations, and this is another area where the video’s choppy editing doesn’t do it any favors.

There are apparently huge cuts in the dialogue here, including a few weird jumps. After the first viewing I came away thinking that we were meant to have learned that the principle of mutually assured destruction was neato.

That can’t be, though, because it makes Barley uncomfortable, and his gut feelings are America’s best instincts.

(Why didn’t they just go ahead and name the uneducated-but-pure character “Huck”? See what I did there? So many resonances! This video is a festival of missed opportunities. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if Huckabee is rendered uncomfortable by Mark Twain on several fronts. Maybe the idea was floated and withdrawn.)

Piecing it together, I think that Simon’s grandma thinks mutually assured destruction is bad (maybe?), but definitely thinks that reducing our weapons and trying to work for peace and greater understanding between nations is worse. Did she look up the word “diplomacy” before she chose it as her career?

Younger Grandma turns on the TV to a Carter speech, and we all hate him so much that he doesn’t even get the same animation technique as everyone else – only his mouth moves and he has a flat, dead face.

Grandma is hoping that Carter will finally get all macho and put on biker leathers and a spiked codpiece or something, but instead he acknowledges our national malaise.

Simon’s grandma makes huffy noises and facepalms, and when Carter gets to the malaise part she says “Oh, no. This is Bad. Really bad.”

Apparently acknowledging our national problems on television is bad because it lets the Soviets know we’re weak.

Letting these strange kids see that their President – and her boss – is a weakling who will destroy the country is apparently totally cool, though. That State Department employee handbook must be complex.

No need to stand around thinking about that, though! It’s time to bike/time travel off to see a speech that blows the Gettysburg Address right out of the water.

(Along the way, the kids pass a TV in a window that mentions that Jimmy Carter is screwing up the hostage situation in Iran, because to hell with that guy. We skip over the October Surprise, presumably due to time constraints. Probably there’s an informative pamphlet about it in the Time Travel Academy backpack I’ll be receiving with my first DVD.)

As the kids approach the cheering crowd, Barley wonders why everyone is so excited and Addison, before she has even heard any of Reagan’s speech, replies “Because they see hope!”

Dalia sees Reagan and says “He’s the guy from those movies my grandparents watched!” My ass, they did.

Simon uses that as a segue to give Reagan props for fighting Communism in Hollywood, which totally was a widespread and genuinely threatening thing. Somehow they fail to mention the part where Reagan’s testimony helped get the ball rolling on the Hollywood blacklist, which needlessly and horribly destroyed people’s lives and careers.

It’s probably in the DVD extras.

Now let’s listen to an inspiring speech!

(…If you can do so without getting distracted, that is. I am ignorant about animation techniques, but whichever one this company uses, it seems to involve centering on each character’s jaw and then building the face and head around that. So I spend at least part of every viewing helplessly focusing on Reagan’s BIG WHITE CHOMPY TEETH AIIEEE!)

Anyway, it’s an amazing speech for several reasons. You know how sometimes in a movie a character that needs information will turn on the TV or radio and it’s automatically on a news broadcast that’s right this second covering the very thing they need to know about?

That happens here, except every time one of the kids thinks of a question about Reagan, he gets to that part of his speech. Or sometimes it’s answered by other people in the crowd, who are so inspired that they keep turning to each other and exclaiming about why Reagan is so fantastic.

For example, one man gets so excited that he yells “And he’s a man of strong morals and faith!”

Another helpfully explanatory character at the rally is a woman who for some reason addresses the kids with coy looks over her shoulder, for the Creepy Moment trifecta.

The speech contains some classic Reagan gems like “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem!” Though somehow the video’s creators miss the one about the imaginary welfare queens.

They actually do drop a pretty good one in there: After Coy Lady notes that Reagan can explain things in ways that people can understand, Barley hopes the Gipper will help him understand the problems with the economy. Right on cue, Reagan says,  “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours.”

Which is a great example of breaking things down in a way that resonates with people, even if it doesn’t actually involve any useful information. This video can’t leave it alone though. Animated Reagan finishes the quote:

“A recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his!”

I hope that Mike Huckabee travels with at least three large friends at all times so they can hold him back if someone mentions Jimmy Carter.

I picture Huckabee’s office walls as full of Carter pictures riddled with dart holes and with teeth blacked out.

Reagan moves on to his cold war strategy: “We win. They lose. I have no desire for coexistence.”

Barley equates the Soviets to the “bullies” who tried to steal their bikes back in 1977. “We need to whip them once and for all rather then have them hang around and chase us every day!”

I got all excited because in a normal story this would signal that the time travelers are going to bring Reagan’s diplomatic principles into their own lives by heading back and kicking those disco muggers’ asses, but nothing like that happens. But hey, at least Barley gets it.

We get to Reagan’s belief in American exceptionalism, which the crowd deems one of the most important things about him.

Dalia – poor, misguided, Dalia – suggests that maybe people in other countries see themselves as different and special too. Coy Lady quickly smacks her down. Coy Lady says that our principles of individual liberty, faith, and freedom set us apart. No other population on Earth likes those things!

Addison reiterates how much people loved Reagan, but claims the press “just didn’t get it.” Dumb old elitist eggheads. Barley ruefully says, “Some things never change!”

Barley has so got your number, present-day media!

But there’s no time for brooding! Simon’s time travel machine sends an alert that Reagan’s life is in danger! Why set up alerts like that when we know that we can’t interfere with the past? No matter. The kids race off to 1981.

They get there just in time for John Hinkley’s assassination attempt. In spite of Simon’s shouted warning about changing the past, Barley shouts “Noooooo!” and tackles Hinkley. He ends up in a pile of Secret Service agents who… Immediately let him go? Without thanking him or questioning him or anything? I guess they’re trained to recognize the pure of heart. Or harmless goobers. One of those.

In spite of Barley’s efforts, Hinkley still manages to shoot Reagan. The video treats us to the bad-ass sequence in which Reagan insists on walking into the hospital so as not to worry the nation, then collapses in his room.

Apparently Mike Huckabee hates the Secret Service too; the kids manage to sneak into Reagan’s hospital room by piling into one lab coat. For some reason they decide that Barley should play the “doctor’s” head.

They find Reagan attended by a staffer and a deeply concerned Howard Jones.

Reagan will not be goldbricking in that hospital room, though. While still in his hospital bed, he solves the economy [SPOILER: Cut taxes!]. Then he announces that God saved him from that bullet because there’s work for him to do, gets up, stands inspiringly in front of a window, and tells some military guys who just walked in to “roll back the Soviet Union to the ash heap of history.”

Which sounds a lot like “Nuke them back to the Pleistocene!” so I was sort of hoping Reagan would clarify that, but apparently the military knew what he meant.

Barley knows too: “Peace through strength? I like it!” And then everybody falls to their knees and clutches their skulls because of the cognitive dissonance.

Or that was just me?

Anyway, the point is that the U.S. is strong and studly and wanting every able-bodied citizen to carry at least three machine guns and a tactical nuclear weapon at all times does NOT MEAN WE ARE LIVING OUR LIVES IN FEAR OF EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE ELSE, OK?!

It just means that you can only acheive true peace through macho posturing and threats. Just like Jesus always said.

Barley worshipfully asks Reagan for his autograph and then Reagan and Howard Jones smile knowingly as the other kids scramble under the lab coat to leave.

Off to see Dalia’s dad in 1986! Everything looks different! The neighborhood is prosperous and Dalia’s dad is no longer a nerd! Whew! Wouldn’t want any nonconformity in Reagan’s America!

I was hoping that the former muggers would walk by wearing shoulder-padded shirts saying “RAP,” but no dice.

Presumably they are stockbrokers or Evangelical ministers now, because Dalia’s dad talks about how everything is better, everywhere, for everyone.

“But didn’t the rich get richer while the poor got poorer?” Dalia asks. She is immediately smacked down by her future dad: “Actually, no. In fact, income for blacks is growing more than it is for whites.”

I’m sure Huckabee has a really good, reliable source for both of those assertions, but I seem to be having trouble finding it.

Also, I’m intrigued by the way that all the characters seem to accept that “black” and “poor” are pretty much synonyms. I might have one or two suspicions about the diversity of the panel of distinguished historians and educators who work on these videos.

Dalia’s dad also notes that Reagan has given the country “an incredible sense of optimism,” as illustrated by the fact that when he called the number in Simon’s lost wallet, the woman who answered randomly offered him a diplomatic job.

You’d assume this would be Simon’s grandma, who has had the same phone number over all these years and is apparently inclined to offer Dalia’s dad a job at any time, even when he’s clearly well underage. Or did he wait several years to try to return the wallet? I’m confused.

But no. Apparently this is a completely different woman who has given Dalia’s (child) dad a diplomatic job. Did I mention that there seem to be one or two continuity errors?

Anyway, now everyone is freaked because Dalia checks her school ID and it says she goes to a school in – Oh, no! – Finland!

Not that she doesn’t exist, mind you, just that she lives in Finland now. Intolerable!

I don’t understand why the fact that Dalia can’t have met her friends and thus can’t have become a time traveler doesn’t cause her to vanish or throw everyone into an inescapable time loop, but then I am no physicist.

Maybe the space-time continuum senses that they’ll take immediate corrective action. The kids rush off to try to get Simon’s grandma to go to Berlin without bothering to say anything to Dalia’s dad like “Hey! Make sure you go to Berlin at some point!” I’m so confused.

Back to Simon’s grandma’s place, but now in 1983. (WHY?)

She’s much happier. Reagan calls the Soviets an Evil Empire, and Simon’s grandma approves.

“Kids,” she says, “this is what we call moral clarity.”

Because there is no better way to get people to see your point of view than to keep calling them evil.

The kids dash off, presumably allowing Simon’s grandma to go back to kidney-punching her Jimmy Carter voodoo doll.

Berlin! June! 1987!

Reagan tells Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall!

“Whoa! He’s really putting the Soviets on the spot,” shines Barley, “Turning up the heat! I like it!”

We pan through the crowd and see Simon’s grandma and (Phew!) Dalia’s dad. Simon introduces them and Grandma immediately offers Dad a job.

This seems like a poor hiring method, but in fairness to Simon’s grandma, Dalia’s dad can’t so much as go out for a carton of milk without at least six total strangers offering him prestigious, high-income jobs.

Dad and Grandma walk off together, presumably to duck into Checkpoint Charlie and give into their passions for the first of many wonderful, workplace-inappropriate times.

Dalia’s student ID is back to normal now, but the kids aren’t done yet! Addison points out that Reagan’s impact lasted long after he left office. (In response, Bully Brother is awarded his first line in about 10 minutes: “So?”) They need to see something that Reagan made happen.

The kids ride off even though spatially, they aren’t going anywhere.

November 9, 1989! Still at the Berlin Wall!

Simon and Addison acknowledge that Reagan didn’t personally spit on his hands and take a sledgehammer to the wall, and that tearing it down might have had something to do with the East Germans deciding that living under an oppressive regime was a drag.

Well, that and Ronald Reagan’s moral clarity.

“This guy and his morals!” the Soviets were always exclaiming in Cyrillic, “He will NOT let up! We’re doooooomed!”

Addison pops up a helpful computer graphic.

Reasons Communism Failed [SPOILER!]

-Reagan’s moral clarity

-Increased military spending

-Economic growth

The kids make it home in the nick of time (WHY IS THIS DIFFICULT WHEN THEY HAVE A TIME MACHINE?) just as Dalia’s dad is re-emerging from Simon’s house.

Rather than talk in person, for some reasons the kids have some sort of video conference in which they gush about why Reagan was so awesome that he may have caused spontaneous healings when his limo drove past.

Once again, we hear about how Reagan lowered taxes (but somehow not about how he raised them again because his tax cuts were crashing the economy), stopped inflation, and reduced dumb old regulations.

Also he was tough and manly! And had faith and moral clarity!

We learn that Reagan’s “low taxes” and “limited government” “led to a quarter-century of economic growth.” Clinton had nothing to do with any of that! Nothing! LALALALALALA!

Also, no real word on who put the brakes on economic growth. Maybe that’s in a later disc.

Back in class, the kids are happy, inspired, and morally certain.

Addison helpfully notes that the Reagan Revolution wasn’t so much a revolution as a rediscovery of what makes America so wonderful.

And with that, we’re done with this adventure. At last.

The Learn Our History video on the origins of World War II is already available online, but I think I’m going to need to take a rest first.

I’m sure it’s just that I learned too much.

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Responses

  1. “Addison pops up a helpful computer graphic.

    Reasons Communism Failed [SPOILER!]

    -Reagan’s moral clarity

    -Increased military spending

    -Economic growth”

    Yeah, it couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with the fact that Communism doesn’t work or something. Really, out of all right wing beliefs, one of the silliest is this idea that the Soviet Union collapsed because Reagan called it evil very often. If that method would work, shouldn’t the Ayatollahs have destroyed America by now?

    Anyway, thanks for watching that stuff, and keep up the good work!

    (But, haveyou really only now discovered how much the Right hates Jimmy Carter?)

  2. Re: “Dalia” — Don’t impose your liberal crypto-fascist schoolin’ on Mike Huckabee. He’s not captive to your pinko “spelling” fetish. You enjoy your book-larnin’, young lady; he’ll be frolicking in the dafdiles and twolps.


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