Murphy\’s Bye-Laws

Law #4: Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. –H.D. Thoreau

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.

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14 Responses to “A Kinder, Gentler Dystopia”

  1. thesofine said

    I watched this movie about 5 weeks ago. I also found it very amusing.

    Are the proles in charge now? I think anytime you move a government towards direct democracy, you always run that risk. Unfortunately, I feel our represtnative deomcracy has been creeping in this direction (voter initiatives, referendums, direct election of senators, etc.).

    Don’t get me wrong, I hold a liberaterian vew that self-rule is best. However, I think I’d rather be ruled by a small number of tyrants than by an ignorant Demagoguery.

    It is precisely the “caprice and the madness of popular rage” that is usually seen in Demagogeries that provides the humor in the movie Idiocracy.

  2. thesofine said

    Sorry abbout the typos. . . I am ddrunk.

  3. Cymon said

    Hi, Thanks for the heads up on this movie, it seems like an entertaining one to watch.
    (one I would have probably missed if I didn’t read about it here)

  4. Don’t sweat it, man. It was still a way serious post for a drunk guy.

  5. Anonymous said

    Hey, it’s been a rough day and it was only 900AM.

  6. Bugaboo said

    Pint –

    You might enjoy reading Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. He argues that Huxley’s Brave New World is a more accurate dystopia than 1984. His arguments also would fit nicely with the Idiocracy dystopia. I found Postman’s book to be right on the money in describing our current state of discourse.

    Here’s some links:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusing_Ourselves_to_Death
    http://intellectualconservative.com/article3933.html

    Apparently he wrote other books too.

  7. Recessive Genes said

    I saw this film some time ago and I would say that it is an indictment of rampant consumerism and the power of marketing to dupe the (idiotic) masses. Instead of people having drug addled minds like in Brave New World or THX-1138, we see people addicted to (mind-numbingly stupid) TV and in love with a Thunderdome style execution of prisoners.

    Thesofine, I would argue that it would better to be a fool in the world of Idiocracy than live in a state run by a tyrannical oligarchy. At least the fool is carefree and blissfully ignorant of how chaotically dangerous that world is. Living in constant fear under the yoke of oppressive leaders would be a dreadful way to live. Sadly, many people today in places like North Korea can relate. I sincerely hope that FISA, the Patriot Act, and tactics like no-knock raids have not sent this nation too far down the slippery slope.

  8. To be a fool in such a place may be better than being semi-intelligent in one. I don’t think thesofine was considering his own state of mind to match that of society around him, though it would be hard to tell from the post itself! 😀

    Reading and watching about dystopias can be informative and quite imaginative, but it can also be a major bummer, man. I will likely check out some of the other references to dystopias in these comments eventually. I’d be happier slipping into blissful ignorance, though. Cheers!

  9. thesofine said

    Interesting. Please let me explain my earlier position. Firstly, I want to acknowledge that if given the choice of surrendering my rights freely or having them forcibly taken away from me (ie, Brave New World vs. 1984) I think I would choose to surrender them voluntarily. I think this is really Recessive Gene’s point in comparing N. Korea to the USA.

    To be completely clear: what I was saying is that if the level of personal freedoms were equal, I would chose tyrany by few than tyrany by many (Demagoguery). I find the madness of few is much more predictable than the madness of many. Additionaly, I feel that either type of government can offer the same degrees of liberties (or lack there of).

    I guess it is quite a matter of persepective whether one feels the USA is moving towards demagoguery or tyrany. I would argue that from a historical perspective it is moving towards a direct democracy.

  10. white rabbit said

    Ahhh, nice review of one of my favorite movies (and Mike Judge in general).

  11. thesofine said

    hey, I want to read more. Where are your new entries?

  12. I’m 3/4 of the way through a write up of the Ireland vacation which currently stands at ~5K words; that’ll keep you busy for a while. Unfortunately, it may not go up until this weekend.

    There is always the “Random Post” link at the top right of the page. Or you could go through and pick out a bunch for another “Best of” post.

    Are you able to go to Shamrock Fest?

  13. thesofine said

    oh, dude. I was jus thinking about that last night. I need to double check my schedule (ie, ask Barb).

  14. thesofine said

    So, I am not going to be in town on 17Mar. Barb reminded me that I am going to be in between two different conferences. Darn, I really wanted to go to Shamrock fest.

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