Sometimes satire is painfully true (2007)
have seen the future, and it’s dopey. The 2006 film
Idiocracy takes a dumbed-down world to its nadir, six
hundred years from now. Consumers sit at home watching
wall-size televisions, crammed with multiple ad-windows.
The most popular show,"Ow! My Balls!" features a character
who suffers multiple blows to his testicles. The population
of half-wits parrot simple slogans, such as "money is
good," and are tracked by RFID barcode-style tattoos.
Everyone and everything in this black comedy is loud,
stupid, and expendable.
Luke Wilson plays the thoroughly average Joe Bauers, an
army librarian enlisted for a military hibernation
experiment. His companion for the experiment is a
prostitute by the name of Rita. After the mission commander
is arrested for his extracurricular bidness with Rita’s
pimp, the authorities demolish the operation, burying the
forgotten pair. Centuries later, their hibernation pods are
disturbed by the "Great Garbage Avalanche," in which a
mountain of unattended trash rains down onto a 26th century
Joe and Rita, not the smartest folks in the world, become
just that when they wake up in the future. English has
"degenerated into a hybrid of hillbilly, Valley Girl and
inner city slang, " and Joe is mocked for his style of
speech, which sounds "pompous and faggy" to the people of
In the film, a sports drink company called Brawndo
purchases the entire Food and Drug Administration, after
water is deemed a threat to the company’s profit margin.
People quench their thirst with Brawndo("The Thirst
Mutilator") instead. Even the crops are irrigated with the
sports drink. When Joe argues against this agricultural
policy with White House cabinet members, they sleepily
respond with the company’s advertising slogan: "Brawndo’s
got what plants crave."
With the real-world Food and Drug Administration in the
grip of corporate lobbyists, Idiocracy’s comic prophecy
seems more like fifty years in the future than five
hundred. Dwayne Alezando Camacho, "five-time Ultimate
Smackdown champion, porn superstar, and President of the
United States" seems only a hop away, conceptually, from
the current occupant of the Oval Office.
President Camacho’s cabinet meetings are all snorting
guffaws and brain-dead banter. Contrast this with the
recent testimony of the next House Intelligence Committee
Chairman, the man tasked to keep the US safe from terror.
Last December, representative Silvestre Reyes revealed that
he had never heard of Hezbollah. When asked if Al-Qaeda is
Shiite or Sunni, he wrongly chose the former.
This is what gives Idiocracy its subversive bite: you laugh
bitterly at what seems, for all its absurdity, just a
simple extrapolation from present trends. Ironically, the
film was financed by 20th Century Fox , which is owned by
the world’s largest media conglomerate, Rupert Murdoch’s
News Corporation. The film’s portrayal of Fox News as forum
for trash-talking dimwits may have sealed Idiocracy’s fate,
promotionally. Originally destined for theatres, it went
straight to DVD.
Perhaps the Fox empire is in a hurry to make Idiocracy more
real than reel. Its latest game show offering is Are You
Smarter than a Fifth Grader? Adult contestants go up
against 5th graders, attempting to answer primary school
test questions. (We’re talking reality now.)
I can’t quite figure out this production. Is it a
straightforward celebration of antiintellectualism? Or is
it a shout-out to America’s confusion of smarts with rote
memory? Either way it appears to be broadcasting the
message that American adults are dumbasses. The contestants
tend to reinforce the message, getting flummoxed by
questions like is "Is the US in eastern or Northern
Are big broadcasters simply holding up a mirror to society?
Or are they offering distorted, fun house reflections, ugly
images that viewers are starting to internalize? Perhaps
it’s just about corporations stooping to conquer the lowest
common denominator. Yet it’s not hard to imagine some
social programming behind these high-production bread and
circuses. It’s just a refinement of the game invented by
Edward Bernays, godfather of the public relations industry.
In Idiocracy’s opening scenes, the narrator offers a simple
explanation for the drop in people’s IQs: the smarter,
cautious couples were outbred by the yobs with poor impulse
control. Whatever we make of that comedic trope, its
undeniable that poorly educated, apolitical consumers,
amusing themselves to death with hi-tech diversions, are
easier to fool than an engaged citizenry. The real game,
the real show, in North America is about growing income
disparities, decaying infrastructure, and media-mediated
dumbing down. Players have one prize-winning question left
to answer, before comedy morphs into reality: who benefits
from a confederacy of dunces?