Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thoughts on Idiocracy OR “Brawno’s got what plants crave!”

[Whoa, haven't updated the blog in a long time, so here's some old posts that have been in the que. Probably need editing, but oh well.]

The wife and I watched Idiocracy this weekend on the recommendation of a friend. I was skeptical (with adequate warnings
of silliness), but as it is a Mike Judge film (Office Space) I thought I’d give it a go. It was difficult to watch (with little to no
dialogue), but we made it through. Before I get to my thoughts I must say a word about social commentary and farce.

Anyone who watches Idiocracy realizes one of the goals of the film is to be silly and make people laugh. However, the film
is a social commentary, and therefore deserves critical thought about its statements and apparent goals. The danger here is
to take too seriously that which was not seriously intended. But this puts commentators in an awkward position to criticism
themselves – not unlike Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. You see, Brown offered in his preface that the facts of the story
were well researched and implied that his distortion of Biblical textual history was correct, though it was presented in a fictive
form. Anyone who critiqued the claims in the text was lambasted as “taking a novel too seriously.” I’m sure something similar
could be said about this silly little blog entry; however the film did make (“an assload” – to adopt the parlance of the film - of)
statements about society and civilization, though they were through a silly medium.

Briefly, the plot is centered on a dystopian future wherein stupid people out-reproduce intelligent people. Without checks on
this process for 500 years, culture is reduced to a farting buttocks on screen for 90 minutes (the acclaimed film Ass), language
is reduced to catch phrases and grunts, and the American consumerist mentality is taken to its glutinous extreme: lard-suckling
corpulent masses and trash mountains overwhelming the landscape. Into this depressing milieu an average sluggard from our era
is inserted via an Army experiment neglected (not without a few laughs proffered by glamorizing illegal prostitution in the US –
a cruel modern slave trade).

The film presents an atheistic future. I’m not sure if this is intentional or just the product of the writer’s/producer’s worldview,
but the 26th century is a world without God. More surprisingly, it is a world without religion. The only cult is the cult of
personality, as “President Camacho’s” image is plastered everywhere and celebrity recognition exists for “Beef Supreme” (a
correctional department officer, and the new nick-name of my pudgy 5-month old son) and “Hormel Chavez” (the star of the
hit sitcom – “Ow, my balls!”.) I find this particularly fascinating as the old canard of “religion is for the ignorant/stupid” and
the use of god-myths as a means of explaining the mysterious aspects of reality, seems best suited to this fictitious age. I can
only assume that this has been forgotten by the film-makers and thus as gods are not on their minds, gods do not feature in the
future. The universality of death, one would think, would retain supernatural explanations in the consciousness of any society,
whether you think such things are correct or not. And while on the subject of death, it is interesting that while guns and phallic
battle cars – both clearly designed to kill – are invoked, I can only recall one person dying on screen in the film. Even the one
fatality I can recall (wherein a convict is run over by a Zamboni-style lawn mower/execution device) seemed disassociated
from death as 1) his actual death was obscured by the machine and non-descript “parts” were ejected from the mower and 2) his
death was presented in a comedic/entertainment format (a lá The Running Man.) In sum the execution seemed rather “clean”
considering the rest of the film’s filth. Regardless, a teenage “live forever” mentality appears present in the film, perhaps as
another consequence of the “hormone amped idiot teenage patriarchy” back-story that got humanity into the situation in the first
place. The atheistic vision was quite stark though, similar to the film Castaway.

Beside the atheistic future, or perhaps as a consequence of it, the base nature of people as animals was demonstrated in a near
total moral bankruptcy. The assumption that stupid people would behave without moral compass is a little off-putting and mean.
Sadly, many extremely intelligent people have been extraordinarily selfish and evil over the centuries, so this assumption seems
poorly placed, however, it sure gets a lot of cheap laughs when Starbucks becomes a bordello and each man’s existence (and it is
a MAN’s existence as women are further reduced to sex objects) is summed by eating butter and exercising his loins.

Not only is the world solely for a man, apart from god(s), but it is an exclusively “Uhmerican” vision we are offered. While
multi-ethnic, it was not multi-national. Apparently American awesomeness destroyed or overran other nations. However silly
that part of the plot might be (though unstated in the film), I think this aspect is more a commentary on the current American
audience for whom the world does not extend beyond what CNN/Fox/CNBC and E! tell them.

Another observation from the film was the surprising resiliency of the American corporate sector. Despite the complete
destruction of foundational social relationships (of which a corporation is a sort of artificial offspring), corporations appear to
have increased in prominence and control in a sort of “leftist nightmare” wherein government regulators are co-opted to advance
corporate interests. But really, is it going to take 500 years for us to spray our fields with Brawno! - the thirst mutilator - when
we’ve already attempted (THE ONCE FDA APPROVED!) feeding of our cattle the ground parts of other cattle (producing
MAD COW DISEASE!), and we continue to feed our animals and ourselves in ways which immediately imperil our health
but provide short term profits? Will it really take us that long to kill ourselves when we subsidize the destruction of farm
land, our air, and water? The “funny” thing about Idiocracy is how little has to change in 500 years to get from here to there.

The entertainment focused future of Idiocracy appears to be the best polemic I can think of against the age of Television. The
future is devoid of reading, and the life of the mind is reduced as described above. I don’t consider myself literati, but after
watching this film, I feel I owe it to myself to read more. For the love, as it were.

I will not watch Idiocracy again, and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are on a serious Mike Judge kick or are ready for

countless crude gags – perhaps redundant conditions? Wait, I take that back, I do recommend this if for a good time, and
encouraging maximum cognitive dissonance, you first watch something like Glengarry Glenross in the same weekend. Joking
aside, I don’t think it was Judge at his best, as this critique of Uhmerica lacked the subtlety of the brilliant Office Space.
Laughing at stupid people grew old quickly for me, but perhaps I am a cruel person and enjoyed it longer than I ought to have.

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