From Satire to Documentary: How Modern History Has Changed “Idiocracy”

In ten short years, Mike Judge’s once savage film has gone from being satire to a too-accurate reflection of modern society. How did it happen? Why did it happen?

It’s your fault.

And mine.

Why even look back on this cult film in the first place? The ascent of a real estate mogul turned fake reality television star as our President, for starters. Many people, including Judge and the film’s co-writer Etan Cohen, have found disturbing parallels between the movie’s fictional premise set 500 years in the future and the reality of today, with Cohen going so far during the Republican primaries to tweet out “I never expected #idiocracy to become a documentary” and “I thought the worst thing that would come true was everyone wearing Crocs.” Judge himself in an interview with The Daily Beast proclaimed “I didn’t want ‘Idiocracy’ to get popular by the world getting stupider faster” and “I guess I was 450 years off.” There are comparisons between President Trump and President Camacho, as both appeared in pro-wrestling matches and both seemed to place an importance on theatre over procedure. Yet, there are major differences between the Commanders-in-Chief. Camacho accepted he wasn’t the smartest person in the room and knew it was important to make the lives of all Americans better.

As one of the few film critics to review the movie upon its unfortunately negligible 2006 theatrical release, (as well as an earlier rave review of the screenplay, then titled “3001”) I took pride in knowing that someday, somewhere down the road, the film would find an audience. I finished my review thusly…

“Idiocracy” will find its audience in the very near future, and that audience will chuckle, chortle, snicker, cackle and guffaw at how right Judge got it. But then they will stop laughing and remember one of the opening lines in the narration, “Evolution does not necessarily reward that which is good or beautiful, it simply rewards those who reproduce the most,” and will begin to cry, as the scenario depicted in “Idiocracy” is truly becoming more and more a probability with every passing day.

Never have I felt so bad to be so right on target in an assessment. Although I was incorrect about the line from the movie that really should have stuck in my craw. The line I really should have paid more attention to was: “Tell people to read books. Tell people to stay in school, you know. Tell people to just use their brains or something.” And as ironic as it might seem to be the editor of an online movie journal, it is vitally important that we, as a nation, stop cocooning ourselves in our own personal bubbles, only getting information from our like-minded friends on Facebook and Twitter, and read a real newspaper, or a book that challenges our perceptions of our lives and the world around us.

A 2014 study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the average American spends only 19 minutes a day reading, while they spend more than three hours every day watching television and another hour socializing on the internet. It gets even worse for 25 to 34 year olds, who read only eight minutes a day, while teenagers can’t even squeeze five minutes of reading in to their daily existences. Thankfully, we have older folks, who remember what life was like before all this damned technology took over, who still to this day spend more than an hour a day reading.

I accept my culpability in lowering the reading statistics. In my teen years, long before the internet, it would not be unusual for me, despite maintaining a 3.2 GPA in school or working upwards of fifty hours a week after graduation, to read two or three books a week. From that mad genius Hunter S. Thompson to Stephen King, Philip K. Dick to Don DeLillo, Tom Wolfe to Raymond Carver, Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis to Richard Ford. I didn’t care if it was fiction or nonfiction, horror, sci-fi, New Journalism or Gonzo, two hundred pages or a thousand. I loved to read. I loved to learn new things, to expand my horizons, to see the world from a hundred different points of view. Those garish, magnificent Vintage Contemporaries of the 1980s were my absolute favorites. Even after I grew up, got married and started this website, I still loved to read. There was nothing better than going out of my Brooklyn apartment, heading down to the corner bodega and grabbing the Sunday New York Times so my wife and I could make a pathetic attempt to finish the crossword puzzle as I perused the Arts and Travel sections after devouring the front section. And the great writers coming out with fantastic work during the time! Chuck Palahniuk. James Ellroy. Dave Eggers. Michael Chabon (I was reading and had my hardcover of Kavalier and Clay the moment I met the woman who would become my wife, which lead to her own fascination with his stories), Richard Russo… Man, I read too many middle-aged white dudes. But something happened to me after I turned forty. I just kinda stopped reading for fun, even movie-related books I wanted to read, by authors like Pauline Kael and Robert Ebert. I’d still buy books, but there are boxes of them in the tiny closet of my Berkeley apartment, waiting to be cracked open. I bought all the original dime store Bond paperbacks from the late 1950s and early 1960s just before the release of Spectre, but I’m still only halfway through the second book of the series (Diamonds are Forever) after two plus years, and most of that has been in the two days preceding the writing of this essay.

Reading has been long proven to help your memory, empathy and stress level, among other things. So while it’s more than understandable that many of us are stressing out about the pussy-grabbing twit who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and we should continue to stress out about this guy and his team of gleefully lying, alternative fact creating, gaslighting-addicted sycophants, try to relax by plunging in to a good book. Support real news organizations seeking to keep the public properly informed by subscribing to the New York Times and/or the Washington Post and/or your local newspaper. Don’t just read the headlines and stories of local interest but really dive in to the stories about what else is happening in your nation and around your world. Take note of the local businesses that advertise in the newspaper, and support them by shopping at those businesses. Let the owners know that you are supporting their business because they are supporting a free press.

And for goodness sake, try to not be afraid of admitting when you’re wrong about something. Admitting that you may have made a mistake about something seems to have become something truly horrible in today’s society. We are all going to be wrong about things, far more often than we will wish to admit. I was wrong about how I saw Black Lives Matter when it first started. I was one of those who thought and said, “Well, all lives matter.” And, of course, all lives do matter, but being white and middle-class and living in my own little bubble, I didn’t fully understand the meaning behind Black Lives Matter until someone smarter than I spelled it out for me. Now that I understand that saying Black Lives Matter does not denigrate the lives of non-Blacks, and that there truly have been a number of socio-economic roadblocks that have kept many Blacks from enjoying the same opportunities I have as a white male. I bring this up because I noticed as I was watching “Idiocracy” again that there are very few people of color in the film besides President Camacho and Rita, and very few other ethnic representations. This probably wasn’t a clear and conscious choice on the director’s part.

  • A Smith

    It’s a shame how the movie is fast becoming true