The OmniBro is the ubiquitous payment and identification system in Idiocracy. We see it four times in the movie.
Dr. Lexus asks Joe to pay for his visit, “…if you could just go ahead and, like, put your tattoo in that shit.” In this case, that shit is a barcode scanner mounted to the back of a desktop register. We don’t get to see it in use, because as described in the prior post, Dr. Lexus freaks out, realizing Joe is unscannable and hitting the panic button.
Another time we see the OmniBro is in the prison. After talking his way past the guard, another guard at a checkout counter has him scan his new tattoo. The guard checks the screen and tells him, “Uh. Yeah, I don’t see you in here. So you’re going to have to…uh…stay in prison.” Joe says, “Could you check again, because I was definitely in prison. OK. I got sat on my face and everything. Maybe check those files back there?” The guard turns, and Joe runs. There’s admittedly a post in there about prison security and release (and America has a lot to improve, especially in its reprehensible prison-for-profit systems), but this post is about the OmniBro.
The third time we see it is at the Carl’s Junior kiosk. (More on the whole system in the next post.) Though the customer appears to have already scanned, it is how anyone ordering food pays for it.
If I had to note the positives of the OmniBro system, it is that it seems easy for even morons to explain, understand, and use. Wrists are more commonly pointed down, so it’s a little more deliberate to have to turn the wrist up to pay. So adding to its ease-of-use is some measure of biology against accidental activation.
Also it’s more sterile than money. (Yeah, money’s dirty.)
And it’s ubiquitous, so a citizen of Idiocracy doesn’t need a credit card totem to know whether or not a vendor accepts their money. There are airlines and even a restaurant that I know of in San Francisco that only accept credit cards, and it’s disgusting. (Yes, yes, I know what the Department of the Treasury says, but I think it’s gross, classist, and corporatist to require your customers first have a relationship with a credit card company before you’ll do business with them.) So I suppose that aspect encourages an easy-to-access marketplace.
So, the good: It’s usable, sterile, and ubiquitous.
Where to start? Well, certainly it’s horrible that participation in the economy requires a permanent body modification. I’m not at all religious, but I agree wholeheartedly with the admonishment against any totalitarian “mark of the beast” just to participate in culture, for all the body autonomy and social justice reasons that one should be against it. (Before anyone gets their apophenia into an uproar about biblical meanings, you can relax. Idiocracy’s tattoos are on the wrong hand.)
You might imagine that the mark signals some sort of ingroup membership, but if everyone in Idiocracy has one, there’s no real outgroup.
Still, it raises lots of questions about the choice of a tattoo:
- Skin stretches and changes as time wears on. Tattoos get sun blurred (and the wrist gets a lot more sun exposure than other areas.) What happens to a citizen when their barcode no longer works? The tattoo machine (a post on this later) looks like it only tattoos in one place, so another visit won’t fix it, and likely would make matters worse. Is there some do-over machine?
- What about people who don’t have a left wrist? (The machine can only work on left arms.) What about people who get the tattoo but later lose their left arm?
- Where’s any other factor for multifactor authentication? Cash fails this as well, but if you are robbed of your cash, at least you still have an arm left to try and acquire some more.
What’s awful, though, is the fourth time we see it in the movie.
Rando vending surveillance
When fleeing the police with Freeto and Rita in Frito’s car, Joe accidentally makes the mistake of raising his tattooed wrist above the door frame, where it is scanned through the window by a vending machine he happens to be passing. The scan identifies Joe and the car he’s in, and something sends a shutdown signal to Frito’s car. (More on the car interface a later post.)
Ease-to-consume is concomitant with ease-to-surveil. Sure, the citizen doesn’t have to carry cash, do rudimentary math, or remember their bank balance, but in exchange they leave themselves open to constant tracking and identification. In the movie this just means it’s easy to find Joe. They’re comparatively dumb enough to make his escape the stuff of comedy.
But in our world, where the forces that market you away from your money are vastly more funded, equipped, and dedicated to their task than you, this tradeoff winds up putting Americans in a terrible debt load that may be *gasp* worse than Italy’s by 2023. (Sorry, dear Italian friends.) Combine this debt load with the health gamble and 40-year stagnant wages, and it seems like the tradeoff only an idiot would take. But hey, it’s easy to wave your phone for a fix at Starbucks, so what am I going on about, right?
Fight the Idiocracy
The Bloomberg article about American debt load includes this tasty paragraph, “While Trump and congressional Republicans raised alarms about the debt and deficit when Democrat Barack Obama was president, spending hasn’t abated with the GOP in control of the White House and Congress.”
Where the GOP used to tout themselves as the party of fiscal conservatism, it’s now clearer than ever that they’re just hypocrite oligarchs; spending wildly, giving free tax passes to their insanely wealthy friends, hoping a hundred dollars a month is enough to convince you to look the other way, all the while planning to gut your “entitlement” programs like social security, medicare, and medicaid. It’s insanity. They have to be voted way, way out if we have any hope of saving our economic well being.
I wanted with this post to convince you to give out Cards Against Humanity’s Vote Worms, but they’re already sold out. So instead I’ll point you to their smart Hacks the Election campaign, which did not do as well on launch, but would definitely have more effect if it sold out. If you are in or know someone in one of the following swing districts, definitely check this out.
- California 25th district: Help elect Katie Hill
- Iowa 1st district: Help elect Abby Finkenauer
- Illinois 26th district: Help elect Sean Casten
- Illinois 14th district: Help elect Lauren Underwood
- Kansas 4th district: Help elect James Thompson
- Texas 26th district (what is it about 26th districts?): Help elect Linsey Fagan
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