It almost seems like fate that the tenth anniversary of Mike Judge’s cult classic Idiocracy has fallen on an election year dominated by a megalomaniac. Outlets across the country have spent countless words comparing the bombastic candidate with Idiocracy’s own spastic world leader, Terry Crew’s inspired President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. Of course, those comparisons are totally apt. Not least of which is because both men know their way around a body slam (or at least their stunt doubles do), and there are definite parallels between today’s Kardashian-loving culture and the film. Those real life comparisons weren’t lost on Etan Cohen, one half of the film’s scriptwriting team:
However, if you stop at comparing Trump and Camacho, or you use the film as a means to bash the people moving around in modern society, you’re missing a huge part of the film’s prophecy. The deeper horror of Idiocracy isn’t the numbskulls who inhabit this dystopia, it’s the oblivious, incessant attack of brainless pop culture that pervades every corner of the film.
While it’s not at the core of the film’s message of aspiration over complacency, the media in Judge’s future has an undeniable grip on the population. It’s this influence that’s overlooked in a lot of modern discussions of the film and it’s this relationship between the film and the modern world that stands as Idiocracy’s most astute prediction.
The Dark, Inevitable Future
Idiocracy, it’s the story of a perfectly average guy (obviously named “Joe”) who ways up 500 years in the future to a world that’s dominated by porn-loving, fast food chomping mongoloids.
As Mike Judge once explained, “What if instead of this pristine high-tech world that [Kubrick] had envisioned [in 2001: A Space Odyssey], what if it was just like The Jerry Springer Show and giant Walmarts, and what if that had been the movie made in the ’60s? So I thought that’s what I would do. And a lot of it was kinda based on stuff that was already happening.”
As a result, Judge’s future is a nightmare of garbage mountains, famine, deflated economies, and — worst of all — incessant reality TV.
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In the opening sequence of the film, Mike Judge explains that the world has been ruined because smart people won’t fuck and dumb people fuck too much. Thanks to the fact that society had reached a point where nature’s ability to thin out the weakness of the herd was rendered moot, stupid spread exponentially while smart people are eventually weeded out of society.
As a result, several people have concluded that Idiocracy is actually a tacit endorsement of eugenics. While that interpretation of the film is up for debate, the point being made is that, “Idiocracy lays the blame [for society’s ills] at the feet of an undeserved target (the poor) while implicitly advocating a terrible solution (eugenics).”
If that interpretation is to be believed, then even Judge is underplaying the inestimable influence that the media has on the world he’s created. It’s not enough to accuse the people who love reality television for being dumb. At least in part, you have to look suspiciously at the people who control the flow of information.
It’s not that the people of Idiocracy are stupid, it’s that they’ve been programmed to be ignorant. Society’s decline isn’t the result of humanity’s foibles as much as it is the result of a system that glamorizes the baser aspects of human nature while sublimating the more complex virtues that make humanity worthwhile.
Okay, so let’s bring it back to the modern day, where the Republican primary is being led by a former reality TV star:
Trump has been a fixture early in the election cycle since 2000, but he’s always been bounced out of things before proceedings got too serious. Upon joining the race last year, he made himself available, and said so many outrageous things, that he quickly became the poster boy for 24-hour news networks, with some polls claiming that he is getting as much as three times the coverage as other GOP candidates.
The impact that extra airtime has had on Trump’s success can’t be understated. “In an era where ratings are confused with quality, producers think that Trump must be onto something and so they boost him. Never mind that if you actually dig down into his ideas they are a confusing nonsense,” wrote Tim Stanley.
The timeline of Trump’s success went like this: He said some outlandish shit that got media coverage. That media coverage proved incredibly popular because of how outlandish the shit was that Donald Trump said. As a result of this initial popularity, the media has continued to follow Trump around, filming his every word in the often successful hope of repeating those initial ratings (the guy says lots of outlandish shit). As a result of the continued exposure, people get used to Trump’s presence, and repetition breeds acceptance.
Unfortunately, while Trump is getting the spotlight shined on his bad behavior, there’s some other worthwhile story or public figure (probably not running for President) whose contributions go unnoticed.
Chill Out, I’m Getting to the Point
I’d be giving my colleagues in the media too much credit if I said that society is fucked because they have found a way to passively control the course of world events. It’s also super convenient to take the blame for society’s shortcomings off the shoulders of working Americans, whose lives have been made immeasurably more difficult by economic trends and callous government.
But the unavoidable and tragic fact is that, in 2016, we live in world where loud, incessant repetition is the only real tool you need to get ahead in the world. Idiocracy is just a projection of that reality born into the future.