Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Best (Subversive) Special Effects

Mike Judge's Idiocracy is not the great, lost subversive work some thirsty critics have proclaimed it to be. In fact, I doubt 20th Century-Fox gave the film such poor, basically nominal distribution last year because of its anti-capitalist message. It seems more likely that the execs were just skittish about the film's open hostility toward the underclass. From the opening montage, Judge balls up his disdain for poor white, black and brown trash into a lily-white fist: A narrator encapsulates the modern era as a time when cultured, educated white couples have stopped making babies (for selfish and practical reasons) while trailer trash joes and their babymamas procreate like rabbits. Consequently, Judge and co-screenwriter Etan Cohen conclude, the world is doomed for lack of proper future leadership.

Idiocracy projects a future dystopia of stupidity in which illiterate hillbillies and ethnics have inherited the crumbling structures of government, finance and industry. While they are busy running the last vestiges of infrastructure into the ground, we wonder, well, how did the 1% of the population that so jealously controls 40% of the wealth let it come to this? Well, it's 2505, so maybe they did let it come to this. But if they're gone, then, how to account for...


Somehow, corporations are still buying up government agencies in 2505, so somebody from the shrewd, diabolical ruling class must be at the controls somewhere. Or have they just left a ghost in the graft machine before dying out or escaping to the secret Mars colony? Judge never fills us in. Because of this failure to connect the dots, Idiocracy is not the molotov cocktail it's cracked up to be.
But Judge sneaks in some hilarious Robocop-style provocations with the help of the special effects and art departments. As seen above, he uses models, props and CGI vistas out of Mad magazine to make one-off visual accusations that might just cause some genuine unrest in the multiplex audience:

A post-Katrina-like permanent tent city clustered around a Costco the size of Vermont.

An Emergency Room staffed by illiterates, beseiged by walking dead.

(Wildly off topic: Maybe cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt drew some inspiration here from the purgatorial waiting room in Fellini's Toby Dammit.
) )

Big Government, 2025:

President Scarface.

Good eats.


Pop culture.

Law enforcement.

Yes, these sight gags are way Wayans crude, but they come close to dangerous truths, if only to slump away from them where it counts. Judge and Cohen seem to believe that the menagerie of 'tards and stereotypes on display will rise to power only through a loophole in natural selection. Unlike screenwriters Tom Stoppard, Charles McKeown and Terry Gilliam on Brazil, the Idiocracy filmmakers extrapolate only from the present day American quagmire, never giving the sense of corporate totalitarianism as the culmination of a terrible, far-reaching history. Brazil connected WWII-era British vigilance to the fear mongering and flattery that keeps modern consumer-workers silent and spending in an age of terror and resistance; Idiocracy, in contrast, glances at the past only out of nostalgia for all the smart, principled people who ran the U.S. before the Decline in Standards, the Loss of Civility--you pick the hateful conservative code words. (All-Amercian boy Luke Wilson is the cryo-preserved savior from the 20th Century--an average white boy who is still smart enough to save this society of mongrel jackals from itself.) There is no underground resistance in Idiocracy; nobody's that swift. But Judge judges that this outcome is a product of underclass genetic deficiencies, not 200 or so years of systematic, anti-democratic suppression and indoctrination. This funny, bitter film is not subversive like it wanna be because it fails to imagine what ingenuity, what monstrous force it took to turn potential threats to the status quo into zombies. Idiocracy shows us the spectacular ruins but not the volcano.


Anonymous said...

I rented this for the weekend so I'll be back to read your take. It looks like the humor is right up my alley.

Anonymous said...

"There is no underground resistance in Idiocracy; nobody's that swift. But Judge judges that this outcome is a product of underclass genetic deficiencies, not 200 or so years of systematic, anti-democratic suppression and indoctrination."

Yes but weren't there revolutions in the 19th century against many many more centuries of anti-democratic supression. Democracy was invented by intelligent people with BALLS and is now being destroyed by servile dysgenic retards.

Sorry Herr Boone, but those who fell for the Ziocon's venture in Iraq and the whole global plantation pauperization scheme are demonstrably deficient. You're telling me for instance the whole US population prior to 2002 had no internet access to research and realize every justification for war was based on clumsy forgeries, or just wasn't awake since the Reagan era to see the whole MO and it's coming apotheosis.

I know you'll say I'm an elitist Kraut, but my Kraut ancestors weren't von Schlafs, just workers, yet they fought the brownshirts on the street. When I see the conclusions drawn that anyone with an Owen Wilson/Matthew Macconnogay IQ can't escape and action based on those conclusions I will revise my opinion.
One must sometimes just call a retard a retard, and come to the conclusion that some people should not breed. I have been called a Nazi before for holding this opinion so save your breath. It is massively subversive that this film says this unsayable truth, though of course I agree they're no Gilliams.
On a personal note I have been trying to get the fuck out of this country because I WOULD like to breed but all the women couple with deformed capitalists with heads shaped like basketballs, heads shaved with gotee, destroying the genepool and I don't want my offspring to live among these retards like I have since my parents brough poor unwitting Dirk here when 6.

Boone said...

"Sorry Herr Boone, but those who fell for the Ziocon's venture in Iraq and the whole global plantation pauperization scheme are demonstrably deficient. You're telling me for instance the whole US population prior to 2002 had no internet access to research and realize every justification for war was based on clumsy forgeries, or just wasn't awake since the Reagan era to see the whole MO and it's coming apotheosis."

Dirk, I'm saying that these deficiencies shouldn't be an invitation to ethnic cleansing. But just as folks might call you a Nazi for saying that "some people should just not breed" (imagine that), I get labeled a Kucinichy airhead for suggesting that there's room for everybody over in this country. It's simply a racist, classist, "some-people-should-just-not" stance (from those big-balled social architects you revere on up to the Ziocons) that's got us where we are now. The lunacy on my part is believing that it isn't entirely irreversible. Curtailing the corporate onslaught upon government is half the job right there.

No, I don't think recent generations of Americans are exceptionally deficient genetically. If you want to measure their skulls or weigh their grey matter, be my guest. These brains are addled by various consumer poisons and a constant barrage of demeaning propaganda coming down the telestream. But the basic grey matter still packs amazing potential. Your sense of evolution is wildly accelerated. But if the gene pool is getting brackish, it has more to do with chemical and environmental determinants--in which case, why don't we get busy fixing those problems instead of dusting off the gas chambers?

"my Kraut ancestors weren't von Schlafs, just workers, yet they fought the brownshirts on the street."

The worker groups that fought the American brownshirts (the "pigs") in the streets were all disbanded, drugged and massacred under the cover of a massive propaganda effort that portrayed them as enemies of the people-- an effort funded by the people's money.

No, I don't assert that the "dysgenic retards" have no access to the cold, cruel facts, but their interpretation of said facts, their worldview, is shaped by a system that characterizes any criticism of captilaism as practiced in America as outlandish heresy. In public high school, I was in an honors-level economics class that taught from the works of conservatives like Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman. We learned to cherish laissez-faire economics without developing an understanding of what "give the people what they want" can mean when the "what they want" part becomes "whatever the fuck we tell them they want."

I also spent a little time in a private school that groomed the children of celebrities and politicians for leadership. They were fed the same dope, and it's likely that many of them went on to see through the bullshit in their college years... but members of their class tend to leave notions of rebllion behind upon graduation, settling into six-figure jobs, a solvent middle age, etc.

AFter our govt. co-opted the Civil Rights movement and outright destroyed its Black Power exponent, most of us down here in the mud smoked, fucked or blew our brains out. Those of us left are just trying to steal whatever opportunites still exist. Some of us have a clear understanding of just what the fuck happened to us in the last 200 years; most of us have no clue. Did you see all those startled faces during Katrina? They couldn't have imagined that their government would make their survival a matter of pay-for-play or voluntary potluck charity. It hadn't occured to them that it isn't their government at all.

Now how the fuck couldn't they have known that? The power of television.

Anonymous said...

Even many of my public school comrades in rural Pennsylvania had the natural intelligence to see through the Friedman and Randite pseudophilosophies.

Sounds like your schoolchums were Northeastern liberal elites of the variety who "whhhoooooohoooo" progressive reforms as long as it doesn't threaten their trustfund and brownstone on 85th and Columbus.

The 'civil rights' movement was coopted by the ruling class as a wedge to drive between the white and black working classes and mass immigration permanently undermined any gains either had made.

Any real rebellious strain in mass culture is subsumed under 50 tonnes of raw sewage, so we go from Public Enemy in 89 calling for mass insurrection (and most of my white friends shouting along) to Flav in 2006 acting as mediaclass negro lawn jockey and retards like Jay-Z on billboards reading the Wall St. Journal (have you seen that one?)

Also, civil rights in practice have resulted in policies like my Columbian friend who looks like he stepped out of a Leni Riefenstahl movie getting afirmative action perks because he has an "hispanic" last name. Any intelligent white seeing this kind of garbage is going to want to rebel and the Northeast liberal elite may not like the form of rebellion it takes.

Also, I don't find idiocracy racist. Is one race singled out for abuse? The whole dysgenic melting pot is skewered visciously.

The "room for everyone in this country" mentality is what is giving us a Idiocracy.

There was a time when one could discuss population control withour being called a Nazi. Then the ruling class decided that was against their mass overproduction pyramid scheme and looked down their horn rimmed glasses reproachfully at anyone naysaying their natalist dysgenic utopia. I say move some of their beloved pomo overbreeding hoard into the first floor of their brownstone if they want them to breed so much.

Oh forgot! They had them priced out of the neighborhood. Only the intelligent working class has to deal with them!

Anonymous said...

Good observations Steve. First, the co-writer credit goes to Etan Cohen (Judge co-conspirator on such TV writing gigs B&B and King of the Hill) not Ethan Coen (half of the brother team with Joel).

Idiocracy is definitely not the subversive animal that everyone is squawking about. If it was it would have the brilliant wit that Office Space had but I'm not sure if I would go as far to say its "straight out racist".

In contemporary media I still think the white guy is fair game to be the, well, idiot. Spend ten minutes (if you can stand it) watching various commercials on network television and you'll see the white guy as resident dolt waiting for a product to help him figure out his pathetic self. But we all know that Flav is trying his best to make it a neck and neck race.

Consumerism takes no prisoners and sees no color. "We got it and you want it and if you don't, we'll find a way to make you want it." That's the law of the jungle and that law has its price.

I just wish Judge made a film that addressed all the above issues and made me walk away with "Holy shit! I can't believe he actually got that film made."

Anonymous said...

And after you're done watching commercials, watch The White Rapper Show...

Boone said...

Wups, good catch, William. I fixed that up right away, thanks. I guess I let my grudge against The Ladykillers cloud my vision. Bad.

Also, I just did something I never do: I made a word change that changes the whole meaning of the already-published piece. I took out the word "racist." Maybe that's sloppy and unprofessional, but it's my blog, so fuggit.

Upon reflection, no, Idiocracy isn't racist, but racists will love it. There's nothing in there that challenges their position or shows, like Schrader's Blue Collar, how the imposed social order keeps the underclass at war with each other over racial lines.

Judge's sloppiness in that regard is more disappointing than mine. He's got a real audience.

Anonymous said...

Yeah but Buttfuckers was pretty funny, you have to admit.

Boone said...

Oh, it's a funny flick, no doubt. I almost choked watching the pimp slideshow presentation.

Ryland Walker Knight said...

I was so excited for this movie but after your takedown here and a few other middling responses, I've put it on the back burner. Someday... after I watch all of Twin Peaks for the first time.

Anonymous said...


I think what you read as "failing to connect the dots" could be read more benignly as a "plot hole," though the net effect is the same. It feels like the Judge and Coen wanted to vent their spleens in one specific direction, so they ignored issues like: If everyone's so stupid, how to they build and maintain the big monster trucks? Who understands teleprompters and manages TV transmissions? Who makes all the stuff CostCo sells? How exactly does Brawndo function? Who runs all these computers? I feel that in a better film these questions wouldn't have bothered me so much.

The film never hints at anything sinister -- not even a whiff of conspiracy, if I recall correctly -- but I can understand how the film's lacunae could be interpreted that way. I, however, interpreted them as lazy screenwriting, which was depressing coming from Judge. I was suckered a bit by the opening sequence with the two couples, since I thought the point was that _neither_ couple was supposed to be likable. (Could you see Judge making a film that actually roots for the yuppie couple?) I kept waiting for the sequence where the intelligent people are discovered in hiding, and they're just as annoying as everyone else.


Boone said...


I think that the film imagines a time when the ruling class and the profesional elite have rendered themselves extinct by failing to reproduce for selfish and logistical reasons. But the 'tards are still managing the pre-existing infrastructure by rote, by performing simple tasks handed down from their 'tard forbears as if they were tribal rituals. Everybody drinks Brawndo cuz it got Electrolytes--the same kind of unquestioning superstition that keeps the Catholic church and the War on Terror going strong. Automation takes care of the rest, until the food and resource supply are completely depleted. But that's what Luke Wilson is there to prevent.

But Judge offers too much evidence that a totalitarian order is still firmly in place, that somewhere, somebody is counting the receipts and sitting pretty. And he does nothing with it. To me, good satire is venomous and focused. This film's scattershot hostility sprays whoever Judge considers stupid but it's only beef with the truly powerful is that they let themselves die off, depriving us of royalty. Like Team America: World Police, its ultimate message is servile: If you weren't to the manner born, siddown and shaddup.

Anonymous said...

Steve - I would send you an e-mail but you don't have one listed here. I was wondering if I could link up that Peckinpah post you wrote for my Blog-O-Thon?

Boone said...

Yes, you can. I wish I had time to whip up a fresh one, but consider that old one my contribution.

oh, I'm at stevencboone@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Thanks Herr Boone.

If you get inspired by the end of the weekend post a new one and I'll link to it.

Anonymous said...

"the same kind of unquestioning superstition that keeps the Catholic church and the War on Terror going strong."

Could is be lack of intelligence that keeps the War On Terror and the Catholic Church going?

Anonymous said...

The idea that true human greatness is simply inhereted by blood rather than passed down voluntarily by the wise and courageous to their offspiring and community totally debases all such achievments of which you might take pride.

To be proud of (what you believe is merely) predetermined, god-given ability is to, by omission, admit that you have no genuine respect for anything that you have truly created and made of yourself.

Alan said...

I really liked your review, Steven. I just saw the movie on DVD and was curious to see whether anyone felt uneasy about it for the same reasons as I did, so I did an Internet search for "idiocracy racist" and came across your post. But you're right: "classist" is really a better description of what's behind it. And you do get to a much more important question than the filmmakers do about WHY things go in that direction of dumbing-down: ultimately, because the corporations like it that way. Actually, that's only half the question. The other half is why so many of us like to let things go that way, too. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, talking to his brain: "You get me out of this mess and I'll get back to killing you with beer." Brain to Homer: "It's a deal!"

Yeah, I also dislike the whiff (stench?) of eugenics in the movie. It's criminally simplistic: while intelligence has some genetic component, it's also influenced by environment. You don't make smarter people by breeding them; you make smarter people by, among other things, allowing them to earn the leisure time and prosperity that lets them (or their descendants) get a good education.