Here’s the thing. I remember going to that movie with a girlfriend, and sorta liking it and sorta thinking ... “Naaah! Too outrageous! Too crazy!”
Seriously. We both were sort of stunned by it for a second, especially the ending (which I won’t divulge here for any who haven’t seen it), and then brushed it aside as waaaay too unrealistic. I mean, especially the whole Revolutionary War costume stuff, which I recall was extremely hilarious and decidedly over the top. No way in hell anyone would march around in tricorn hats and knee britches outside of Colonial Williamsburg, right?
And oh my God. All it took was 18 years and the Gingrich Revolution and here we are. Holy crap. We’re all living in a Tim Robbins movie!
I decided to do some digging in the memory hole myself and see what folks said about the film back then. Here’s the New York Times’ review:
"BOB ROBERTS," written and directed by Tim Robbins, who also plays the title role, is a very funny, sometimes prescient satire of American politics, and of the comparatively small, voting portion of the electorate that makes a Bob Roberts phenomenon possible. Recent events haven't completely overtaken the movie, but they do indicate just how wild a satire must be these days to remain on the cutting edge of the outrageous.
In the person of Mr. Robbins, whose performance is a career-defining achievement, Bob Roberts is a smoothly ingratiating, guitar-playing businessman, a self-made millionaire who wants to be the next United States Senator from Pennsylvania. He's good-looking, but in the way of a familiar television personality, not of a major movie star. His charisma doesn't intimidate.
He's young, healthy and sincere. More important, he appropriates gestures and language associated with 1960's protest movements and uses them in the cause of his own brand of 1990's right-wing rabble-rousing. He calls himself a "rebel conservative." He's the kind of guy who answers a young fan's letter by cautioning her not to do crack, adding, "It's a ghetto drug."
Welcome to the modern Tea Party. So desperate for some cultural relevance that they’ve appropriated the words, language and actions of the ‘60s protest movement, the most culturally revolutionary movement this nation has produced.
But there’s more:
When Bob strums his guitar and sings such upbeat numbers as "My Land," "Times Are Changin' Back" and "Wall Street Rap," he is selling family values and patriotism and assuring his supporters that, in effect, it's their duty to "take, make and win by any means," even if they can't. Among other things, Bob understands the appeal of an ultra-conservative political and economic policy even to those who have nothing: anticipating the day when they do have it all, they want to make sure they will be able to keep it.
Let me remind everyone that this is the New York Times review. The New York Times talking about the "comparatively small" voting block that votes against their own interests and adheres to these fringe right wing ideas. Eighteen years ago they called the scenario presented in this film a "wild" satire. Heh.
And it's the same New York Times which, 18 years later, now covers the Tea Party as a serious political movement, not a piece of corporate astroturf political theater starring that same “comparatively small, voting portion of the electorate” who are easily manipulated because they’re scared and the economy sucks. What was once written off as a wild satire is now Very Serious front page news.
So all of this time I’ve been yammering on about how the battle is on the cultural front, and here we have this movie from 18 years ago predicting exactly where we are today, and not a damn thing has changed save one thing: the crazy is now mainstream. What was once satire and cartoonish is now Very Serious political thought. Crazy.
If nothing else, it really illustrates how long we’ve been in this political morass. You young kids, I hate to disillusion you, but consider this an inspiration. Clearly my generation fucked things up and didn’t have the brains or guts to change the political landscape, even though apparently we were given ample warning. So, it’s up to you.
And to the Tea Party I have this to say: apparently, we Hollywood Liberal Elites have been making fun of you guys for nearly 20 years. Suck on that!
And to Tim Robbins and the Weinstein brothers and anyone else involved in this film, I would like to remind you: in two years we have a presidential election. And if you don't re-release this film on Blu-Ray DVD in a special 20 year Anniversary Edition with commentary and analysis and Tea Party references and all that, then I am personally revoking your Dirty Fucking Hippie Membership in the Hollywood Liberal Elite.