Idiocracy, the documentary

We are now entering the timeline when Mike Judge’s cult film is closer to reality than fiction

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

When Mike Judge’s film Idiocracy was released in 2006, it landed in a different world. This was years before a buffoon named Donald Trump started questioning Barack Obama’s birthplace, when the idea of thousands of insurrectionists breaking into the U.S. Capitol would have been met with universal scorn instead of justifications and conspiracy theories. It wasn’t a perfect time, but the world hadn’t gone completely off its rocker yet. There were at least a few adults still in charge, as it were.

Today? Not so much. There are millions of people who think the Earth is flat. Millions who believe certain celebrities and politicians are eating babies, that the COVID-19 pandemic was cooked up in Bill Gates’ basement, that reptilian aliens have infiltrated Earth and King Charles is actually a vampire. 

President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho greets his followers from the presidential motorcade. Courtesy image.

Just last week, Fox News personalities claimed that the Super Bowl was rigged, and that the Kansas City Chiefs would win because it’s Travis Kelce’s team and he’s dating Taylor Swift, and Swift would use the Super Bowl win to announce her endorsement of Joe Biden in front of the world.

We are truly living in one of the dumbest timelines.

The exaggerated parody of Idiocracy explores the question, “What would America be like if dumb people took over?” 

It didn’t do particularly well at the box office and lived in a sort of limbo for several years until, about 10 years ago, savvy cinephiles began proclaiming that Idiocracy was actually a prophetic film with many “predictions” that are oddly close to our current state of affairs. Idiocracy was becoming a documentary, and that’s alarming.

The opening scene sets the stage. A narrator explains that, instead of natural selection in which “the strongest, the smartest, the fastest reproduced in greater numbers than the rest,” America was experiencing a “dumbing down” effect.

“Evolution does not necessarily reward intelligence,” the narrator continued. “With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most, and left the intelligent to become an endangered species.”

We then see a juxtaposition between two families: a young, intelligent couple named Carol and Trevor explaining why they won’t be having kids yet (“not with the market the way it is”) and Clevon and Trish of the trailer park, as they pop out whole football teams worth of kids and creating a family tree that grows exponentially.

For those who haven’t seen it, I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum: Private Joe Bauers (played by Luke Wilson) is average in every way. He is selected to take part in a secret military experiment that puts him in hibernation for a year with a sex worker named Rita (played by Maya Rudolph). The pair are forgotten about for 500 years and the base they are stored in is shuttered. When they’re finally brought out of hibernation, they discover that society has devolved and average human intelligence has decreased so dramatically that perfectly average Joe is now the smartest man in the world.

Though it began as a goofball comedy, watching Idiocracy today elicits occasional sighs as viewers can’t help but compare these “jokes” to our current reality. Here are some of the movie’s most prophetic moments:

• Educated people reproduce at a lower rate. It is true that female college graduates on average have 20% fewer children than high-school graduates. In fact, there is a growing number of so-called BirthStrikers who have chosen not to have children for fear that climate change and the dumbing-down effect will create a more hostile, unpleasant world for their children.

Corporations control everything. In the film, two corporations have emerged that control just about everything: an energy drink company called Brawndo and Costco, which has sprawling box stores that go on for miles and sell everything you’d ever imagine. In reality, corporations today have some political rights previously afforded only to humans, thanks to cases like Citizens United v. FEC, which gave corporations and outside groups the right to spend an unlimited amount of money toward political campaigns.

•The presidency and Congress have devolved into a mess. Terry Crews plays President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, who wears gaudy American flag vests and muscle shirts, rides a motorcycle and fires rounds from his automatic rifle into the air to get people’s attention in the House of Representatives (now called the “House of Representin’”). Having lived through the past seven or eight years of American politics under the influence of Donald Trump and his followers, it doesn’t seem so funny anymore.

Society is inundated with crude humor. Living amid a post-capitalist hellscape of trash piles, the people in the year 2505 have fairly crude tastes. The most popular TV show is called Ow, My Balls! and features a man repeatedly being kicked in the nuts (compare this to the very real show, Wipeout, which has people getting pummeled while navigating an obstacle course). The top Oscar-winning film in the year 2505 is just a shot of a naked butt. Nobody drinks water anymore, instead quaffing Brawndo, “The Thirst Mutilator.” Fox News is the only news source and Starbucks offers sexual favors along with its lattes. When a mother is deemed “unfit” while using a Carl’s Jr. vending machine, a canned corporate voices announces, “You are an unfit mother. Your children will be placed in the custody of Carl’s Jr.”

Language has been dumbed down. The English language in Idiocracy has deteriorated into a sort of patois of hillbilly, Valley girl and inner-city slang that is punctuated with various grunts. Words like “amazeballs” and “cray cray” in use today seem to punctuate this point of the film with a bitter pill of reality.

Advertising is everywhere.In Idiocracy, it seems that every square inch is filled with advertising, from clothing to the presidential lectern. In reality, a Russian company called StartRocket aims to display enormous billboard-style advertisements in the air. There very much could be a day in the near future when the night sky is lit with constellations of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola logos.

Perhaps the America of 2024 can take some lessons from the America of Idiocracy’s 2505. There is a ray of hope in the film, after all, proving that no matter how far down the dumb rabbit hole we travel, the U.S. does not have to be a failed state. Our problems are solvable. It might take years to claw ourselves away from this dumb blue light that seems to attract more and more of us, but we have overcome worse.

In the words of Charles Bukowksi, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.” 

If we are able to lessen the doubts of the intelligent ones and decrease the confidence of the stupid ones, we might just save ourselves from an “idiocratic” future.

I’m not holding my breath, though.

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