Mike Judge knows a bit about stupidity. His obituary creation — whatever else he does, and whether he likes it or not — will be Beavis & Butt-Head, a knowing satire of American morons that also happened to appeal to American morons (as well as smart people). Well, Judge has seen the future, and the future is so dumb it would find Beavis & Butt-Head refined and “faggy.”
Idiocracy, consigned to a quick seven-city run before emerging on DVD, concerns an entirely average low-level Army bureaucrat, Pvt. Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), who gets cryogenically frozen for what’s supposed to be a year. Instead, Joe wakes up five hundred years later, when the gene pool has been befouled by generations of heedlessly reproducing morons. The result is a world — or an America — in thrall to corporate slogans and distracted by TV shows like Ow! My Balls! and the multiple-Oscar-winning film Ass.
If you don’t find this premise all that far-fetched, you might find Idiocracy less funny than depressing. Like all good dystopian visions, it extrapolates the nightmare of the future from the nightmare of the present. (Dana Stevens of Slate has compared Idiocracy to Children of Men.) Judge never names President George W. Bush, but he doesn’t have to; the movie fulfills every liberal intellectual’s wildest dark fantasies about the takeover of smirking brutes. Judge’s barbs are essentially apolitical, though; after all, Beavis & Butt-Head were created during the Clinton administration. If anything, Idiocracy aims its venom at corporatized culture, which existed long before Dubya and will exist long after he steps down.
Accompanied by fellow cryogenic subject Rita (Maya Rudolph), a prostitute in constant fear that her pimp Upgrayedd will somehow track her down, Joe attempts to deal with a world in which he’s the smartest person alive. He’s put in jail, then released and promoted to Secretary of the Interior by current president Camacho (Terry Crews), who hopes a man as smart as Joe might be able to fix society’s many problems — the dead crops, the heaps of garbage, the failed “ecomony.” One problem is that water has been replaced by “Brawndo,” a Gatorade-type sports drink. Why? Because Brawndo now owns the FDA.
Idiocracy gets a lot of mileage out of the same stupid humor it condemns, which is fine — so did Beavis & Butt-Head. But there’s considerable wit in the production design, as crammed with satirical detail as a Mad comics panel by Bill Elder. Some of the corporations in the film are made up, but some aren’t — I can’t imagine Starbucks being thrilled with the idea of their stores someday becoming hand-job havens. Judge imagines a society completely given over to sex, violence, and immediate gratification. This satirist is aptly named — he sits in scornful judgment of what he sees us becoming.
It’s been said that Idiocracy‘s release was suppressed by Fox bigwig Rupert Murdoch, who didn’t take kindly to the film’s broadsides against real corporations. (Fox News gets bitch-slapped in the movie, too.) If true, that sucks, but I’d rather believe that than reflect on why the company is only too happy to release bilge like Night at the Museum or Deck the Halls (movies that might appeal to the groundlings in Idiocracy). I was entertained and fascinated throughout, but I didn’t find myself laughing much. This might be because it’s tough to laugh at a future vision of widespread stupidity during a time of widespread stupidity. I look forward to a time when I can safely laugh at Idiocracy, but that time may not come any time soon. I don’t think Mike Judge expects that it will, either.