Thursday, January 17, 2008

Idiocracy and the Future

Religious followers of this blog (i.e., me) know my feelings on post-apocalyptic movies. I realize now I haven't deconstructed as many as I should have. But here's one: The Mike Judge comedy Idiocracy.

Judge came to my attention in the late '80s/early '90s as the creator of this little cartoon shown at Spike & Mike's Sick and Twisted animation festival. The toon was reminiscent of This Is Spinal Tap, in that it parodied a group, and that group loved it. It was called "Frog Baseball" and featured the first appearance of Beavis and Butthead.

Judge went on to create the remarkably consistent "King of the Hill" and the cult classic Office Space. So I ran out to see Idiocracy when it had it's two-day run here in the big city.

The premise of Idiocracy is simple and not original: Since smart people reproduce selectively and dumb people reproduce indiscriminately, the population of the earth will get dumber and dumber as time passes. In this case, an average Joe (played by Owen Wilson) pulls a Rip Van Winkle and wakes up 500 years into the dumbed-down future.

Of course, this is a fairly preposterous premise: Society would collapse into barbarism in short order. This is shown in a jokey fashion, of course, because the truth is far too depressing, and it makes a far better (and funnier) commentary on contemporary society to have modern "dumb" aspects of society exaggerated.

Idiocracy doesn't have the dense humor and ubiquitous relevance that Office Space has, so I doubt it will reach the heights of cult appreciation the latter does. But it is pretty funny, and occasionally right on the mark (as social satire).

What surprises me a bit is that I've yet to read a discussion of the movie that looked at its premise from a historical basis. After all, this whole premise of "we're being out-bred by the masses" was a staple of early 20th century eugenics.

Modern birth control and the whole shift from "go forth and multiply" to "too many people" came down to an idea of "too many of the wrong kind of people". People of lesser intelligence, or as a shorthand, people of poorer scores on IQ tests, people of lower social stations and people of the wrong shade, were the wrong kind of people.

Intriguingly enough, most reports I hear indicate that the younger generations have increasingly higher IQs. We manage to offset that through poor education, to some degree, and of course the big factor is that we can afford to act stupider these days--so we do. (Seriously, you have to be pretty alert when the saber tooth tiger is roaring at the mouth of your cave.)

That's the "push" factor: People get smarter when they have to.

Idiocracy has a curious moral message tucked in among the humor. When you get down to it, the premise of Idiocracy doesn't allow for a "happy" resoloution: If you accept the initial premise, you can see it's pretty much an unalterable recipe for doom. But in the end, as with Office Space, the regular Joe, the slacker, finds a sort of peace by taking more responsibility than he was initially comfortable with.

But let's be honest: We watch it and laugh at the ass jokes and "Ow! My balls!"

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