A Kinder, Gentler Dystopia
Posted by PintofStout on February 20, 2008
Over the years we have been regaled with tale after tale of an imagined dystopia of the future. George Orwell’s 1984 is probably the most famous, but has been joined just recently in cinema by V for Vendetta and Children of Men. These typical dystopic worlds involve a very locked-down society with a dictated, structured life and lots of surveillance. The setting is usually very urban and hard and cold and gray and, despite such structured discipline, these cityscapes are usually dirty and littered with trash and discarded humans. Orwell called these discarded and forgotten humans Proles. These people have been passed over by the perceived superiors who have the air of intelligence, power and control.
In the latest dystopia tale that I have seen, the proles were in control. And while there is still the atmosphere of cold, gray, dirty and surveilled, the restraints on what we would usually consider freedom are not imposed for control, but the freedoms and choices are simply non-existent. In Mike Judge’s vision of a dystopia there is not dictatorship but an Idiocracy, a government – indeed a whole society – populated and run by low-intelligence idiots. This dystopia is kinder and softer than most simply because the intent to set limits and to dominate is missing; they are just trying not to suck too bad or look like fags.
Mike Judge has proven himself a top-notch observer of people, whether it be the microcosm of people in the corporate, cubicle-filled office (Office Space); the semi-isolated, small-town, traditional kind of regular neighborhood people (King of the Hill); or, perhaps the precursor to the dumbed-down, consumerist, television zombies of Idiocracy, two isolated, music video-addled, borderline retarded teens too self-absorbed in their own skewed world to fit into the world around them (Beavis and Butthead). In each instance, keen observation is translated and exaggerated into characters we can all still recognize, and most importantly, laugh at. When these characters are paired with a complimentary setting and engaging story, the entertainment aspects beat out the social commentary and we could very well end up laughing at ourselves.
The storyline of Idiocracy is pretty simple and straightforward, and it acts merely as a vehicle to transport us through the backwaters and along the mainstreets of Judge’s vision of consumerism run amok. The sarcastic jokes and the belly-laughable funny sight gags that make up this place wore on me fairly quickly. Just like I find such attitudes and anti-intellectualism tedious in reality, the very minimal 87 minutes of continued joke had to be overcome in my mind to be able to follow the story with any success. Perhaps this is a testament to the depth and quality of the gag. Had I actually felt comfortable with that setting, then Judge would have failed to make his point; and while my tolerance for such shallowness as displayed in his future is probably quite low, to reach as many people as possible he had to also push things beyond others’ thresholds as well.
I wouldn’t call this movie a masterpiece in film making or storytelling, but it is a solid piece of work and seriously entertaining, to boot. Lurking behind that entertainment is a seed of truth that is germinating and growing even as we watch the movie. Just like any well-constructed dystopia, this future is closer than we think. The most obvious inconsistency of the story, to me, was the fact that in the end Joe, the average person from the past who becomes the smartest person in the future (played by Luke Wilson), was elected President because he was obviously the most qualified. But in a country filled with idiots would the smartest person really be elected? While my and many, many others’ limits for tolerance of stupidity were exceeded while watching, there were some who’s limits are unreachable; according to Judge, these people are the future.