Mike Judge’s 2006 dystopian comedy is increasingly becoming a warning for the modern age.
The 2016 US election featuring Donald Trump catapulted this 2006 stoner-sci-fi-comedy into the corners of more serious film discussion. It’s easy to overlook what are considered ‘lowbrow’ movies — lowbrow artworks as a whole, also — mistakenly regarding their easier aesthetic as evidence of a lack of depth and profundity.
However, since the advent of post-modernism (within which Frederic Jameson has pointed out the line between high and low art has become increasingly blurred) many theorists across the board from Slavoj Žižek to Mark Fisher, have made use of these kinds of ‘junk artworks’ to illustrate insightful cultural criticisms.
What I mean, therefore, is that both Kafka and the Kardashians are relevant.
Just like Žižek, Fisher and countless other cultural critics, what this series aims to do is to introspect on the climate crisis, on sustainability, on our own personal ethical ability to foster change, through the prism of pop-culture cinema. Analysis alone is important, yet it can often be overly academic, hard to understand and dare I say it, even slightly boring. Through cinema, perhaps we can engage better with the issues we face. And if not, then at least you get a few suggestions for your Sunday hangover film-day…
And so we come to Mike Judge’s Idiocracy starring Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph. It’s the story of a US Army librarian (Wilson), the most straight-edge, boring, uneventful bloke around and a trapped-by-her-pimp, inelegant sex worker (Rudolph) who take part in a US Government experiment to cryogenically freeze themselves. There is a departmental crisis, the unit responsible for Wilson and Rudolph is shut down, and they wake up five hundred years later to an Earth populated with utter morons who play video games all day, and exist in a junk food and fizzy drink fuelled agricultural system with literally no conception of what water is. Meanwhile, mass planetary destruction spearheaded by one single corporation is taking place.
Sure, this is all portrayed in an easy, light-hearted manner, but underneath it lies something more serious. At the time, critics marked it as overly hyperbolic — surely the world could never become this stupid. And yet President Trump bears striking similarities to Idiocracy’s President Camacho (Terry Crews); Republican climate-crisis denials are eerily related to the behaviour of Camacho’s cabinet; and the videogame-addicted, junk food-gorging imbeciles that inhabit Idiocracy’s future planet Earth don’t seem highly implausible in Zuckerberg’s Metaverse future of tomorrow.
Idiocracy at heart is a prediction of the future without any of the seer-like, prophetic, quasi-godly qualities of a Blade Runner 2049 or a Children of Men (both of which will be covered later in the series — keep your eyes open), which for one thing makes much more accessible viewing. Though, the answers it gives may not be astute, the questions it poses couldn’t be more relevant: What happens if we don’t act now? What happens if we let far-right climate deniers take control? What happens if we continue to allow Capitalism’s heartwrenchingly destructive features wreak untold havoc on our cultures, on our societies, on our planet?
Idiocracy paints a bleak picture, but for my money it’s not bleak enough. The answer to the above questions, if we play our hand poorly, is total destruction of our planet as we know it — nothing more, nothing less.
Stay tuned for next week’s film – Alfonso Cuaron’s spellbinding 2006 release, Children of Men.