Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews (not the writer), Sara Rue and myriad other morons.
Two average, yet very brave Americans—an average Army soldier and your average hooker—are sent as accidental “time travelers” from 2005 into the year 2505 after a series of freakish events. When they arrive to their new timeline, they find an America so devolved, so dumbed-down that they’re now the smartest people around. Dang.
So “smart” that no one will hear them out. Kinda like yer typical Fox News audience.
Want some Cheetos? You need Cheetos. I love you.
This might be commentary on our popular culture and our place within it. No, I’m not talking about this week’s post. Not really.
Many moons ago I read this essay entitled Anti-Intelleuctualism In American Life by one Richard Hofstadter. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The long and the short of the book was a careful, thoughtful examination of how the then-present groupthink of America was destroying critical thinking, upending it with vilification of entertainment and convenience. It was written in then-recent post-war years, and the dawn of new tech promised time once taken up by harvesting crops, Blue Mondays and where the hell did my car keys go to introspection and finally enough time to squat down with all those Danielle Steele novels you’ve been promising yourself.
I know Steele was not published at the time. Unsure if she was even out of junior high. I do not care. Roll with me here.
The opposite proved true, and still does today. The free time allowed by new tech devolved into free time musing. Now what? I’m bored. All this time. Those Steele books all have the same plot. I still have 13 loads of whites to do and the damned machine keeps choking on all that soap and stains. Let’s check out the newscast.
I later read a book called The Media Monopoly by one Ben Bagdikian. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Written decades later after Hofstadter’s cautionary tale. The book talked about the subjective social context in how text has had the power to manipulate American minds to automatically think along partisan lines. In the process negating the need for deduction, critical thinking and simply questioning “Why am I reading this and what am I getting out of it?” Solid bedrock of individual thought against an omnipotent word causing what modern psychotherapists call “cognitive dissonance.”
The upgrades proved true, and still do today. We ingest terabytes of data every minute from nameless, faceless entities telling us how to form opinions, and any informed ideas are scurried to the back of the queue for lack of T & A.
Now. Ten years ago (at this time of posting) we have Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to the World Wide Web, all the info accrued over millennia at your touchscreens seldom have anything to do with understanding how the human genome was dissected. Nopes.
We gots porn, dancing kitties and porn. And kittie porn. And kiddie porn. Gah.
The Hofstadter book was published in 1963, post-Kennedy, pre-Newscorp. The Bagadikian screed in 1983, post-Newscorp, pre-Internet.
You remember what you had for breakfast today? Twitter and Cap’n Crunch, I betcha. That and that lingering hangover. Trust you found the cure for that on Ashton Kutcher’s feed.
If any of you Gen X’ers/ironic Millenials out there remember this, I might be surprised but not very shocked. There was this user-geek post-punk/art prank rock unit out of Ohio calling themselves Devo. The former might recall the subversive “Whip It” music video on MTV. The latter might—just might—be wearing their concert tee right now. Devo took their moniker as shorthand for the theory of “devolution.” A Darwinian concept that certain species can buck the trend and revert back to a more primitive, impulsive, survivalist, “simpler” path of life. In easier terms, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Behold, Spike TV. Formerly TNN, The Nashville Network. Noodle that.
But really. I’ll try to get serious now. Try. As if I weren’t reaching for something a few paragraphs ago. You still clutching that Android, mate?
All didactic bitterness aside, if you look around over the past fifty years, our culture has indeed gotten softer and softer, more and more bored and what social interests are shared in social media usually revolve around celebrities, political pundits smearing other political pundits (think AlterNet vs Fox News) and those omnipresent kitties. To put that in further perspective, in America’s capitalist system, who are the best paid workers? That answer: entertainers. Actors. Athletes. To a certain degree politicians (especially with this administration). It’s never educators. Not first responders. Not science-minded folks (save Neil Tyson, but he and Bill Nye got their feet wet awhile ago thanks to TV) who try to better expand peoples’ world view.
Nope. We’ve learned to like and keep it fast, simple and shiny. When I heard the story (allegedly true) that some kid held up another kid at gunpoint for his then new PS3 brandishing a weapon worth three new PlayStations, my face fell.
There are two kinds of stories. Those that are true, and those that should be. Truth’s boring and/or hostile. Better to change the channel. That’s easier. Don’t think too much about the bad sh*t that might inconvenience you life with your slog of a job, endless Netflix feed and the clutch of PS4’s WiFi commune in your ‘rents garage. You you 43 old virgin, you. Thank God for Internet porn to salve that.
The smarter our distractions get, the dumber we get. No need to really bear much scrutiny to where our tax dollars really go so long as we let someone else “smarter” than us handle things. Devo’s choice of moniker stemmed from the term “devolution” again, based on the band’s perception of evidence of dysfunction paired with herd mentality in American society. They were sharp enough to know Rome didn’t fall in a day. It took a lot of bread and circus over decades. They might, just might have been onto something. That was their past viewpoint. Devo eventually reunited years later, reheating their message thru music to a cult following and an indifferent public, glued to their smartphones, checking out Cnet’s take on the Nintendo Switch.
Oh well, maybe the new present isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Or is it?
To the future then…!
According to early 21st Century social scientists, American society is in a state of rapid social decline. The more well-heeled elements of society—the brighter and maybe more brilliant folks—are reluctant to form families in sight of the troubles afflicting our media-saturaed culture. However humdrum lower classes are thriving, if only to mentally check out against the endless bureaucracy that insists on cracking down on their cable black boxes. So, naturally, the military steps in. And if you can’t trust the US military, who can’t you trust?
Enter Joe Bauers (Wilson), the most average Joe indeed in the US Army.
He’s a do-nothing clerk in a deliberate going nowhere job in an unseen post in a forgotten government facility. Namely the ideal subject for a top, top, TOP secret project experiment within the bowels of military clandestine experimentation.
Joe is indeed the ideal candidate. According to his aptitude scores, his is a straight line across the boards. The experiment assigns Joe to be a “time traveller.” The guys with the the white coats have developed a human time capsule. Simply put, the subject is placed into hibernation as a control to be awakened later in history to be the yardstick of social evolution based against the future they are revived in. To quote cranky sci-fi author Harlan Ellison, a “temponaut” (not said in the film to avoid immediate legal action, and only co-opted here for lack of a better term) as it were.
Uh, sure. Joe agrees, so long as it commutes his stay in the Army. He lays down in his capsule, but not alone. Such a risky experiment with a risky subject needs an even riskier control. Needing a way out, the boys in khahi recruit (i.e. nab) your average, willing hooker on the run Rita (Rudolph) as a control to the control. Get to sleep kids, the fate of the future might be in your average hands!
Naturally, the experiment goes haywire. Joe and Rita were plugged away for a year. Funding and espionage screwed it all up, and the project was swiftly lost. They don’t awake one year later. They awake 500 years later to an America they barely recognize. At first it looks like America has slipped a bit away from its projected social hierarchy downhill, but after bumbling about, talking like a “fag” and drinking knock-off Gatorade f*cking everywhere, Joe comes to a startling conclusion.
And him even having a startling conclusion is the first smart thing in centuries…
Yeah, so I guess I crawled up mine own arse introducing this pastiche Idiocracy. Citing all dem smart books and commencin’ to look down on the lot of y’all. Not at all. The film’s a satire. You gotta have some direct context to appreciate a film like this. Satire is all about skewering real world issues couched in humor. Bleak, black humor sure, but hopefully funny and enlightening also. What I yakked about above wasn’t fluffy, but within context might pique one’s curiousity—if not codify—the sense of absurdity in the world.
Director Judge did this for five years courtesy of MTV when Beavis And Butt-Head caught fire (wink wink). His went to prove that sometimes satire comes in dumb packages rather than from a sharp Carlin bit. Yeah, those two morons were dumber than a sack of hammers, but they were funny and screamed social commentary about Gen-x’s consumer/pop culture absorbtion better than any article in Spin could illustrate. Heh heh.
Fast forward. This century. As a filmmaker, Judge never seems to get his due in regard to satire. True, his cinematic output is summed up in, what, three movies? And those being Extract, Office Space and of course Idiocracy.
Despite the short CV, Judge’s flicks (for those who have seen them, and are usually under-employed 30-somethings with a cupboard of Ramen, Pop-Tarts and hate) speak to the seminal disdain we all have from time to time to forever for the mundane absurdity that gets wrapped around us pursuing the paycheck and the best parking spot. In short, life is short and its getting ever shorter.
Judge understands this. All we strive for is ultimately futile. We’re all gonna die, and hopefully painless, in our sleep and quiet. Unlike the other passengers in the car. When Judge gets behind the wheel, hyped up on the Mountain Dew and fast asleep, buckle up and go for the ride, short as it will be. Geronimo.
Idiocracy was notorious being lousy on admission. That’s an old-fashioned med school term for a patient admitted for unsure reasons. Abortive, as it were. Hollywood funded a strange bird, not sure what kind of audience would bite. A risk, regardless of the movie’s content. But hey, Beavis and King Of The Hill cachet. Flip a coin. The short view yielded trumps, but the longview brought press. Sure, immediate press almost guarantees fast cash in Tinsel Town, but that doesn’t mean a franchise in the waiting.
Cult status? Ah, low hanging fruit, but often fruitful. Explain away the many, many reboot films of recent based on other slugs. Dredd, Power Rangers and technically Casino Royale. Yeah, two of those three bit the big one. Those prior there were hardly outright cultly things, A key audience was assured, but not enough to cash in on. Not immediately. I mean Rocky Horror tanked at the outset. These days? What film dork doesn’t quietly grin when they plunk the raw bread into the toaster? Right. Sometimes it’s the insidious stuff that makes movies work, prove eventually worthwhile. But it requires gestation, patience for the proper audience to sit down, check it out and check out often. Hence Evil Dead 2, The Warriors and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension (“Look! Evil!”). Nary a fresh horse in that herd, but try not to quote them despite never seeing them (“Look! Evil!”).
Um, Idiocracy is sorta in that camp. Cult, to be sure, but not in the camp that Office Space secured. I recall a time back when I worked in a mobile phone call center. Tech support. In the early aughts, when these gizmos were the first wave. I crashed in the commissary for the mandatory lunch break where free cable scarred the random TVs that hung from the ceiling like a techno lynching waiting to happen. Office Space was flickering, and all present were snickering with empathy. One supervisor, a large but short man was there. He was giggling along as well as frequently announcing to us lackeys, “We can’t be watching this. We can’t be watching this!” He was fooling as well as serious. I could smell the collective rolling of eyes, including mine.
He was later canned (as was I now that I mention it. Tech companies are strict when it comes to where staples go), sort of a latent portent of how the machine works beneath the underpinnings. Or some sh*t. In any event, we both lost our posts after an innocuous viewing of Mike Judge’s satiral meta-dramedy whilst brown-bagging it.
There’s a message there. There must be. There better be. I never collected my last check.
Like most satires (minus missing a week’s pay), there is a message there. You just gotta be astute enough and receptive enough to get the lesson. Also like what become cult movies. Both revelations occur by accident. Ask Dr Frank N Furter.
Judge seems doomed to be a cult director. Such a provence is seldom a chosen goal. It just…happens. Corman may have had the right idea, and possibly the prototype (archetype might be more accurate. Thank Ed Wood the former really), and his progeny/students—actual and spiritual—James Cameron, Ridley Scott and even Martin Scorsese took the ball and f*cking ran with it. The former got a foothold with The Terminator, Blade Runner and Mean Streets respectively, but not intentionally. That’s how cult status in film happens. There is no formula, just happenstance.
Judge is a creature of happenstance. His work is his lot in life. Observe and report. Making the mundane not. Only later to reap any reward, often long after such ships have sailed. To this day I still believe Beavis & Butt-Head Do America was some kind of contractual obligation, like the odd live album of a band falling out of their original deal. Judge was sharp enough to kill off those dimwits, lest suburban teen US caught on to the joke. So onto the autobio King Of The Hill and in come the royalty checks to fund stuff like Office Space and Idioracy. Let’s see who laughs last.
I’m wagering Judge didn’t crack much of a smile. Some muted ire was behind Idiocracy. It shows how possible future entertainment plays out in his alt-2505. 2005 was his then happenstance. He took advantage of that here.
Sorry. Being an asshat again. Deal. It might prove useful. Then again foe me, so would less questionable movie dissections and more 12 step programs.
Back to the fore. Idiocracy got slammed on two fronts. First, sh*tty returns. Enoough said there. Killer karma for Hollywood lobbyists (hey, what’s Affleck working on? No, the other one). Second, sh*tty backing. Party line went that Fox didn’t know what to make of this project, so precious little promo went into marketing Idiocracy as the too-close-to-home satire that it was. Traveling tip: don’t lampoon the machine that sponsors your film/bite the hand that feeds an endless maw.
Imagine that. The moneymaker behind Beavis and Hank Hill got the shaft twice over from Hollyweird. Well after Office Space began to earn something thanks to cable/rentals, the slow cred granted Judge to indulge his id, as it were (again, thanks to the studio). The cash rolled in thanks to random viewing in mobile phone call centers’ cafeterias the world over. That and starring the guy from early Wes Andersen films. So why not bankroll the middle-aged wunderkind to skewer pop culture again on the silver screen again? Sure, Office Space…tanked. But look at what Netflix reaped!
Something tells me that was the thought process behind he heads at wavering Reynolds Pictures desperate to capitalize on something, even being an indie studio with the budget to prove it. At the time of Idiocracy, Fox was loose with patience with a bankable yuckfest. Judge took advantage. The best advantage, so much so to thumb his nose at his benefactors. In other words, Judge asked, “You want America in? I’ll make them go away.”
Ahem. The movie. The autopsy.
Idiocracy is a funny movie. Not funny ha-ha, and not funny peculiar either. Funny because the film seems prescient with very few moorings in reality. I read an interview with Judge about what was the inspiration behind Idiocracy. His take would make Devo proud. In short (and probably misquoting him. Ever notice that very little of the Internet has a fact checking department?), Judge commented on what Darwin theorized regarding humanity just isn’t happening. In sum, folks are getting stupiditer. Since most of us can’t disseminate fact from “fake news” and the irony is lost on The Big Bang Theory, Judge might’ve been onto something.
I will now not mention a drop about the 2016 election from here on out beyond this sentence (I don’t have to).
So yeah, Idiocracy is a curiosity. Almost a canard, and I ain’t talking ducks either. Namely and to the point you either get the film’s joke or just plain don’t. Or won’t. At first watch, Idiocracy is a live action cartoon meeting The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Another look is an over the top satire with irony decidedly not lost. It gets hard very fast to tell if Judge cut this slice to either entertain or warn. Like I said, not outright funny (although in a slow burn sense it is) and not outright weird (if you’re the kind to pause and take a look around you. If you can pocket your smartphone for a nanosecond). Is Idiocracy a morality tale for a culture swiftly losing its morality, or a portent?
You ever hear the saw that one’s sole purpose in life may be to serve as warning to others? Beavis and friends tried to tell you that. Now here is your potential progress. Regress is a more apt term.
But like with those seat belt deficient crash test dummies Vince and Larry warning motorists to click it or else (how’s that for dating me?), satire goes down better with humor. Idiocracy isn’t Swiftian in any solid sense regarding that guy’s self-righteous judgement that we’re all damned fools. Judge knows we’re all damned fools, serves it on a platter here and we eat it up. Thus proving some point.
Kinda circular I know, but regarding the fact that the human thumb is the most advanced part of any anatomy on the planet and seemingly stuck to the home key on an iPhone these days, well…
This blogger found Idiocracy difficult to watch, but not for the fact that it was sh*tty. Far from. Thus uber-satire was funny, tricky, cautious and downright interesting. Probably a view being a far cry from the hoi polloi. The truth is most people—f*ck it, all people—all people go to the movies to escape and be entertained. Unless you’re a Werner Herzog wonk, seldom does one traipse of to the cineplex to get educated. But to garner interest? Hell, that a key base for every movie ever made, despite their final aim.
Judge’s final aim was to pop the balloon here. Circular again. He wanted to warn, raise interest, fasten a few seat belts, entertain and delineate his homespun Darwinian theory against the pop culture addicted populace that made his career. It is to make your head spin. Maybe outright explode a al Scanners in 2025. Ow. My balls.
Speaking of which, I really found this an uncomfortable watch. Don’t misunderstand me, I found Idiocracy amusing for the wrong reasons. Wrong reasons, I think, as to what Judge was aiming at. Best advice I could offer a potential Idiocracy watcher? Think Devo. Whip it. Be stiff. Channel your inner jocko homo ladies. Accept the possible and quit squirming. It’ll only hurt more.
It was tricky for me because of my personality, mindset and very judgmental wide brush. Like the books I cited in the intro, no casual reader would take up with a later on high school debate team mentality at the ready. Whatever seasonal pro sports stats at hand maybe, but surely not Hofstadter.
Regardless of my prickly worldview, Idiocracy is a tricky day. I knew based on press that this was a comedy, a satire, a cartoon. I wasn’t ready for Judge’s pinpoint potential predictions so blatant against is what going on now in the back boardrooms. I know this screed is becoming perilously close to a posthumous Bill Hicks bit, but if you’re a thinking person you’ll get Judge’s joke/warning. It’s part of the fun. Granted it’s bilious, forlorn fun (if there is such a thing in this demented universe), but once you’re in on Judge’s “joke” Idiocracy becomes an ur-Swiftian comedy, complete with both physical comedy against fart jokes against characters named after snack chips.
Oddly enough, it all made sense. Idiocracy is a social microscope. How’s that? Well, for instance our culture is (0ver) saturated with advertising. From billboards on the highway to suggested feeds on FaceBook some company is always trying to bait you and separate you from your hard-earned wages on both essential and frivolous products alike. From car insurance to Blow-Pops, some company out there is trying to coerce you. It happens these days with such an endless, casual delivery we often fail to notice we notice. Idiocracy illustrates the natural outcome of this constant buffering. In Judge’s 2025, every surface is shellacked with ads, so much so that the dimwit populace fails to take note since, well, it’s the norm. So much so that Sheperd’s dope is named Frito. It’s funny stupid now, but considering all those solicitations on FaceBook it sounds like the logical outcome of a society immersed in taking in the others’ need to grow and thrive. And FaceBook launched in 2004, a mere year before Idiocracy came out and a far cry from a household name/app. I think Judge was accidentally onto something.
What Judge was definitely onto was the casting. C’mon now, at heart Idiocracy is indeed social commentary. No shock there, Frito. And of course the best way to get some message across in your movie to be choosy in whom you want to cast. Judge’s casting guys did a good job here. Luke Wilson’s average Joe is, well, perfect. He and his character are so nondescript he stands out, well before his jaunt into the stupid future. His Joe Bauer is all about “Huh?” and “Leave me alone” and “Now what?” Namely, any of us who are drawn out of our non-routine to be pressed to actually do anything outside our little, comfortable, microcosm. Joe’s not a slacker really, nor a dope, just a guy who got wrapped up in a wonky circumstance invited by his lame-o job and keeping out of the strong drafts.
I know that was a bad pun. Like Danielle Steele’s literary merit, I do not care.
Luke Wilson is Owen Lite. He’s less goof, more smart. His Joe—after bouncing 500 years into the future, that is—gives his “fish out of water” schtick all its got, because such a role as the most mediocre genius in the FaceBook suggestion future to empty heads requires a pretty sharp guy to recognize, reject then exploit the dumb. Joe is really us the audience. Opportunists, some of the laziest f*ckers to walk a flat earth. Long story short, Wilson is us to a T, and beside being a lost a fish his bewildered honesty is both endearing and (dare I suggest) hopeful. Look, there have been times when we’ve all considered ourselves the smartest person in the room—world. Joe satisfies that indulgence, no matter how self-righteous or misguided by fevered ego. Wilson is so, again dare I suggest, so sweet and awkwardly amusing it’s hard to not relate to the guy in a friendly, not disdainful way, Regardless of his circumstances or so-called smartness, I even suggest his performance is a step above his voice of reason in Wes Anderson’s debut/sacred cow Bottle Rocket.
Commence with beer cans, you dunces. Switch to bottles if you really want to intimidate me.
The flip side to the suddenly rational Joe is Rudolph’s idful, streetwise, practical and decidedly not intellectual Rita. She’s the one who passively screams to the audience the emperor’ss naked, but not saying so outright. Her delivery in 2025 is all about, “What the f*ck?” She doesn’t even accept her new normal…at all. She’s entreched isn her old normal. Hopefully akin to what a goggling audience is reacting to: ha ha what the f*ck right ha ha. Paired with Joe, Rita is the yang Joe’s yin needs to keep this screw-up on track. The voice of bewilderment paired with the voice of reason in a world devoid of both. 2025 is just one big FaceBook suggestion, and the pair are defiantly no, whether they realize their “no.”
The only acting blight on this movie is Dax Shepard. I’ll be short here. His character’s pointless beyond caging dumb laughs and acting as the low water mark example of dumb in a dumb world. Worse he’s boring. Must’ve paid off the casting director their weight in Fritos. That’s all.
Sorry, couldn’t resist. Is that a bottle?
What’s Easter egg fun about Idiocracy I found was it being cameo rich. Got the feeling the extras that landed in the flick were either fans of Jugde’s stuff and/or caught a whiff of the script and, sh*t, I gots to get me somma that! Lampooning the pervasive brainlessness in our so-called advanced society? Balloons are fun to pop. Stephen Root, Thomas Haden Church, Justin Long (maybe not him, really). These guys wanted in on the joke, or so it felt. Their mugging was a cute treat, reminding me of Bob Hope’s ironic walk-on in Spies Like Us, another satire about us versus them (check it out. It co-stars the voice of Yoda. Really). What I got out of the cameos’ blurbs was that it’s fun to be in on the joke. It always is.
We dig now that Idiocracy is satire; a comical cautionary tale (for those who are receptive). But as far as movies go that require dire straits to drive the plot home Idiocracy takes a small slice of cake. I claim this because the raison d’etre for Joe and Rita to wind up in this retarded fairy tale action. The Maguffin of Idiocracy is so subtle and slow-burning that it’s only at the butt end of the third act you finally, finally get the joke. There’s a satisfying punchline.
Something tells me that after all of Judge’s other projects Idiocracy was the easiest to make. I repeat, Judge got the inspiration for Beavis & Watson by observing dopey teens’ behavior in his Texas neighborhood. He burned lean tissue as a desk jockey, observing corporate absurdity to inspire Office Space. Guessing people watching was a pretty simple, easy muse for Idiocracy. That and also watching—observing—how folks slope their heads and shoulders down when stabbing at their iPhone, their apps more informative that some notions that may buffet against their user’s head and notice how their shoulders slump a little more.
The moral attached to Judge’s short bus morality/cautionary satire? Pay attention. The future might seem great, but it starts now. So to quote socially astute (and ultimately underrated for that matter) comic along this tack with this nugget: “If a kid calls his grandma Mommy and his mother Pam, he’s going to jail!”
Only Kevin Hart gets more laughs. His stuff requires less strenuous thought. He’s funny as Rock, but is better at delivering the urine with just enough sugar. Kinda like Judge with his cagey way of delivering his brand of satire. The dumb belies social commentary that if you catch yourself “getting it” you’re probably part of the problem. The social commentary, I feel, in Idiocracy is to be vigilant against ignorance, especially the willful kind. You know, the “I don’t know that and don’t wanna know that.” Let someone else do the thinking. I’m gonna pay attention my Snapchat count instead.
Wait. There was an election?
Rent it or relent it? Rent it, just don’t expect big yuk-yuks. Mostly a lot of snickers and cringing. Judge’s work is always funny, but Idiocracy was a tad too close for comfort for this blogger. You know, the guy who reads and is ambivalent about Gatorade. Heard it has electrolytes.
- The soundtrack is clever, if not predictable.
- “You’re all gonna paint then?”
- If this movie does not bug you, you are not Alex Jones.
- His role wasn’t much of a stretch for Sheperd, I’ll wager.
- “Thought your hair would be bigger.”
- Rudolph is premier butterface.
- The Oval Office here looks a bit like my old frat house. Probably still does here in 2016.
- Is the tattoo thing a bitter nod the the Holocaust? Discuss. Really.
- Rue lost weight. Where it mattered. I’m a pig.
- All this from living in Texas.
- “It is an interesting world, though.”
Billy Bob Thornton stars as The Man Who Wasn’t There. Wait, who’s Billy Bob Thornton? And what’s a remake? Film noir? And what are you guys doing in my living room? What blog?