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Daum: Invasion of the idiocrats

You may not have seen "Idiocracy," the 2006 sci-fi comedy set in an utterly dysfunctional nation 500 years in the future, but chances are you've heard it mentioned lately. References to the film seem to be everywhere, and not just in op-eds penned by cranky columnists (I mentioned it in a column last year about public spaces being sold as advertising space). The latest issue of the Economist has an article about the business-sabotaging effects of the battles in Washington, headlined "American Idiocracy."

A recent blog post on the Psychology Today website was headlined "Idiocracy: Can We Reverse It?" Meanwhile, it's popping up in causal conversations, Internet comments and, most notably, on Twitter, where it often appears as a hashtagged topic (and if you don't know what that means, you're not an idiot; you probably just have a full-time job).

The premise of "Idiocracy" is that a guy named Joe, with a "perfectly average IQ," is selected — along with a prostitute — for a hibernation experiment that inadvertently keeps him asleep until 2505, when he awakes to a world where, as the prologue explains, evolution "began to simply reward those who reproduced the most and left the intelligent to become an endangered species." The result is a trash-strewn society in which crops are watered with a sports drink called Brawndo, people have names like Frito and Mountain Dew, and the most popular form of entertainment is a reality show called "Ow, My Balls," which consists of footage of a man repeatedly getting whacked in the groin. Meanwhile, Costco is where you go for toilet paper and a university education, and IQs are so low that "average Joe" is considered a genius.

Judging by popular culture in 2011, it's hard not to wonder if 500 years was a too optimistic prediction, since "Jersey Shore" just might make "Ow, My Balls" look like "Masterpiece Theater." But mainstream entertainment has been the domain of idiocrats for a long time. A bummer of more recent vintage is the way our political system has followed suit.

How else to account for a former vice presidential candidate who sees reality-TV stardom as a road to the White House? Or a congressman who tweets photos of his underwear-clad genitals? Or a two-term governor of the most populous state in the country who fathers a child with his housekeeper and, when his wife files for divorce, goes out in public wearing a T-shirt that reads "I Survived Maria 1977-2010" (that refers to the years of their courtship and marriage, and, yes, this is true; it happened last week)? How else to account for a Congress that gets the nation's credit rating lowered thanks to toddler-like stubbornness over an issue that many of its members barely seem to grasp?

The list goes on and on, of course, especially as the 2012 election season opens and the 24-hour news cycle expands into the millions-of-page-views-per-day blog cycle and the 10,000-tweets-per-minute cycle. But depressing as the idiocracy label is, a cursory analysis suggests a glimmer of hope in its usage: finally, something that can transcend partisanship.

Put simply, fearing idiocracy isn't a matter of being liberal or conservative. It's a matter of not being an idiot. At least in theory. A recent op-ed by Erik Rush on the right-wing World Net Daily website noted that the movie "hit altogether too close to home." Granted, Rush ultimately put the blame on liberals for encroaching idiocracy, but was his dismay over "increasingly sophomoric marketing messages" and "the Orwellian bent of political rhetoric" all that far removed from that of leftie folky Jackson Browne, who was quoted this month saying that "Idiocracy" was "a great societal barometer"?

Maybe it's naive to think that ideological opponents can be brought together by a common fear of mass stupidity: Call it idiocraphobia. After all, the downfall of society is in the eye of the beholder; for every progressive who sees the "tea party" as the equivalent of Costco U., there's someone waving a Gadsden flag who earnestly believes Michele Bachmann emerged from a time capsule to protect babies from being named Frito.

But as the word continues to catch on, we can at least be grateful for the parts of the movie that haven't come true, yet. For instance, no one's watering grass with Brawndo. That is, unless Arnold has volunteered to help Maria with her yardwork.

Yeah, we're doomed.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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