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No, Idiocracy (2006) is Not a Documentary–It’s a Socially Irresponsible Movie

Dax Shepherd in Idiocracy (2006)

Dax Shepherd in Idiocracy (2006)

But…Why? The Reason Might Surprise You

With everything said, this all raises a major question: why on earth would Mike Judge–or any Hollywood filmmaker–prop up eugenics theory, and in such a sneaky, underhanded way? Believe it or not, it may not even be necessarily because Judge or his co-writer, Etan Coen, actually believed in eugenics theory.

To explain how, I have to give a little background into Mike Judge for those too young to not know who he is (I know GenXers and Baby Boomers will roll their eyes over what I just said, but sorry, guys–we’re that old now.) Mike Judge was the creator of the animated MTV series, Beavis and Butthead, which became a huge cultural phenomenon in the 1990s.

As popular as it was, the show was extremely controversial in its day. The reason is that many people felt that it was promoting juvenile delinquency, since it centered around two braindead teenage slackers who did nothing all day except get into mischief and watch music videos. Naturally, parents and teachers became nervous (fearing that the show was having a bad influence on kids) and began lobbying politicians to do something about it. This caused Americans to revisit the moral panic about the dumbing down of America and use Beavis and Butthead as the poster child.

When asked to defend the show, Judge trotted out the usual canards about how it was about making fun of morons like Beavis and Butthead and not glorifying their behavior. However, Judge was forced to contend with the critics in the worst way when, in 1993, a two-year-old girl killed in a fire set by her five-year-old brother. The grieving mother allegedly blamed Beavis and Butthead, since the two characters often showed a fascination with fire.

Now, imagine being in Judge’s position with all of this fallout. You create a hit series that, in spite of its tremendous popularity, also becomes a hated symbol of the moral panic over entertainment dumbing down the country. After all this work, the show’s legacy as a pop cultural phenomenon is close to being flushed down the toilet, and you also risk getting relegated to the dustbin of history.

So, what do you do? If you have any sense of morality or social responsibility, you’ll concede to the critics by fixing the issues with the show or maybe write it off as a loss and move on to better and brighter things. If you’re a Civil Libertarian–which means having no scruples, sense of social responsibility or humility to speak of–what you’ll do is fire back at the critics in one long-ass, passive-aggressive, childish swipe. To make matters worse, you’ll take the comments of social critics like Carl Sagan and turn it completely on their head, using one of the most obnoxious weaponization tactics to come down the pike.

What is this tactic? There’s an illogical fallacy from the discipline of Logic known as “correlation doesn’t equal causation.” What this means is, “Don’t confuse an event as causing a prior one because of timing.”

For example, let’s say someone never leaves the house with his lucky rabbit’s foot. One day he forgets it, and no more than a half hour later, he gets into a terrible car accident. If the guy said, “I got hit by a car because I forgot my rabbit’s foot,” you could argue, “Just because you got hit by a car right after you left the house without your rabbit’s foot doesn’t mean that one has to do with the other. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.”

Over time, people started to take this illogical fallacy–“correlation doesn’t equal causation”–and weaponize it as an argument to dismiss the observations of those who are seeing a very valid causal link between two things. For instance, if a scientist were to say, “We’ve done studies to show that chewing tobacco causes mouth cancer,” someone might argue, “Just because you notice that people are getting mouth cancer years after chewing tobacco doesn’t mean that tobacco causes mouth cancer. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.”

Going back to Idiocracy, this is exactly what the movie does. It says, “Yes, social critics like Carl Sagan were right–America has gotten dumbed down.” It says, “Yes, social critics, indeed, noticed that there is more dumb entertainment.” But then it also says, “As observant as these social critics are, they are wrong, because they confused correlation with causation.”

How were they wrong? According to Idiocracy, it’s not that entertainment is responsible for a dumbed down America but that mentally retarded people started breeding at such a rapid rate that they created an increased demand for the rise of trash media that Sagan observed and eventually wrote about in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

The movie doesn’t stop there. Idiocracy actually singles out who the “retarded people breeding out of control” are and what types of “dumb media” they created a demand for. The film, for example, makes fun of stuff like WWE, monster trucks, Walmart and America’s Funniest Home Videos, as well as references the fact that an actual WWE wrestler–Jessie “The Body” Ventura–was elected to public office. Even though all of this stuff was, indeed, ripe for parody in their own right, they’re also markers of what Americans in general refer to as “trailer trash” or “redneck” culture, which is specific to two regions in the United States–the Midwest and the Deep South. There are also signs, as some keen observers noticed, that Idiocracy seems to also be singling out poor, uneducated people from these regions, judging from a scene that depicts a highly intelligent, college-educated couple choosing to delay having children.

So, Judge and Coen were essentially saying with this film, “America is getting dumber because too many poor, uneducated people from specific areas of the country are having too many babies. If you’re seeing more dumb entertainment, it’s a side effect of having this population spiral out of control.”

Now, why pick on these regions? For one, Idiocracy played to bigoted and regionalist stereotypes in its target audience. One of these stereotypes is that all people from the Deep South or rural areas in general are morons, because they’re inbred. Since inbreeding can cause mental retardation down the road, audience members buying into these bigoted stereotypes were hooked by Idiocracy’s completely implausible premise about a world in which allowing the genetically feeble-minded to run amok could potentially lead to a dumbed down human race.

Besides pandering to American prejudices about the Deep South and Midwest, the attack also seems to be personal. The most damning thing that makes a case for this is the background of the family that was affected by the deadly fire that started the moral panic against Beavis and Butthead in 1993. As the AP news article on the backlash against the show pointed out, the family of the child killed in the fire was from a mobile park in Colorado. Not only that, another fire was set in the same region. Given all this, it doesn’t take a genius to understand why so-called “trailer trash” were targeted by Idiocracy as the demographic of morons that was threatening to overrun the United States.

What makes this all the worse is that it might not have been true that the mother in the 1993 fire even blamed Beavis and Butthead. It was most likely a fabrication from public officials merely using the controversy over the show as a convenient scapegoat. (The child responsible for the fire, Austin Messner, later came out as an adult to say that his family was too poor to afford cable so couldn’t have seen the show.

In any event, given the moral panic over Beavis and Butthead, there’s no question that Idiocracy’s offensive take on the dumbing down of America was nothing more than score settling, not an actual thoughtful, sincere satirical attempt at exploring the problem.

But the movie was also a classic Civil Libertarian tactic and talking point. The Civil Libertarian response to backlash over a work potentially creating negative cultural, political or social fallout is to always petulantly point the finger back at “bad elements” being the problem. In other words, “It’s not that gangster rap inspires cop killing; there were angry cop-killers to begin with,” or, “It’s not that movies shows inspire mass shootings; there were crazy gun nuts to begin with.”

In the case of Idiocracy, “It’s not that TV shows inspire dumb behavior; there were dumb people to begin with.”

2 Comments

  1. Carl

    How big is the mirror that you jerk off in front of?

    • Comment by post author

      I normally don’t allow comments like these, but I allowed this for a reason. All of the most abusive comments on this blog have come from foreign nationals like Carl, who hails from Australia. Other abusive commenters like him have come from all over the world, the two most recent ones from Jamaica and Asia, in which the last one issued a death threat to me and my family.

      Understand, Carl, that rather than angering me, you’ve helped me make an important decision in terms of this blog. So, thanks for your comment. I would also strongly suggest you post using a VPN if you want to go around trolling people. I would never doxx you but some other blogger would in a heartbeat. You’re not as anonymous as you think you are.

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