(1) Did you, like most people, miss the movie Idiocracy* last year? It looks like yet another lame comedy, but bear with it. It actually isn’t, really. It is one of the best indictments of what seems to be happening to a large part of the core of our society that I’ve seen in a while. You know what I mean… lower and lower thresholds for waiving all sorts of basic things that were once part of our required education… not just the awful spellings on signs that some of us whine about (sometimes too much, I’ll admit), but the necessity to use a severely reduced vocabulary to make yourself understood in the local store…or the lack of patience people (and the media) have for a reasoned, structured argument, focusing rather on looks, personalities or sound-bites (look for example at some the political headline discussions in both US and UK news at this moment)… the worry that fewer and fewer people seem to read a book from time to time**… The fact that nobody who works in stores seems to know anything about the merchandise they are employed to sell you… Or that situation you’ve had where the person behind the counter gets confused and can’t serve you because the item that you want to buy does not have a little picture of it at the checkout that they can click on in order to ring up your order/total…
Well, this film imagines a future where that sort of thing has become the least of your worries. The “dumbing-down” has just continued unabated. Everybody is essentially brainwashed by large corporations to use their products without question, since nobody is educated well enough to know to object – water is not drunk anymore, for example: A company sells you this Gatorade-like product instead. It is supposed to be better for you. Water is only used in toilets. Your state-assigned legal defense lawyer got his law degree from the local Cosco, the national television news broadcasts have become entertainment (oh, wait…. that’s already happened). There’s an excellent Wikipedia article on it. Don’t read it if you want to see the film first.
The only issue I really have with the film is that this is supposed to be 500 years in the future. Really? Sometimes I’d say it is more like 50 years, and we’d be there. It seems that the studios that initially supported it tried to bury it once they saw what they had. Fox, for example, is one of the agencies in our society that rather fuels the engine of the locomotive that we sometimes seem to be riding on towards a shockingly under-educated and anti-intellectual society. You should see the film’s version of a Fox News broadcast. On the one hand, you laugh at it, and on the other, you are horrified since the parody is really not very far from how it seems now, those rare times that I land on that channel. No wonder Fox put little into the marketing of the film. If looking for something surprisingly sharp and perhaps not what you might normally get for your night of film viewing…. get Idiocracy.
(2) Ok, so you think I’m exaggerating, since you’ve forgotten just how bad things can get. Let me remind you! I was in the car of a friend and colleague, the other day, driving to a meeting across town. She had an object on the dashboard that I’d not seen before. Turned out that it was a traffic radar detector. (Wow, apparently she gets a lot of use for it… but that’s another story.) We’d previously talked about Idiocracy before, and so she was delighted to reach over and show me the instructions for the detector. (She’d just got the new unit and so still had the instructions.) Overall it starts out fine, explaining about magnetic fields and so forth, but later it gets hilarious. I mean, really hilarious. It is at the right – you can click for a larger view. Please read!! Here is a close up of the key funny bit about driving in circles:
(3) Ok. To end, and on the same subject really, let me recommend the February 13th 2008 talk in the Zócalo LA series of public square lectures. It is Dana Gioia, and the talk is “Why the Arts Matter”. Here’s the synopsis:
Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, visits Zócalo to discuss the impoverishment of American popular culture and “the need to reopen the conversation between our best minds and the broader public.” He argues that the real purpose of arts education isn’t to produce more artists but to “create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.” Something happens, he says, when an individual actively engages in the arts—be it reading a novel at home, attending a concert at a local church, or seeing a dance company perform at a college campus—that awakens both a heightened sense of identity and civic awareness. He warns that America’s cultural decline has “huge and alarming economic consequences.”
I heard it (I tend to listen on the Sunday night KPCC broadcasts while cooking). I recommend it. While you’re on their website choosing between getting the podcast or the direct stream, have a look at several of the other lectures that are there for listening. It is just a wonderful collection. You can also attend some of those events live if you keep an eye out for them. Explore the site. Enjoy!
*Thanks A, M, and M.
**Or, for that matter, blog posts more than a paragraph long – you know who you are!