Monday, September 18, 2006


I can’t wait to see Mike Judge’s latest filmic effort, Idiocracy.

Unfortunately, that might not be easy to do. For some bizarre reason, the film - which was completed two years ago - has been released (“dumped” is more like it) in only six markets, completely without benefit of reviews and publicity. And markets like New York and San Francisco, where Judge’s style of humor is well-appreciated, are not even on the short list. What were they thinking?

The L.A. Times (among many others) gives it a favorable review:
Judge has a gift for delivering brutal satire in the trappings of low comedy and for making heroes out of ordinary people whose humanity makes them suspect in a world where every inch of space, including mental, is mediated. The movie would be worth seeing for its skewering of the health system alone...even if its opening thesis on the moment in history (roughly now) that evolution tipped into devolution weren’t so clear-eyed.
But it’s not a pile of glowing critiques that makes me want to see this film. It’s the story.
The movie begins with a comparison of two family trees. A high-IQ couple waits for the perfect time to have a child, a decision they don’t take lightly, while elsewhere, in the trailer park, the dim bulbs breed like rabbits. The high-IQ couple waits too long, the husband dies of stress during fertility treatments, and their line stops there. Meanwhile, the moron population explodes.
And the Onion’s A.V. Club weighs in:
Idiocracy’s dumb-ass dystopia suggests a world designed by Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, a world where the entire populace skirts the fine line separating mildly retarded from really fucking stupid, and where anyone displaying any sign of intelligence is derided as a fag.
Sound familiar? It does to anyone who is acquainted with the work of the late, great science fiction writer Cyril M. Kornbluth, whose classic short story “The Marching Morons” was first published in Galaxy magazine in March 1951.

Strangely, not a single review I’ve read for Idiocracy - with the exception of an excellent post by billmon at his blog Whiskey Bar - has picked up on the Marching Morons connection. And yet it’s clear from every plot summary I’ve seen that Kornbluth’s story had to have been the direct inspiration for Mike Judge’s screenplay.

Cyril Kornbluth died young of a hypertension-driven heart attack, but it could just as easily have been his poisonous worldview that killed him. A more cynical, misanthropic writer this side of Jonathan Swift would be hard to find. In his short story, a modern-day real estate salesman is accidentally thrown into suspended animation, waking up in a dystopian world hundreds of years hence in which intelligence has been bred out of 99.9% of humanity, leaving the hyper-intelligent 0.1% remnant covertly running things - and killing themselves with overwork. The protagonist helpfully suggests a Final Solution to the problem...

Reading “The Marching Morons” today, 55 years after it was written, is actually a little bit scary. The story seems almost perversely prescient, written as it was before reality television, videogames, and Paris Hilton. (Before The Beverly Hillbillies, for that matter.)

From what I understand, the most extremely bitter and cynical elements of Kornbluth’s story have been jettisoned from the movie’s plotline. Even so, that leaves ample opportunity to skewer pretty much everything in modern, vintage-2006 society. I’ve got to see it...if I can find it playing anywhere near here. Otherwise, it’ll be “wait for the DVD” time again.

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