Idiocracy: A Depraved and Hilarious Tale of Corporate Conspiracy
In Mike Judge’s movie Idiocracy, America’s future is overrun by a country full of, well, you guessed it (hopefully), idiots. A garishly branded White House is home to a porn-star president championing the nation deeper into a terminal identity crisis and a terrifying degree of conflating patriotism with corporate agendas.
The anti-intellectual future-culture lacks ambition outside of watching monster truck racing and TV programs like “Ow, My Balls!” while getting cracked out on tubs of junk food glop, shopping in city-size Costco stores (character “Frito” went to law school there), or stopping in a Starbucks where they serve up sex in addition to lattes. Judge’s message, as in his classic flick Office Space (or any of the Beavis & Butthead episodes), is a goofy and colorful over-dramatization, and although this theatrical flop is set several hundred calendar pages still to come, it clearly parallels today’s state of the nation.
In his humorous stay-the-course commentary on our relationship with corporations, Judge depicts a future that is a conglomerated landscape where virtually everything is branded with some obscene corporate logo, as big businesses have grown even bigger and more invested in our dependency on their products, regardless of whether they’re safe or effective. Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator is the Gatorade-like green beverage of choice found everywhere. Water is relegated to importance only in toilet flushing while drinking fountains dispense Brawndo to a subservient nation, half of whom work for the manufacturer.
The main character, "Joe" (Luke Wilson), has been asleep for 500 years as part of an army experiment gone awry. He wakes to find himself the smartest man in the world only to be snagged up by the president who becomes aware of his superior intelligence and hopes to use it to solve the nation’s most baffling issues. The most urgent problem is the food shortage due to crop failures. Joe immediately discovers the problem: the crops are being "watered" exclusively with Brawndo while the administration’s confused top cabinet members recite, “but it's got electrolytes!”
Meanwhile, back here in 2008, situations are strangely similar to Judge’s 2505 A.D., even though they may be considerably less hilarious (George Bush aside). One slightly urgent example can be found in record numbers of commercial beehives continuing to die off. A critical loss has occurred: 36.1% of our nation's hives have disappeared just since last year. New strains of disease are wiping out entire colonies; pesticides are wreaking havoc, weakening the bees and their immune systems to parasitic mite infections collapsing defenses against deadly virus and bacteria. This is a massive hit to ecosystems and our food supply. If the die-off continues, we could be nearing an irreversible crisis level food shortage of our own (bees pollinate the flowers that make the food).
Though not as simple a fix as using water on crops instead of Brawndo, stabilizing the bee population -- as well as our myriad other food supply issues -- can most probably be remedied by answers blowing in the thick, smoggy, pesticide- polluted wind. As Dennis van Engelsdorp of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture put it, “imagine if one out of every three cows, or one out of every three chickens, were dying. That would raise a lot of alarm." Indeed it would, but like our fictional future generations in Idiocracy, common sense is teetering on the edge of un-cool, while indulgence and over-consumption are somehow still the status quo.
Environmental advocates are perceived as paranoid drama queens. Al Gore is viewed as a glossy-eyed troubadour, an oversized Peter Pan leading a chorus of whining trust fund environmentalists with Ivy League BA’s who don’t represent the Average American. True or not, the environmental message is continually dismissed as insubstantial. Polar bears live in zoos, not the Arctic. Why, they’re better fed than most people, what’s all the complaining about? Reducing carbon footprints or saving the rainforest are not necessarily high priorities for a two-job-working single parent struggling to keep food on the table, a roof overhead, kids in school, and debt collectors from calling.
Still, our treatment of (and relationship to) the Planet is a topic that needs to be discussed. New habits need to be forged in order for humanity to continue doing whatever it is we seem to be doing. The irony of course is that we’re so often too afraid to really live, because the way in which most of us currently exist -- the fear propagated by our work-shop-suffer hamster wheel lifecycle -- suppresses the instinct to nurture our natural nature. Advertising is killing thousands of years of wisdom, cultures, and diversity as sexy supermodels, fast cars, and McDonald’s meals are homogenized to appeal to everyone as indispensable, regardless of your country or ethnic heritage. With this amorphous stronghold, it’s easy to see how a future could exist where brands like Brawndo flourish at the expense of the collective health and diversity. But aren’t 1 out of every 3 kids born now destined to be diabetic? Aren’t most of our fatal diseases in this country related to our dietary choices a la Pringles and Whoppers with cheese?
Our learned need for corporate approval promotes the individual and stifles a collective embrace. Cooperation has turned into a shitty punch-the-clock-job for the grin-and-bear-its that can’t afford their own private jets. Our intuitive, creative selves are shunned as indulgent and weird, out of alignment with the corporate agendas that decide how, why, when, and where we express ourselves, and which of their made-in-China accessories, Madison Avenue marketing slogans, and high-interest-rate financing will direct our “self expression.” Those who dare to listen to that brandless Voice Within are called eccentrics, hippies, mental cases or labeled with the kiss of death: New Age. And although the eco message is being delivered in a number of mainstream mediums with Green becoming “the new black,” it’s still a designation most commonly afforded by the Have-More’s.
The 2008 bid for the White House posits candidates who feign commitments to seriously address the serious environmental issues, but their awkward grasps feel as careless as they sound. They know that as relevant as the climate crisis may be, a hybrid car is not providing the ride down Pennsylvania Avenue. Though our Democratic candidates represent a new era for America, if as nothing more than the gratuitous female or African American often portrayed in film as the leader of the free world sometime in the future, they also face challenges.
Idiocracy’s "President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho" (Terry Crews), a genuine guy who wants to do the right thing, can’t break the cycle of relying on the corporate culprits; he turns to those causing the problems only to find even more flawed solutions. This is food for thought for '08's candidates funded by nuclear power and petroleum industries (yep, Obamaniacs). These special interest groups aren’t going away, just crafting more wiley ways to serve their bottom line.
But surely we can learn from our mistakes. Two terms with Bush, the wallowing foot-shuffling in Iraq, dying bees, falling trees, avoidable disasters of all kinds continue to stare us right in the face, and when we should be saying “ok, this is the last time,” we somehow find ourselves face to face with the same problems over and over again.
This interesting article in the Times discusses the processes, costs and benefits of how animals learn, proposing one possibility -- that the more one learns, the less one's survival skills benefit. It’s like a trait trade-in. Clearly our contrived knowledge about so many things has led us to a counterintuitive arrogance. We call our knowledge a “gift” and condescend to other species, enslave and torture them, often times simply because we can, all while overlooking our very own enslavement to the mega corporations as we savor our overstimulated condition and designation as corporate billboards and guinea pigs.
In Idiocracy, the citizens of Future America have been so dumbed down that any rational conversation is deemed an insult to the brute lifestyle. It’s cool to be disengaged and misled. They’ve worked hard to become mindless self-gratifying idiots. Maybe it’s really a luxury we just can’t understand yet. But, there’s still time.