Oct 30, 2019
Movies that Predicted Trump: Idiocracy (2006)
Welcome to the first in a series of reviews we’re calling Movies that Predicted Trump, where we discuss the films that foretold (in ways both large and small) the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.
I guess it’s finally time for me to admit it: The world is turning into Idiocracy.
Believe me, a year and a half ago, no one was more exhausted than I was of internet commenters constantly referencing Idiocracy every time a new low-brow reality TV show debuted, or whenever someone with the last name Kardashian and/or Jenner did something dumb, or when yet another celebrity mom announced she wouldn’t be vaccinating her kids. I can assure you, 18 months ago, no one rolled their eyes harder than I did at the oft-repeated joke of “Idiocracy is now a documentary.”
And then, a month ago, over 62 million Americans listened intently to the free-form gibberish spewed by an incompetent, bigoted, misogynist, adulterous conspiracy theorist/bullshit artist surrounded by the looniest of the right-wing lunatic fringe and decided he was absolutely the guy who should be entrusted to lead the most powerful nation on the planet. And so I guess it’s time for me to join the dark side and be your average unoriginal internet commenter and finally say it.
Idiocracy is now a documentary.
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I’m telling you, you should have seen the original version of this review, which I almost posted a year ago. It was meant as a response to an article on io9 titled “Idiocracy Is a Cruel Movie And You Should Be Ashamed For Liking It”.
For those who haven’t seen the film, or have somehow spent any length of time on the internet without gleaning its basic plot, it’s a sci-fi comedy that posits a future where the intelligence of the average human being has declined drastically and the world is run by idiots. To set up its premise, the movie includes a prelude in which we’re introduced to an affluent, educated couple who put off having children until it’s too late, which is contrasted with “Clevon”, a trailer park redneck with an IQ of 84 who has lots of babies with multiple women (and Clevon Jr grows up to do the same), and within centuries, the swelling population of total morons has overtaken the world.
The io9 article argues that, with its underlying message of poor, uneducated people breeding at a faster rate than the intelligent and wealthy and ultimately bringing about the downfall of society, Idiocracy basically advocates for the school of thought known as eugenics. Of course, the author of that article was subjected to a stream of invective and ad-hominem attacks, mostly from people who know absolutely nothing about eugenics, because the thesis of Idiocracy’s intro is pretty much the textbook definition.
Idiocracy was written and directed by Mike Judge (creator of Beavis & Butthead and King of the Hill) as his follow-up to the cult workplace comedy Office Space. The film stars Luke Wilson as Joe Bowers, an underachieving Army librarian who becomes a guinea pig for a suspended animation experiment. He and a prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph) are locked in cryo-pods and set to be revived in a year, but due to bureaucratic ineptitude, they’re completely forgotten about for centuries.
By the time Joe wakes up, it’s the year 2505, and the intelligence of the human race has diminished to the point where a completely average joe like… Joe is now the smartest man in the world. He finds a civilization in total disrepair, where everyone and everything is branded with corporate logos, where people eat tubs of butter, sit in La-Z-Boys with built-in toilets, and watch movies like Ass (a 90-minute close-up of an ass) and TV shows like Ow, My Balls! (nothing but nut shots).
Joe’s high IQ soon attracts the attention of the President of the United States, Dwayne Elizondo Camacho (Terry Crews), a former wrestler/porn star who addresses Congress and the nation while firing off guns, singing, and chugging six packs of beer.
Joe is named Secretary of the Interior and tasked with finding out why food doesn’t grow anymore. Eventually, he discovers that all crops are now being watered with a sports drink called Brawndo (with the meaningless slogan of “it’s got electrolytes”). We learn that years ago, the Brawndo Corporation bought out the FDA and the FCC, allowing them to both sell any product they wanted and make as many outrageous claims about those same products as they wanted, and now the average American views plain water as not fit for human consumption and only meant for toilets.
Joe convinces the populace to start watering plants with actual water, which causes Brawndo stock to tank and puts much of the country out of work. Joe is then arrested and subjected to “rehabilitation”, whereupon the film completely runs out of steam and we get a mind-numbing finale where he faces off against monster trucks. But with Rita’s help, he proves that water makes plants grow, and Joe eventually gets elected president, with Rita as his first lady.
Idiocracy has a lot of on-target barbs, but it’s weighed down by too much repetitive dumb humor where supposedly respectable members of society talk like they have palsy and call each other “faggy”. Also, the movie suffers from far too many voiceover intrusions from an omniscient narrator, which were likely attempts to paper over the gaps in the story created by the low budget. The film is less than 90 minutes long (including credits), and one could argue that at least the last 15 of those are padding. A sketch comedy skit or short-film version of Idiocracy probably would have been brilliant, but as it stands, it’s one of those movies that seems way funnier in retrospect, particularly when you can isolate the good bits into social media image macros.
But back then, in those innocent, naively optimistic days of 2015, the main point of this review would have been to say that Idiocracy doesn’t actually promote eugenics, because it’s a comedy. Saying that Idiocracy seriously argues for eugenics is like saying that Back to the Future Part II was a sincere attempt to predict what life would be like in 2015 (though, judging by all the clickbait-y “What Back to the Future II got right” articles that went up on January 1, 2015, it would seem plenty of people missed the joke on that one, too).
But I would have gone even further than that, with an extended line of argument that the world is actually not turning into Idiocracy, and in fact, the opposite is true. Oh, you should have seen it, my friends. I was going to pull out charts and graphs. I was going to present the incontrovertible fact that the world is actually getting smarter and more educated. I was going to reference something called the Flynn effect, a substantial increase in global IQ scores seen starting in the 1930s. I was going to point out that basically every generation thinks the one that comes after is slower, dumber, shallower, and more self-absorbed. I was even going to point out that Andy Warhol already made the movie Ass fifty years ago, and somehow, humanity survived.
But then the 2016 presidential election happened, and you know what? All bets are off. Come January of next year, the world of Idiocracy might actually seem preferable to the one we’re living in. I mean, at the very least, President Camacho is never shown insulting journalists, expressing deep admiration for brutal dictators, amassing a large deportation force, or directing government agencies to investigate his political foes as payback.
Since this series is called Movies that Predicted Trump, let’s take a closer look at how well the film does in predicting the rise of our Glorious Orange Leader.
In Idiocracy, the US president is Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (his full name), a former TV star who was once involved in pro wrestling. He constantly talks about kicking ass, makes WWE-style entrances, surrounds himself with beautiful models, and makes borderline incoherent speeches about fixing all of the country’s problems within a week. Does any of this sound familiar?
However, in contrast to the current President-elect, Camacho never promises that he’s the only one who can fix everything; he actually promises Joe Bowers will be the one to solve all of the country’s problems (so Joe is Idiocracy‘s Mike Pence?). Joe becomes Secretary of the Interior, whereupon he meets the rest of the cabinet, each member more dense than the last: The Secretary of Energy is a teenager who “won a contest”. The Secretary of State (David Herman, Office Space’s Michael Bolton) is a guy who takes every opportunity to shill for Carl’s Jr. The Secretary of Education is someone who is clearly mentally disabled.
This all seems rather amusing, until you realize that we’re about to get a cabinet featuring the proprietor of a white nationalist news site, an anti-Islamic religious fanatic or two, a guy who once said that the KKK is okay with him, a man who openly brags about almost bludgeoning his mother, and many more.
Worst of all, there’s at least some small chance that the actual Secretary of the Interior will not be Joe Bowers, but rather former governor Sarah Palin, which is a bit like nominating a meth addict to be the country’s drug czar. Though, I would imagine President-elect Trump is currently mulling over that possibility, too.
So did Idiocracy predict Trump? It appears so. But I think most of us suspected the era of the celebrity/entertainer president was inevitable, particularly with the election of a former Hollywood actor to the office over 30 years ago. (Boy, remember back in 1980 when liberals were horrified that an intellectual lightweight had just been elected president? Ronald Reagan might as well have been William F. Buckley compared to what we’re about to get.) And while Idiocracy may have predicted the eventual election of a clueless TV star president, it missed a lot of other things, like the virulent hatred for minorities that would accompany it. In fact, the world of this movie seems rather idyllically racially harmonious, in that everyone appears to be just one race: dumb. (Perhaps four years from now, Idiocracy will look less like a documentary, and more like a utopian, escapist fantasy.)
But despite everything I said above, I still believe in what I planned to say in the original version of this review, which is that the world, on average, is getting smarter. I still believe the rise in global IQ rates is a real thing. But here’s the rub: Clearly, intelligence is only a small part of the story. Simply having a high IQ is no guarantee that a person will have empathy for others, or make choices that are better for society as a whole. Smart people are still perfectly capable of being impetuous, vindictive, selfish, and shortsighted. And intelligence, it would seem, has little bearing on whether a person actually takes the time to understand the full implications of who and what they’re voting for. So even if Idiocracy really were advocating for eugenics, castrating Clevon isn’t going to solve anything.
In the end, Joe Bowers’ near-undoing happens when he can’t fix all of the country’s problems within a week like President Camacho promised. Maybe a similar thing will happen in four years when all of those laid-off coal miners and factory workers also realize that (despite a few token PR moves) their jobs are never coming back. A night of “rehabilitation” facing off against monster trucks and flame throwers would be a fitting end for a Trump presidency. And maybe what even the Donald himself would want.
Next up in the Movies that Predicted Trump: Warren Beatty plays a candidate who begins behaving erratically, and offending the entire nation with racially-tinged comments and random acts of buffoonery (truly, a wild premise) in 1998’s Bulworth.