Idiocracy at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to catch Idiocracy — the seldom-seen Mike Judge film, which was released … er … buried just a few years ago. It's about an absolutely average guy in the army, Joe Bauers, who takes part in a human hibernation experiment, only to accidentally be left for 500 years. When he awakes, he finds himself in a bizarre world where stupefyingly stupid people are running the place, and impossibly-stupider ones populate it. Automated systems somehow keep things marginally running [something like "Matrix Vista", I guess] — albeit in a totalitarian dystopia to which the population is absolutely complacent with. Joe is arrested and given an intelligence test which places him as the smartest person in the world — by a huge margin.

But the real brilliance of the satire is that it's a believable amplification of what we have today. The Brawndo corporation bought the FDA and FCC, allowing them to pump their energy-drink beverage through the plumbing for drinking — leaving people to refer to plain water as "toilet water". And, like in today's spirit of anti-intellectualism, people of the future referred to rational speech as sounding "pompous and faggy". It's relentless in its celebration of stupidity.

The film proposes that it was because stupid people have lots of kids but smart people don't that the world was getting dumber, but genetics don't work like that: stupid people breed smart kids just as often as smart people breed dumb kids. Remove that presumption, and the film becomes much more melancholic. For it's not that nature is failing us, it's that we arrogantly and tenaciously believe that because we think intelligence is a good thing that it should necessarily be — in Darwinian parlance — "selected for": that the "good" traits in a species should necessarily become more dominant in the population. Yet that has causality backwards and isn't even a valid comparison. Dominant traits in a population are simply most common, and "good" traits are at the whim of the era. Having ten toes is completely unrelated to being an oil baron in the 20th century or a king in the 16th century.

In Jim Healy's introduction, he believed the screening we were about to watch was the first 35mm screening in New York State — and possibly the entire American northeast. According to IMDb, it opened on 6 screens then peaking the next day at 130 screens — by no means large numbers, but it's unlikely this was the first screening. Anyway, Jim sided with the most rational and least controversial theory for the lackluster marketing for an otherwise hilarious and simultaneously biting film: that Twentieth Century-Fox simply could not figure out how to market it. While I don't doubt that's true, I don't think it's the full story since the Fox corporation has been aggressively courting anti-intellectualism as a philosophical mainstay. So I find it hard to believe it was as simple as a film without a market, but that Fox was the wrong group to try. After all, they opened drivel like Glitter on 1,201 screens and Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties on 2,946 screens yet intellectual fare like Fast Food Nation began on only 321 screens and Waking Life was seen on only 4.

If only they had smarter people working for them …

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