Political correctness is an annoying term, and an even more annoying concept. At first it was supposedly bad to be "politically incorrect," then it was supposed to be good, then Bill Maher used it as the name of his lame, pseudo-political celebrity talk show, and it became meaningless.
But every once in a while… something that really is politically incorrect comes along, like Mike Judge
's new comedy
, Idiocracy. And instead of the self-congratulatory smugness of Maher's show (and other so-called satirists who pretend to be daring but are actually mainstream), there is only embarrassed silence, except for the sounds of corporate sponsors bailing and studio executives caving in. Article continues below
At first, the studio (Fox
) put the release of Idiocracy on hold, then allowed a limited release on a slow weekend with zero publicity. If it wasn't Mike Judge's project, it would probably never have made it to any theaters (or gotten made in the first place).
Idiocracy is uneven, even mediocre at times, but the concept is brilliant, and here it is (since almost no one will see it in theaters, I'm not going to worry about spoiling the plot). The film begins with a narrator explaining: "Evolution does not necessarily reward intelligence." Instead, it rewards "those who reproduce the most." To illustrate this, we meet an over-educated, attractive couple who want to have kids, but they're still getting settled in their jobs, the stock market's bad, his sperm count's low… and it doesn't happen. Then we cut to Clevon, Jr., a white trash Lothario who sleeps with every woman in the trailer park and who (thanks also to a stem cell research breakthrough) is the ancestor of dozens, then hundreds of children. As this nationwide phenomenon progresses over time, the Bell curve of the U.S. population inexorably slides over to the dumb and trashy side.
Fortunately, the military has been experimenting with human hibernation, and they freeze an ordinary, average-Joe private, Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson
) to test the process. Unable to find a suitable female soldier for the experiment, they also freeze a prostitute named Rita (SNL's Maya Rudolph
). Then the program is defunded and Joe and Rita hibernate for 500 years. When they wake up, they find that America still exists, but everyone in America has become completely stupid, and Joe is now by far the smartest man in the world.
This premise is reminiscent of an old Brendan Fraser
comedy, Blast from the Past; but Idiocracy is much broader and cruder (it's a Mike Judge project) and also more serious satire, sort of. It goes for the jugular. For instance: in the future the English language has deteriorated into a "hybrid of hillbilly, Valley girl, and inner-city slang" (actually, this may already be happening today); when Joe talks, he sounds "pompous and faggy" and becomes a pariah. Corporate logos and surveillance cameras cover every surface; mountains of garbage tower over neglected cities. The economy is humming (literally… Starbucks offers hand jobs to men with every latte) but inefficient, because nothing works. A single Costco store now covers tens of square miles, the greeter mindlessly mumbles to everyone "Welcome to Costco, I love you…" to millions of sheep-like consumers who wander through the mountains of cheap crap merchandise while police cruise the aisles in electric cars with gang-style logos. In short, this future is like Bush-era, gangsta rap, reality-TV, white trash America, only more so.
Predictably, Joe is soon running from the police (like every dystopic hero) because he doesn't have a bar-code tattoo on his arm. But when the authorities discover that Joe is the world's smartest human, he is taken to the president of the United States, a former wrestler and porn star who appoints him interior secretary (he is quickly confirmed by the House of Representin') because "he's gonna solve all our problems and shit."
An uneasy combination of Gattaca and, well, Beavis and Butt-head, Idiocracy is funny but it doesn't always work, unless you take the message seriously… in which case maybe it's not that funny. In fact, Judge seems to be poking fun at what he sees as the real deterioration of American culture.
Many people – at least, a few people – have noted the dumbing-down of America, but no one until Judge has blamed it on genetics. Now that's politically incorrect. Most sociologists foolishly assert that natural selection favors the beautiful and smart. But Judge is correct: natural selection favors only one thing, the willingness to have lots of children, and people who let their careers or the costs of college deter them from parenthood end up on the wrong side of the fertility gap. His future scenario is a warning; in a way, it's an update of H.G. Wells' classic The Time Machine, the first pessimistic dystopia written a century ago. No one can predict what the future holds – probably not gangsta rap – but Judge has a point. If we don't want the future to be hellish, we all need to do our part… and raise some decent kids.