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'Idiocracy' Is Bad, Actually

You know who'd find the movie hilarious? Hitler.

by Rick Paulas
Oct 7 2016, 4:25pm

​ Luke Wilson, who is better and smarter than you. Photo via 20th Century Fox.

You don't have to wade too far into the #hottakes to find someone saying this year's political shitshow is "just like Idiocracy." It's been such a hot opinion that the flick's been re-released into select theaters to celebrate its tenth anniversary/our impending doom. But while it may seem that the "Idiocracy's a documentary...about now" talking point is an indictment about Donald Trump the man, it's actually casting blame on the voters who gave his candidacy rise.


"These Trump voters—their children, their children's children—will be responsible for turning America into a Brawndo-swilling, 'Ow My Balls!'–gawking cesspool by 2506," is the lurking sentiment. Trump voters are the intro's Clevon, with his 84 IQ and rapidly expanding family tree. The rest of us are intelligent, like Trevor and Carol, as we deliberate about procreation's detriment to civilization—so we mock Trump supporters while queasily laughing at Mike Judge's prescient vision of our future.

If one believes the accuracy of film's central premise—that the dumb are reproducing at a higher rate than the smart, which will lower the world's intelligence until idiocy reigns supreme—it's only natural to want to stop that from happening. From there, it's not at all that great a leap to begin believing that maybe there should be some kind of policy only allowing intelligent people to reproduce—in other words, sterilize the dumb.


That, my friends, is a description of eugenics—the pseudoscience that rose in the latter half of the 19th century as a byproduct of extrapolating Darwin's theory of natural selection into the realm of human development. (In fact, it was Darwin's half-cousin, Sir Francis Galton, who posited that "genius" and "talent" were hereditary, which other half-witted scientists soon latched on to.)

An example is the 1912 book The Kallikak Family: A Study in the Heredity of Feeble-Mindedness by Henry H. Goddard, which examines the genealogy of a woman living in a New Jersey institution and tracks her "feeble-mindedness" to her great-great-great-grandfather, who had a tryst with a "feeble-minded" barmaid. While the other side of the man's family tree were all found to be "normal," that single dalliance lead to, as Goddard put it, "generations worth of feeble-minded." (This, as you may imagine, has subsequently been found to be a load of bullshit.) One person who was a big fan of these theories was—dramatic sound effect—Hitler, who utilized them in his attempt to create a master race.

That attempt began in 1933 when the Nazi regime enacted the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, which stated that any person suffering from a list of hereditary diseases—many of them not at all hereditary, like blindness, deafness, or "severe deformity"—could be forcibly stopped from procreating. It's estimated that 400,000 people were sterilized against their will.

Forget the moral quandaries that come with forced sterilization and selective breeding—let's talk about the science behind eugenics. This will be a short conversation, because there is none. There are any number of factors that can contribute to a person's intelligence, or lack thereof. One of the many reasons Goddard's treatise was bullshit was that he never examined the role that malnutrition—a factor related to poverty and not genes—played in developing his subject's "feeble mind."

So: Idiocracy's central premise—that dumb people create more dumb people—is wrong. Its other theme—that dumb people are also breeding more quickly than smart people—also happens to be way off.

A 2015 Pew study looked at how many kids that women with postgraduate degrees have given birth to over the past half-century. In 1994, 30 percent of women with a master's degree or higher were childless, a number that's since dropped to 22 percent. In 1976, 10 percent of said women had one child, while in 2014 that numbers up to 18 percent; those with two kids rose even more dramatically, from 22 to 35 percent. More directly, according to the vastly accepted Flynn effect—which has been proven and re-proven by having people take old IQ tests—the human race is only getting more intelligent, with no signs of slowing down.

But let's get back to viewing Idiocracy through the lens of today's political scene—specifically, through the critique of Trump supporters. Aside from the movie's bad science, its most damning offense is its "we're better than those idiots" point-of-view. Idiocracy is not a "smart person's movie," though—it's a movie for average assholes who think they're smart.

Laughing at jokes in Idiocracy is a quantum experience; you're making fun of fake dummies in the year 2506, sure, but mostly you're making fun of their distant relatives from the past, the very real people living right now in our contemporary times. You're laughing at the racists you believe to be flanking Trump's rallies, meaning you're laughing at the "poorly educated," meaning you're laughing at the poor—emotionally and fiscally—being duped by this orange huckster.

The "we're livingIdiocracy right now!" shtick fits very nicely alongside as Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables," or the Washington Post's heavily lauded profile of the mentally ill Trump supporter, or any slickly edited five-minute video chunk that gawks at assholes at a Trump rally. It's all elitist porn, allowing the fortunate to mock the poor and under-educated through the sheen of the Truth. Laugh it up all you want—just know what it is you're laughing at.

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