Sometimes the Truth Is Cruel

It's got electrolytes!

It's got electrolytes!

Over at Paleofuture, Matt Novak writes that he thinks you’re a bad person if you like Idiocracy, the 2006 Mike Judge film suggesting humanity has peaked and that we will get dumber when smart people have fewer kids and idiots overpopulate the world. Novak believes this film is desperately unfair to stupid people, who probably have feelings and stuff. Besides, we’ve always had idiots amongst us! Society still has gotten better. Plus, the movie fails to focus on the real villains of our society: the dastardly one percenters who trick the poors into wanting things that are bad for them in order to earn filthy lucre.

Here’s Novak:

But Idiocracy is now our point of reference for the dumbing down of society. Whereas previous generations had movies like Network (1976) that challenged our understanding of possible media-driven futures, millennials have Idiocracy. And while the film expresses an arguably legitimate frustration with our current cultural landscape, it also leads us down a strange and illogical path for creating a better future. …

Unlike other films that satirize the media and the soul-crushing consequences of sensationalized entertainment (my personal favorite being 1951′s Ace in the Hole), Idiocracy lays the blame at the feet of an undeserved target (the poor) while implicitly advocating a terrible solution (eugenics). The movie’s underlying premise is a fundamentally dangerous and backwards way to understand the world.

Emphasis mine. I always find it interesting when someone says we should lay off a certain group when it comes to humor, that we shouldn’t make fun of them because, hey, it’s not fair or some such. Consider Novak’s argument here. It is inherently infantilizing, a point of view that suggests we refrain from mocking someone because they’re literally too stupid to avoid the predations of the elites. It’s not their fault that they love crap TV and crap food; someone else has foisted that desire upon them.

Stripping the masses of their agency strikes me as a huge intellectual dodge. In a consumerist democracy, even a representative one such as ours, do the hoi polloi bear no responsibility for their choices? Are their desires, their urges not to be examined? It’s easy to say “The gatekeepers should know better and should therefore exercise better judgment about keeping ‘bad’ things away from them.” Maybe they should. But when the people want trash is it any surprise that someone feeds them trash? And don’t comedians then have a professional (if not moral!) responsibility to say “Hey, dum dums, quit eating trash! It’s bad for you. Rots the guts.”

Of course they do! Idiocracy is a cruel movie. Novak gets that right. But it’s cruel because it is true. Mass culture is getting dumber and crasser and grosser. Pornography is proliferating and mainstreaming. People are eating worse. Sometimes it takes a dose of hard medicine to save a terminally ill patient. Armed with Mike Judge’s foresight, we can work to ensure that a future of “Ow My Balls!” never comes to be.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed off to Starbucks for my afternoon latte.