When Laguna Beachers and NASCAR fans mate

Mike Judge’s scarcely released film “Idiocracy” gets a second chance on DVD

by Matt Graham

Dystopian tales tend to come in one of two flavors, the Orwellian, “1984” variety (Big Brother entity watches and regulates your every move), or the Huxleyan “Brave New World” variety (narcotized public becomes too enamored with its own entertainments to give a damn).

“Idiocracy,” Mike Judge’s (“Beavis and Butt-Head,” “King of the Hill,” “Office Space”) over-the-top comedy recently released on DVD, is one of the latter.

The film opens with a narrator’s summation of our current era. It seems the intelligent, educated members of the population – represented by a husband-and-wife pair with IQs of 138 and 141, respectively – keep putting off the decision to have children, often waiting until it’s too late. Meanwhile, the less educated members of society – represented by the redneck Clevon – are reproducing like rabbits.

Fast forward to the year 2505: English has devolved into a mixture of “hillbilly, valley girl, inner-city slang and grunts;” garbage mounds reach to the sky; the most popular film in the land is the Oscar-winning “Ass,” an extended shot of a farting bum; Law degrees come from Costco; the secretary of state is sponsored by Carl’s Jr., and says so at the end of each sentence; Starbucks specializes in “Adult Lattes” (hand jobs); “Ow! My Balls!” is the most popular TV show; all crops are watered by a flavored sports drink, because its electrolytes are “What plants crave!”

When abnormally average Army private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) and hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Rita (Maya Rudolph) awake from their cryogenic chambers in this idiotic future after a military experiment gone awry, an IQ test reveals Joe to be the smartest human alive (sample question: “What’s two plus two?”).

Directed by: Mike Judge
Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard
Rated: R
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Even though everybody in this future laughs at Joe for sounding “faggy” every time he opens his mouth to speak an ordinary sentence, he is made the secretary of the interior and asked to fix the famine that has taken over the land. But Joe doesn’t want to lead, he just wants to find a time machine and get home.

The appearance on DVD of “Idiocracy” makes it available to a wide audience for the first time. Despite Mike Judge’s history of success, Fox only released the film in 125 theaters, sent out no promotional material for it and refused to answer questions why. Some have speculated that their lack of support came from the anticorporate message (Carl’s Jr.’s new slogan: “Fuck you! I’m eating!”), while others have cited the implied dysgenic suggestion that dumb people shouldn’t breed as too offensive for a major film.

It’s a shame the film didn’t get more support, because it couldn’t be more poignant.

“Idiocracy” takes dead aim at the crass consumerism and the blatant anti-intellectualism that abounds in today’s culture. It’s a time when biblical literalist Dubya Bush can win an election, when “My Super Sweet 16,” “Laguna Beach” and a string of formulaic forensics dramas are hit TV shows. It’s a time when ultra-slick popular music has become an altar to the almighty dollar, and people waiting in line for days to buy a video game system are the top story on the “news” networks. Bookstores can’t stock Mitch Albom fast enough, but forget about Dostoyevsky. Maybe mind-numbingly mediocre entertainments are nothing new, but certainly they’ve never been so omnipresent.

Given that these media are riddled with advertising, is it any surprise that “keeping up with the Jonses” is our new national pastime, crushing debt our new status quo?

Alas, the movie is riddled with aesthetic flaws, and so becomes what it itself criticizes. The characters are caricatures, the plot is incidental, the cinematography is average and, after the initial hilarity of the sheer outrageousness of the prophesied future, the joke starts to get old (Mike Judge, the TV veteran, would’ve done better turning this into a half-hour featurette).

But it’s Judge’s talent to use the media of junk culture to criticize its morals and mores. Given the tripe that fills up cineplexes, “Idiocracy” deserves more support than it got. Somebody needs to sound the clarion call, and how many filmmakers have the courage to point the finger at their own audience?

But is it too late? Media saturation is only going to grow, likely without any accompanying improvement in quality, and nobody really seems to care about the government-and-advertiser created Panopticon we increasingly inhabit. Soon, we’ll never have to be without a video screen, never have to be alone with ourselves. Maybe George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were both a bit off the mark, in that they both only got it half-right. Worse, maybe their scenarios aren’t future possibilities, but present realities.