Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wide Angle is back - 45 - Idiocracy

In the words of the great Shahrukh Khan from “Don 2..The Chase Continues”...I am back. Thanks to everyone who asked me during this hiatus on what happened to Wide Angle (WA), that they were waiting for it to restart, whether I was alright (because I stopped sending WA)...just goes to prove that some people actually read it. So why did I stop....well life was is back with me so had to arrange many things, move home, visas, work had increased 3 fold etc. The biggest reason however was that Wide Angle was moving away from the original intent i.e. to open the worldview of the readers to diverse thoughts through books, movies, songs that I had experienced and analyzed in a co-discovery mode – it was moving towards underlining my personal beliefs which was a slippery slope. Maybe it was also because I was running out of material. The break has therefore helped, have recharged batteries and promise to bring more and interesting stuff to you all. One last thing – if any of you want to be removed from this mailing list, please send me a mail and I will do so.
Today’s WA is about a very offbeat movie that I saw a couple of days back (have joined Love Film so I get to watch such movies which no one has heard of). The movie is called “Idiocracy” which was released in 2006 though it did not get a major theatrical release. The movie is essentially about the dumbing down of society in the long term future. I will narrate the summary of the story and then present my thoughts which are also based on my experiences in the Western World (and what I saw in the movie resonates with what I see).
In a nutshell, the story is of a very average librarian Corporal Joe Bauers from the US army who has spent most of his life sitting on a chair doing nothing. Along with a prostitute Rita he becomes part of a military experiment that freezes them into a pod and intends to send them forward by a year into time. Joe is selected because he is the most “average” person in the army so there is no risk to anything while Rita is selected because no woman in the army fits the “average” bill. Things go horribly wrong after they are put into the pod – the Colonel in charge of the experiment is arrested for running his own prostitution ring and the base is shut down. The pods stay there for 500 years and only open when they get knocked about because of a “garbage avalanche”. In 2505, the world has huge garbage mountains on which homes are also built.
Basically, what has happened is because of technology and easy life, the natural selection that used to favor “Survival of the fittest or smartest” has lost its edge. In addition, due to competitive pressures, the smarter people have less and less kids and the “not-so-smart” have lots. In due course over 500 years, the society has excessively dumbed down, everything is automated but runs haltingly because the things built by intelligent people long time back cannot be fixed – so one has leaking nuclear reactors, vending machines that take money but don’t give anything, guns that fire anywhere. In addition, the people have stopped reading, exploring, creating, they only exist. They watch TV programs like “Oh my balls” and speak a few words like shit, crap and so on with a few more grunts. Joe’s way of talking is laughed at by everyone because it sounds “faggoty”.
Soon enough, Joe gets into trouble with the law because he goes into a hospital and doesn’t pay (because he doesn’t have a tattoo – each human has a tattoo which can be scanned and money is debited from your account). His lawyer – Frito, argues against him and everyone makes fun of him in the court, the judge comes in to rock music playing and is generally monkey-like. In jail, Joe gets an IQ test, the question is what is 2 + 2 to which he answers 4. When he is getting his tattoo done, his name gets put down as “Not sure”.
He manages to escape prison – pretty simply by telling the guards that he has finished his sentence so he should be released. His high IQ (because of the 2 +2 question) is noticed by the US president who summons him to the White House and he becomes the Secretary of the Interior. The President and his cabinet are a story all by themselves. The president Camancho is a former pornstar and professional wrestler. His Secretary of State is a Bimbo, his secretary of finance is a teenager who has won a national contest and so on. The president assigns Joe or Secretary “Not Sure” the task of making sure the crops grow back (there has been drought for ages), fixing the water supply, fixing the reactors and solving every problem because he is the “Smartest Person Alive”.
Joe finally solves the problems of crops – there is a very interesting aside of the corporation Branwdo (makers of the Gatorade like drink Brawndo) which has become the largest corporation and made sure everyone drinks and uses only Brawndo (even for plants – the tagline is Plants like Brawndo because it has electrolytes). Everyone thinks water is only for the toilet. Joe solves this problem and saves his life and finally becomes President after Camancho. This is where the movie ends saying Joe did pretty well for him considering he is an “average” guy.

My Take:
I am going to sound very politically incorrect when I say this – I see a lot of this happening everywhere but it is more pronounced in the West. I am not talking about the very intelligent bankers (are they intelligent?), technology people, scientists or administrators. In my years in the West, I have observed that the average population has simply lost any incentive to exert their brains because of the comfort that technology provides and the cushy feeling that the riches of the society provides. In addition, the entire political correctness drama means competition has lost its bite so that the “losers” are not hurt (Vedant won a prize in Easter Egg decoration here, it was handed over in private). Isn’t this what dumbing down is all about? You tend to make everything palatable to the lowest common denominator of society (which is not a bad thing per se). As our society becomes more prosperous, this is increasingly happening to us as well. At any given time, the most popular programs on TV are – Saas-Bahu soaps or reality shows (not the Sa Re Ga Ma variety but Emotional Atyachaar or Big Boss or Rakhi Ka Insaaf). Times of India is the most popular newspaper but it is also the most dumbed down – half of its pages have semi clad women or some absolute fluff stuff on relationships, body fat or mid life crisis. The English language that most of the kids use these days on Facebook looks something like this “Enuf f d tlk, I m cming 4 d prty”.
There is nothing wrong with popular art and even colloquial language – the basic problem is when people give up the quest for knowledge or try anything that causes them to exert their brains or look beyond the obvious. This is when the dose of entertainment is a picture of Mallika Sherawat with her assets showing or Dolly Bindra throwing tantrums on TV. This is also when “reading” is about Chetan Bhagat or Femina. This is when talking history, geo-politics, science or anything else is “boring” or “not-cool”. This is about using the word “like” in every sentence twice and so on. In the West, it has gone five steps further where they just let go of even attempting Mathematics or Science (the very things that made them so powerful) so early on – as if the world is divided into geeks and non-geeks. I know of many families who have moved their kids back to India or China because the education here is not “good” enough.
So much for today, have left this question open ended, first Wide Angle after so long so may sound a bit scratchy – maybe I have dumbed down a bit too .