Released in the same year as Youtube and Facebook, and just after the first season of The Apprentice foisted Donald Trump onto the world, 2005’s Idiocracy has become a sort of culty shorthand reference point for today’s ills. At the time, it was a famous flop. Now, it is regarded as a cultural soothsayer.
The movie depicts - hilariously - the USA, 500 years in the future, where society is so reliant on automated technology that independent thought is no longer needed. The world is barely functioning yet placates itself on a diet of fast food, sexualised omni-#content, and branded-everything.
Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph play an Joe, an amiable but lazy soldier who ranks at exactly the peak of the bell curve in every army test, and Rita, a sex worker who, in the hoary (geddit?!) old movie tradition, has street smarts and a heart of gold beneath her steely exterior.
Their staggering averageness means they are selected to take part in a suspended animation experiment that goes wrong - and after spending 500 years asleep by mistake, awake to save a humanity that has become deeply, unabashedly stupid.
As Idiocracy depicts a USA where branding is so prevalent that the stars on the Presidential Seal are replaced with the Carl’s Jnr logo, we’ll grade the comparisons between the American idiot dystopia of 2505 and the American idiot dystopia of 2018 out of five stars ⭐️.
Adult Intelligence - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Idiocracy’s central premise has been criticised by some people who believe that by depicting dumb people reproducing faster than smart people and as a consequence, creating a world of dumbasses, the movie thus advocates for, erm, eugenics.
While the opening scene’s very broad depiction of class, cultural differences and the consequences of them (poor dumb people breed like rabbits, smart wealthy people are too focussed on their careers to have kids) does indeed feel like a crass collection of redneck stereotypes, in MONTAG’s opinion, overall, Idiocracy doesn’t mock stupid people as much as it offers a scathing rebuttal to the cynically negative influence of big business, TV, and advertising on society.
After all, this is a movie by Mike Judge, the man who created Beavis and Butthead, the sofa-bound idiots who comment inanely on dumb TV, so the negative correlation between media and advertising with intelligence is in some ways his métier.
Joe’s utterly average 2005-era intelligence means that, in 2505, he can ace the most advanced intelligence tests - “if you have bucket that holds two gallons, and another that holds five gallons, how many buckets do you have?” - and is thus declared the most intelligent human on earth.
There is an uncomfortable truth lurking in the movie’s main idea: studies show that poverty, social background and the existing education levels of parents have a measurable effect on the literacy skills of their children: underinvestment in education to the people who need it most has a sad cascading effect through the generations.
Today, American adults have a low (and declining) reading proficiency, with 21 percent of adults in the U.S. reading below a 5th grade level. The sole positive of this utterly depressing fact is that the egos of these people will not be damaged by the withering analysis of one journalist - “about one in seven [American adults] are saddled with such low literacy skills that it would be tough for them to read anything more challenging than a children's picture book” - as they probably won’t be able to read the article.
And money does not alway equate to being smart. According to his own staff, President Trump is “an idiot” who has the actions and understanding of “a fifth or sixth grader.”. But we’ll discuss President Very Stable Genius more (much, much more) later…
TV and Advertising - ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Idiocracy’s 2505 is a world of ultra-powerful brands and media who have complete control over the thoughts of humanity. TV channels include The Masturbation Network™ - “Keeping America ‘Bating For 300 Years.” Magazines include “Hot Naked Chicks and World Report”, a publication with the headline “SHIT SUCKS,” and a list of issue highlights that reads like today’s XXX website keywords: “Chicks, sex, naked, world, sex, hot, report, chicks.”
On TV, the highest-rated show is “Ow My Balls” and features exactly what you would expect: a man repeatedly suffering testicular trauma in increasingly ludicrous ways (falling from a balcony onto telephone wires, legs akimbo, before being bitten by a dog, and then hit in the groin by a wrecking ball, etc).
(This writer, having spent hundreds of hours watching Jackass, is happy to admit that he is in no position to either condemn “Ow My Balls” or even suggest that he would not be keen to watch the “Ow My Balls” box set; and furthermore, he notes with interest that on Youtube, videos with titles like “2017 Funniest Nut Shot Montage” videos regularly rack up hundreds of thousands of views.)
Meanwhile, advertising and branding are all-pervasive, leveraging their wealth into ever-influential positions, and have simultaneously dumbed down in order to appeal to the public’s most base impulses. FedEx is now the adult-oriented FedExxx, TGI Fridays has become TJO’Handjobs and restaurant chain Fuddruckers is, with an amusing yet shuddering inevitably, now known as ButtFuckers.
One wonders what the future holds for the Federal University of Santa Catarina’s Institute of Oriental Studies.
Above, The actual logo for Federal University of Santa Catarina’s Institute of Oriental Studies
In Idiocracy, brands have made inroads into people’s subconscious. Gatorade-like drink Brawndo - “the Thirst Mutilator” - has become so pervasive that not only has it replaced fresh water (drinking fountains are plumbed to a Brawndo supply, farms sprinkle Brawndo over crops), but the brand’s slogan - “It’s got electrolytes” is a default response to any challenge to Brawndo’s authority, with Joe’s requests for drinking water being met with quizzical looks and exclamations of “Water? Like out of the toilet?”
Today’s brands are not beyond embracing stupidity to re-vitalise their products, and current trends in food product idiocy seem to centre around combining unhealthy things, in defiance of health, taste and reason.
KFC, in an attempt to make a burger dumb enough to engage a demographic of people racing to get heart disease, created the 600+ calorie Double Down, a burger where the bread is replaced with fried chicken. When launched, KFC sold 10 million of them in just over a month.
And while its life was mercifully brief, the Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick was a very real thing that could be bought in supermarkets across America.
It’s hard not to conclude that brands have take over in 2018. In a time where being an Instagram Influencer is a highly desirable “job”, people are behaving like brands. Brands, on the other hand, behave like people, in order to connect in an artificially #relatable way. Fast food outlet Denny’s is now tweeting stuff like this which manages to combine social media, deliberate vitality, high-fructose corn syrup, and a LOL, WTF ¯_(ツ)_/¯ take on society’s woes, all wrapped up in one monetisable, KPI-busting advert.
Politics ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Sadly, this is the simplest comparison of all, and it’s the most depressing. Let’s keep this brief and then we can move on.
In Idiocracy, the democratically elected Commander In Chief is President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, a former pro wrestler and porn star, who rules autocratically on the whims of his pumped-up ego, and has surrounded himself with yes-men and women with large breasts.
In 2018, the democratica… oh, do we even need to do this joke? Let’s just note that the only difference is that, until the emergence of the hotly-anticipated Pee Tape, we can’t full qualify Donald Trump as a porn star, but his attitude towards women is of a similar level of reprehensibility as most mainstream porn, and his predilection for adult movie stars, like 2018’s true queen, Stormy Daniels, is well documented.
Other similarities are similarly exasperating. In 2505, the Secretary of Energy is a teenage boy who won a contest to get the job. Given that President Trump appointed Rick Perry as head of the Department of Energy - a man who could not remember the department’s name, is a climate change sceptic, and doesn’t seem to know what the department actually does - maybe a horny teenage idiot would be a better choice.
Finally, in the movie, “the Brawndo Corporation simply bought the FDA and the FCC enabling them to say, do, and sell anything they wanted,” and in a USA where food companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying regulators to shape food guidelines that leave health experts exasperated, this notion does not feel too far from the truth either.
Urgh. Five stars.
Automation and identity ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Idiocracy depicts a near-fully automated world, which has lead to people becoming so reliant on technology, they can’t figure things out for themselves. This reveals itself to Joe when he visits the cigar-chomping Dr Lexus, whose interpretation of the results from the automatic diagnosis machine doesn’t extend beyond, “it says on your chart that you’re fucked up: you talk like a fag and your shit’s all retarded… but there are plenty of ‘tards out there living kick-ass lives.”
Let’s be clear - today’s American adults are not this clinically stupid, despite plenty of evidence from the emptiest vessels on social media. But US adults do compare badly to the international average in a series of intelligence tests.. Most interestingly, this low score is a trait of number of highly-technologically-reliant societies: the more you rely on tech, the less you need to use your brain. Once again, your parents were right: all that TV really is rotting your brain.
Back in 2505, and full automation means that all adults need to be registered to a central network, and people can be recognised by machine scanning their unique barcode tattoos. Joe, hesitating while undergoing the registration process, becomes permanently and officially renamed Not Sure.
Today, in China, where facial recognition technology is near-universal, hundreds of millions of CCTV cameras watch and recognise everyone, tracking and predicting their every move. In one experiment, a BBC journalist lasted just seven minutes “on the run” from police, who tracked him down and intercepted him almost immediately.
Being known universally as “Not Sure” is probably a preferable life than one in which you are living in an open prison.
OVERALL: 3.75 ⭐️ out of 5
Idiocracy’s supposed prescience is actually a fairly simple extrapolation of the corrosive effects of hyper-branding, invasive advertising, style over substance, and race-to-the-bottom media content that were already obvious in the pre-social media era in which it was made. At the time of release, reviews noted these hysterically surreal extrapolations with a kind of wry distance, but in a post-social-media world where it really does feel like attention is being doled out to the loudest and most controversial idiots, it’s easy to see why Idiocracy has gained a reputation as a societal warning.
For those concerned by the presence of President Trump nudging soft toys around in the White House play-pen, the movie actually offers a route out of the madness. Idiocracy ends on a positive note, as Joe and Rita both overcome their innate laziness and use their intellect to save the world: the everyman and everywoman waking up from a cultural stupor and realising they are smart and capable enough to overturn the status quo.
Maybe Idiocracy is a useful analogy after all…