Report Card: Idiocracy

Read all the Idiocracy posts in chronological order.

Now we come to the end of Idiocracy, if not yet the idiocracy.

This film never got broad release. There are stories about its being supressed by the studio because of the way the film treated brands.

I don’t know what they’re talking about.

But whatever the reason, I’m happy to do my part in helping it get more awareness. Because despite its expositive principle being wrong (and maybe slightly eugenic), the film illustrates frustrations I also have with some of the world’s stupider ills, and does so in funny ways. Also, as I noted in the last writeup, it even illustrates speculative and far-reaching issues with superintelligence. So, it’s smarter than it looks.

I’d recommend lots and lots more people see this, generally, if only to reinforce the demonization of idiocy and make more people want to be not that. So first let me say: If you haven’t yet, see the film. Help others see it. Make People Valorize Enlightenment Again.

Now, let’s turn to the interfaces.

Sci: B (3 of 4) How believable are the interfaces?

This rating is tough. After all, the interfaces are appropriately idiotic. But, we have to ask: Are they the right kind of idiotic, given a diegesis where everyone is a moron and civilization is propped up by technologies created by smart people who died off? Well…mostly.

The FloorMaster is a believable example of narrow AI breaking down. The Carl’s Junior, Insurance Slot machine, and OmniBro are all believable once you accept that part of the Idiocracy is an inhumane, hypercapitalist panopticon. The IQ test has problems, like most do. The Time Masheen is believably an older ride that has had its dioramas replaced by the idiots. These are all believable.

The sleeping pods are in between. As a prototype, you might expect the unlabeled interface and lack of niceties. But the pods break believability by magically having enough resources (e.g. five billion calories, between them) to keep their occupants alive and healthy for 500 times their initially-planned run.

And some of the interfaces just could not have been created either by the dead, smart people, or the idiots. These are technology jokes that break the fourth wall, and earn it the grade it gets.

Fi: A+ (4 of 4) How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?

The film knocks this out of the park. The interfaces are a key part of illustrating how it is that idiots manage to survive at all, and how stupidity from the top-down and the bottom-up gets into everything. Just fantastic.

Everything.

Interfaces: B (3 of 4) How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?

This one is also complicated. The interfaces almost universally serve to thwart the users, but we have to cut them some slack, because that’s part of their narrative point. (See, this is why it’s so difficult to review comedy.)

For instance, the Healthmaster Inferno likely does more to infect patients than to help cure them. (This has a historical precedent, as doctors used to reject the notion that they had to wash their hands between patients because harumph they were gentlemen and gentlemen are clean.) And while this is terrible usability, with no affordances, constraints, or safeguards, if the technology had worked, it wouldn’t help tell such a funny and disturbing story.

Then there are technologies like the St. God’s Intake interface that would pass a usability test, but serve to keep their users as mere babysitters for a technology that does the work, and would serve to keep them stuck in the same job, never improving. Come to think of it, this is a metaphor for the role of technology in the film: It just serves to keep them stupid by trying to provide everything for them. That’s a thought with troubling implications, unless we go about it smartly.

And, hilariously, there is one function in the film that is particularly brilliant, and points out how prudish we are not to implement it today. (The fart fan.)

Anyway, the tech that is broken is so obviously broken (the IPPA machine being perhaps the best example) that I’m not counting this against the film’s Interfaces ratings. Real world designers should not mimic these or draw inspiration, but the stupidity is so deliberate and apparent, I don’t believe anyone would. In fact, the film leads them to look for why the technologies are stupid and do not that, so it scores high marks.

Final Grade A- (10 of 12), Blockbuster.

Good job, team Idiocracy.


A quick note to close out this set of reviews. People who like Idiocracy may be interested to know it is a spiritual inheritor of a 1951 story called The Marching Morons. The text hasn’t aged well, but it’s still worth a read if you liked this movie. Similar premise, similar difficulties.

Compare freely

“We need the rockets and trick speedometers and cities because, while you and your kind were being prudent and foresighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and short-sightedly having children—breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred!”

The Marching Morons, by C.M. Kornbluth, 1951

This short story is over 50 years old. I’m just going to guess that since intelligence is relative, even as average intelligence continues to rise, there will always be grousing by the intelligent about the less intelligent. And I think I’m OK with that. Or at least, the effects of it. I hope you are, too.

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