Dated Relevance

Idiocracy is a film by Mike Judge who is well known for the animations Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill and his other cult classic film Office Space. I was only vaguely familiar with these properties and only came to appreciate the latter more recently. Idiocracy was recommended to me by an American I met in my early years in Japan. This person was a liberal (in the American sense) and this was around the end of the George W. Bush Presidency. The film was also released in 2006 which was when Bush’s presidency had reached its zenith and was going down fast. Although I never liked George W. Bush or neoconservatives, I didn’t like the frequently obnoxious American liberals any better (friend excepted). As I have said before, mine was a lonely position back then. It also meant I was put off the film because I assumed it would be an unsubtle attack on the type of Americans that unfortunately tended to support Bush and his wars but generally weren’t bad people otherwise. This assumption wasn’t completely wrong but there is a lot more depth in Idiocracy than I assumed initially.

In some ways it is what I assumed but the emphasis isn’t really political and the trajectory of American society in the film didn’t change at all when Obama was elected just a few years after the film’s release. The message of the film is not subtle but it would be silly to claim it takes a political position when it is really pointing at the mass culture of Americans in general. Almost anyone of any political position could make the film work to their prejudices unless they happened to believe most citizens being stupid, unhealthy, unchaste wastrels was a good basis for a stable society.

The plot centers around Joe Bauers, an unambitious man of middling intelligence being selected for a military experiment to test suspended animation. A prostitute named Rita is also hired for the same experiment. Both end up waking up five hundred years in the future to a society that has continued to decline. The now largely automated infrastructure is decaying but still sustaining an immensely stupid populace. The first thought that went through my head was that things would never have been allowed to get that bad before (likely malevolent) forces either domestic or foreign, took advantage. But you really aren’t supposed to think too much into the premise and just imagine it as a “what if?”

Mike Judge seems to genuinely like the average American that just wants his little slice of life and nothing more. Hank Hill from King of the Hill, Peter Gibbons in Office Space as well as the “every Joe” in this film demonstrate this. It is also further proof that you aren’t really supposed to read anything explicitly political into this film by claiming Idiocracy represents a “Republican future” such as my friend would have said. Judge has generally avoided being openly political and his show King of the Hill is a largely sympathetic portrayal of a conservative family. The pageantry of excess that certainly did characterise aspects of the 2016 Trump campaign and presidency was compared to Idiocracy but this was a decade later. Of more relevance was the Governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger in California at the time of the film’s actual release. Indeed, California is much closer to the society portrayed in Idiocracy today than any majority conservative states are. With decaying urban centers and infrastructure as well as increased crime coupled with an increasingly arbitrary rule of law — modern Los Angeles looks a lot more like Idiocracy than the rural south.

Not lost on critics were the dysgenic implications present in the film. The opening shows a typical American Jewish upper-class couple who keep putting off children due to career commitments and ultimately have none which is contrasted with people in a trailer park who continue to breed. I note that the actor who played one of them has only had one child himself. The people of the dystopian society shown in the future aren’t just descendants from the trailer park but a racial blob of African, Hispanic and White which is increasingly close to reality in the United States. This aspect as well as the mention of declining IQ being at the root of it is what attracted naughty thinkers like Steve Sailer to the film. He still refers to it to this day.

This aspect of the film is even more verboten today as the science of IQ has become associated almost exclusively with people who think like I do. Its release in the Bush era occurred when liberals generally considered themselves more intelligent than stupid conservatives which was reinforced in books and television at the time (Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men for example). This is a position they’ve become less likely to take given the realities of their base then and increasingly today. IQ science also presents a very uncomfortable realities concerning race.

Corporations were also a big target of the film with the people using energy drinks to water crops and wondering why they’ve created a dustbowl. The population is only literate enough to recognise brand names and corporate advertising is spread everywhere. This was an on point criticism of the average conservative at the time who tended to be fanatically pro-market. Think back to Sarah Palin walking out on stage to some conference with a giant disposable cup of soft drink that had been banned from sale in New York. The average conservative would energetically react to minor government actions like this while ignoring the much more dangerous apparatus being built over it; that has taken far more effect in recent years. The corporations as well as professional sports have wedded themselves to the government and don’t even pretend otherwise. This has had the positive effect of making more people realise how vulgar and damaging fanatical support of American corporate culture has been.

Idiocracy is in some ways dated but it is still a relevant film on the whole. It has been quite prescient in many ways and hundreds of years sooner than predicted.

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