(This essay was written for my ENGL 1102 class. Enjoy!)
After a walk through Times Square in New York, New York or a stroll through Piccadilly Circus in London, England, one may feel slightly overwhelmed at the massive amounts of advertising. The lack of greenery in big cities like these is dwindling, and the diversity of different social statuses is shockingly evident. This present portrayal of society is not too far off from Mike Judge’s depiction in Idiocracy. In his film Idiocracy, Judge portrays a futuristic Western society in a negative and self-destructive light that showcases the current and impending flaws our actions have against humanity and our environment and the encroaching presence corporations have in the general public.
Through his exaggerated use of advertising in the film, Judge illustrates the future of advertising as overwhelming and inescapable to illuminate the growing presence that advertisements have in daily lives. Throughout the film, Joe Bauers, the protagonist and all-around average guy, constantly finds himself in the face of an advertisement. At the hospital, where one might expect to be somewhat free from ads, Bauers comes across slot machines advertising free healthcare and medical ads for different drugs, such as “Bonerax.” The clothing of Bauers’ doctor, Doctor Lexus, is printed with multiple advertisements for particular drugs and brands. This constant bombardment of advertisements in the film acts as an exaggerated version of what western society experiences today. With the expansion and advancement of technology, advertisements are virtually unavoidable. Not only are these advertisements reaching us through television and print media, but they are also coming to us through websites and mobile devices as well. Every video on YouTube shows an advertisement before, and other social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter are subtly integrating ads into their newsfeeds. Idiocracy shows us that this prediction of the future of advertising has proven to be true, for better or for worse.
Along with advertising’s growing presence, Judge profusely uses explicit advertising to show the increasing tolerance the public has towards commercial propaganda. In Idiocracy, there are quite a few advertisements and company names that use profanity to hawk their products (“ButtFuckers” for example). Carl’s Jr.’s slogan in the film is “Fuck You! I’m Eating!” easily draws the audience’s’ attention, and Tarrlytons’ billboard for their cigarettes, with the memorable phrase, “If you don’t smoke Tarrlytons… Fuck you!” reveals that advertisement companies and big companies simply don’t care about the morals of advertising and rather appeal to the what the new (dumb) founded generation will respond to — sex and vulgarity. The overuse of curse words, sexual acts, and appeal to laziness makes these advertisements so incredulous to the average movie viewer but are incredibly attractive to the D.C. natives in the film. While present advertising isn’t quite as vulgar as it is in the movie, there are a few examples of crude advertising in the past years, such as the Carl’s Jr. 2015 Super Bowl Commercial that featured a nearly-naked Charlotte McKinney strutting through a farmer’s market to get her “all-natural” hamburger. American Apparel is also known for their provocative advertisements, usually of women wearing their products. These modern-day examples and distasteful illustrations in Idiocracy convey the impending future for the state of advertising.
Apart from advertising, Judge exaggerates the decaying state of nature to highlight the increasingly detrimental condition of our environment, particularly the trash problem of western culture. Idiocracy’s setting, Washington, D.C., has become completely trashed since Bauers had last seen it. The current government had no plan for dealing with the trash its citizens were producing. Consequently garbage continued to become piled up and be ignored until the “Great Garbage Avalanche of 2505.” This scene shows the grotesque state of the landfills. The city’s trash had become a mountainous problem — literally. The trash problem in Idiocracy became too overwhelming and impossible to fix, and the whole nation was suffering from the government’s past failures. Unfortunately, Western civilizations are not far from this impending prediction. The trash problem in America and other developed countries is becoming more prevalent in everyday society. Cities with incredibly large population densities, such as New York, currently have to export their trash to outside landfills because their current landfills are full. While modern and new landfills are required to meet and uphold certain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laws and standards, many landfills that are still being used today that were built before the 1970s do not meet EPA standards and could potentially be polluting groundwater and soil (EPA and OSWER). If western society continues with its throwaway mindset and fails to modify how we manage garbage build up, landfills will begin to consume potential residential, recreational and conservation areas, construct unsightly visual pollution, and create a water pollution problem that current and future generations will suffer from — the problem that Idiocracy predicts.
Not only does Judge emphasize on the trash problem of western society, but Idiocracy also stresses the general importance of environmental education and how a lack of this can result in an unhealthy environment for all living creatures. Washington, D.C. in 2505 shows an incredible absence of plant life; the crops have completely died, there is practically no grass and very few trees, and it seems as if the only green item in the entire film is Brawndo, a sports drink filled with electrolytes that the entire nation runs on. This sports drink has managed to replace water and other beverages almost completely — women are feeding it to their newborn children and farmers are convinced to use it on their crops because “it’s what plants crave.” There also seems to be a lack of other living creatures throughout the movie, most likely because of the ultimate destruction the previous generations had caused to the environment. The humans of Idiocracy slowly destroyed the entire ecosystem without even noticing. Because of this lack of environmental education, the country suffers from a “dust storm” similar to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and a huge decline in health standards. While somewhat exaggerated, these examples from the film provide an accurate prediction of the future of western culture. Currently the United States reserves about 349 million acres for crops. (This is the equivalent of about four states the size of Montana.) Feeder corn, soybeans, alfalfa hay and wheat make up eighty percent of total crop acreage. (Wuerthner 8). Without proper environmental education, this overproduction of crops has the potential to kill off many species and ecosystems, including our own, and destroy current water quality. Idiocracy predicts the unfortunate outcome of this lack of education and provides a somewhat exaggerated example of what could become of our ecosystems.
While Idiocracy presents a magnified version of the potential future, the film provides an opportunity to help prevent these consequences from happening. Idiocracy teaches about the effects western culture’s actions have on society and can possibly shock the audience into changing its habits and encouraging others to make a difference. The future of this film will only become a reality if the public refuses to acknowledge the current problems head on and simply let these issues grow.