I’m naturally hesitant to comment since Mike Judge’s Idiocracy is playing in only a handful of theaters nowhere near me, but David Bezanson’s review for Filmcritic.com offers an insightful account of the publicity blackout surrounding what may be the first — and probably the last — Bell Curve-inspired social satire to reach American screens:
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
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.
Skipping over the plot spoilers, Bezanson turns to the intellectual dynamite behind the slow-mounting blogospheric buzz and otherwise inexplicable corporate pusillanimity:
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.
There really is no other plausible explanation, folks. By all accounts, this was an easy sell. A raunchy star-billed American comedy, market-ready on the basis of Mike Judge’s Office Space and MTV creds alone. The studio brass simply caught a late whiff of the genetic drift, and pussied out.
Chalk it up to hyperactive pattern recognition, but I seem to remember back during the halcyon days of mid-nineties Bell Curve hysteria, there being a spate of mostly forgettable Hollywood movies that evinced a telling — if safely postured — preoccupation with the same implacable questions. Underneath all its lazily conceived Zelig-derived allegorical pretense and sentimentality, Forrest Gump‘s portrait of a young tard as mythic ubermench was perfectly timed to keep the hobgoblins in abeyance. Further downmarket, there was IQ, which used a happy-go-lucky Albert Einstein to reassure viewers that cognitive brawn was no match for the power of love. Stripped of its irenic flavoring, Victor Salva’s Powder served to remind us that rarefied genius is an extra-genetic force worthy of fear and awe. And nearer the top of the crop, I suppose, we might recall Gattaca, that curiously Randian parable of a genetically engineered dystopia. Care to guess who the hero is?
It adds up to something, I think. However securely cloistered these moguls and cultural arbiters may be in their Hollywood nests, they enjoy a unique perspective on the dumb show that keeps unfolding. They see the detritus in the periphery. They market to it. They employ bottom-wage Mexican gardeners and housemaids. And — if they have children — they worry that those third-world nannies, for all their homilic superstition and charm, may be depriving their precious progeny of carefully cultivated, Mozart-effected cognitive graces. Better get the kid tested soon. The Princeton admissions are only a decade away, and that exclusive pre-school is, by reliably informed accounts, a fucking prerequisite.
Thus, Mike Judge is a man for our time. A satirist with populist sensibilities who has that subtle knack for rattling the zeitgeist. Just watch Office Space and Fight Club back to back. Both films play off the same signposts, the same seldom-articulated sense of insidiously emasculating cultural momentum, yet without the weight of all that warmed-over situationist gloss and flair, Judge’s pop-cult gesture is ultimately more mature and memorable.
But now that the creator of Beavis and Butthead has, however playfully, tapped into the marrow of our collectively felt post-genomic discomfiture, it seems the gatekeepers have quietly taken notice. As well they should. They drive past the wreckage, after all. And while they may scoff at Charles Murray, they know precisely who they are.