Idiocracy

Idiocracy is Mike Judge’s latest feature film. Yes, Mike Judge of “Beavis & Butthead” fame. But still holding Judge to that is unfair – after all, the man has since created “King of the Hill”, one of the finest animated shows on TV. He also directed the cult fave “Office Space”, a skewed look at the life in the office cubicle. It was sharply observed, well acted and most importantly, funny as all hell.

With Idiocracy, he takes a step in the direction of science fiction. Well, almost. Idiocracy is the story of a soldier named Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson), who is placed in suspended animation, and through certain fateful (and for science fiction, inevitable) machinations, ends up 500 years in the future. He is joined by Rita (the always-lovely Maya Rudolph), who works in the “private sector”, i.e. she’s a prostitute.

So far, so familiar, and you’d likely be forgiven for thinking this was a live-action Futurama. They both wake up in the future, which of course, is nothing like we expected: everyone, it turns out, is really, really dumb. As a result of centuries of not having to contend with any natural predators, as well as a convenience culture of having everything thrust into their hands, mankind is now borderline retarded; Joe’s normal English is considered snobby and worse, “faggy”. The ultimate comeback is “yeah, like, whatever”.

Joe stumbles his way through this brave new world, finding himself literally the smartest guy on the planet. This, however, is of little help to him. In this society, the dumber you are, the better off you are. Joe is tipped off about the existence of a time machine and goes off in search of said machine to bring Rita and himself back to their own time. easier said than done, and he is soon arrested, on the lam, and thereafter expected to solve the world’s problem in a week, lest he be “rehabilitated” by being run over by a truck imbued with a giant dildo. Or something.

Idiocracy pulls few punches about our current culture, and is fairly acid about many trends. Important positions in government are handed out like prizes (unlike anywhere today, obviously), and the president is a world champion wrestler. Now, the idea of a WWF president is hardly that far-fetched, given Jesse Ventura’s fairly successful stint as Minnesota governor and the Terminator’s current holding of the same office in California. There’s already been one shitty actor in the Oval Office, and boy, will we never hear the end of how good he was. Idiocracy it’s also mired pretty solidly in Americana; where Office Space was pretty universal, Idiocracy hits fairly specific American buttons; that’s not to say that dumbing down doesn’t happen everywhere, but it’s the way it happens; and looking at shouty pundits and personalities like Ann Coulter (recently lauded in some circles for calling Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards “a faggot”), Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, it’s a pretty neat fit that doesn’t quite translate. It’s no secret that the world laps up American culture like heroin, but we’ve a while to go yet, I hope the tabloid trend will turn, but who can say? Most of us stubbornly hang on to some of our old ways, and the French do nothing but. The allure of convenience is always there, and why not?

Getting back to the movie: it’s nominally science fiction we’re dealing with here, so what about the rest of the world? Most of the world is not as affluent as we are in the West. Are we all equal in the future? Could there be intelligent life somewhere else, for example? For a movie that could touch on so many things, it falls short of its potential.

Then again, to coin a phrase, this isn’t rocket surgery. It’s a funny look at the dumbing down of culture, at the degradation of our discourse, and the notion that someone else will come along and fix things. It clocks in at a brisk 80 minutes, and did leave me wanting more.

Idiocracy is a strange bird. It’s often funny as hell, at least if you’re part of the elite of snobs who do elitist, snobby things like think and discuss things. I think it’s fair to say that Mike Judge has little love for insipid sloganeering and macho talking points. I should also point out that it’s also strangely optimistic about the future; at least we get there. We may devolve somewhat on the way, but we do get there.

On the downside, it’s kind of half-baked, like I mentioned; sort of Brave New World with dick jokes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but considering the attention to details in places (everyone wears sandals, for example, because they’re too stupid to tie their shoelaces…or so I assumed) this often lends it an unfinished air. On the plus side, a dumber, i.e. more conventional movie would have rammed these jokes down our throats; here, they’re just hovering in the background for us to discover. And there are tons of small perversions on familiar logos and profiles, like the CostCo greeter who vacuously tells all customers “Welcome to CostCo. I love you”.

Beavis & Butthead was a show about two idiots watching TV, which ironically became a huge hit with idiots who watch TV. I should know, I was one such bonehead. As such, it was a very meta comment on the “ironic” nineties. (The nineties were ironic when they weren’t earnest. I think it all depended on whether you preferred rock or pop). Idiocracy is also a work about idiots best suited to stay in front of their TVs, but it tanked at the box office. It was on the shelf for nearly a year before being released. I guess the studio didn’t know what to do with it, which I can understand. I guess Mike Judge couldn’t pull it off twice, but I do see why a certain type of person would be less than amused.


  • Director: Mike Judge
  • Cast: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Terry Crews
11.03.2007 • Permalink