Apollo got a seriously raw deal in the Rocky movies. He was ten times the boxer Rocky was, and he lost his title by one second. That’s very hard for a man of his intelligence to take, and I can’t help but think this is what he secretly fantasized about all along.
(This video was brought to you by me in conjunction with Church’s Fried Chicken.)
Monica was always my least favourite character in Friends, but in some ways, I think she was the most relatable of the six. Joey and Phoebe were essentially caricatures, stand-ins for “that friend of yours who’s good with the ladies” and “that friend of yours who’s a bit weird”. Rachel was a bratty rich kid, and Ross had his shit together, mostly.
Monica, on the other hand, was uncertain of herself, and displayed no tv-ready character traits. Sure, she was competitive and liked things to be ‘just right’, but that seemed to come naturally to a person who spent most of their life being eager to please. Growing up in the shadow of her successful, favoured brother (her mother was believed to be infertile before Ross was born, explaining the disparity in attention) explains the competitive streak and drive for approval. Having overcome a weight problem in her teenage years, that newly-discovered control could have easily spilled out to the rest of her life. Her character made sense, at least in sitcom terms.
Early episodes saw her struggle with employment, money and relationship issues while the likes of Phoebe seemed to exist in an alternate reality where these problems simply didn’t exist – hell, she never even got booed off the stage at Central Perk. By the end of the series, though, Monica had become nothing more than a highly-strung cartoon character, seemingly never at ease, always yelping about routines, systems and rules while cleaning her apartment. Rather than being a recognisably anxious-but-kind young woman, she embodied a single concept: stress.
Late-season Monica, wearing a headset to her best friend’s wedding and badgering the fuck out of everyone.
So what happened to Monica?
The wonderful tvtropes calls this process ‘Flanderization’, after the character of Ned Flanders in The Simpsons, and I think that’s a fitting name. Ned Flanders had a dual role in the early seasons of the show – he was Homer’s foil, and thus the object of his envy and hatred, and also functioned as a parody of the white-bread, 50s family sitcom that The Simpsons was so firmly against.
His conservative attitude was ripe for light-hearted mockery, but he was always portrayed as an extremely compassionate, supportive and successful person, respected by all. Except Homer, obviously. However, as the seasons wore on, he ceased to display any of these traits and became the writers’ punching bag for fundamentalist Christian, extreme right-wing politics.
“I’d put rocks in your pocket and walk you out to sea before I’d let that happen.” – Late-season Flanders, after his son suggests they could be raised by their gay uncle.
Poor Monica. Although Friends didn’t ever seem to decline in popularity (the show’s final three seasons were its most-watched), I’m certain I don’t stand alone when I say the quality of the show dropped remarkably once she was paired up with Chandler.
Sure, you can make the argument that their relationship, as bizarre and unconvincing as it was, gave rise to new storylines about marriage and children, but for me, it killed the show. I don’t think those issues could be effectively explored in a show that started as a brightly-coloured, ultra-hip, smartass comedy about young people in New York. Their marriage effectively stunted their individual character development, since neither could do anything without the other’s reaction being critical. Once you halted their growth, what was left? Ross and Rachel get back together? Again? What was left for Joey to do without his room/soulmate?
Monica grew up believing she didn’t matter. Given the popular focus on the other characters, she may have been justified in that belief, but for my money, the show went downhill when she did.
I can safely say that Idiocracy, the cult comedy from the incomparable Mike Judge, is one of my favourite films. It’s not screamingly funny (it does raise a smile), its direction is merely competent, and the characters are generally rather weak. For all its faults, however, it really strummed a chord with me.
Now, if you’re familiar with the film, you may have an idea why I liked it. You may also be wrong, because I get the distinct impression Idiocracy is a little misunderstood by its fans.
Idiocracy, for those of you who don’t know, is a 2006 comedy starring Luke Wilson as Joe Bauers, a member of the US Army who is sent to a future where everyone is a tv-watchin’, beer swillin’ grade-A moron. The world is falling apart as everything is catered to only the basest of impulses (fast food, sex, slapstick humour), and the fiercely anti-intellectual society has bred itself into abject stupidity. Mr Bauers, completely typical in his own time, is regarded as a genius, and becomes a hero.
So what’s to be misunderstood? It’s a scathing condemnation of our lowest-common-denominator culture, right? If things continue the way they’re going, pretty soon we’ll be wallowing around in our own filth, getting handjobs at Starbucks?
Well, yes. Sort of. Mike Judge’s bread-and-butter is seemingly dumb humour with real bite (he’s the guy who made Beavis and Butthead, Office Space and King of the Hill), so he’s too smart for that sort of thing. In my opinion, Idiocracy was far more about criticising the intended audience than the culture it so obviously lampoons. You know, the people who ‘get it’. The people who feel like the protagonist, the only sane person in a sea of ignorance.
Think about it. The main character is completely average. He’s Joe Bauers, average Joe. He’s not the smartest, or the strongest, but by virtue of the stupidity of those around him, he becomes the hero. The hero is, by our standards, a completely average person who does absolutely nothing remarkable. He doesn’t triumph in the face of adversity, there’s no great emotional payoff, no personal victory. For the struggle he faces, this makes him far more like you or I than any other “common man” hero, because he doesn’t have any remarkable quality that allows him to beat the odds.
“I thought your head would be bigger,” says President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho when he first meets our hero. The whole world has this idea of what the genius who’s going to save us all looks like – an egghead. It’s funny because we all know that believing smart people are somehow superhuman (sporting larger craniums to hold their massive, throbbing brains) is a stupid thing to believe, yet we still imagine that the geniuses will save society. You know, with their science and Mars landers and stuff. They’ll save us and be our heroes. All we have to do is say we support them and condemn the idiots, and our job is done.
“Five-time ultimate Smackdown champion, porn superstar and President of the United States.”
From what I’ve seen on the internet, it seems like people use this film as a security blanket to make themselves feel more intelligent. “Thank god someone hates this awful culture as much as I do!” they seem to say. “Mike Judge gets it! Everything’s so disposable and trashy, I’m glad he feels as lost as I do and takes the same pleasure in skewering those fools who watch reality tv and footbaaah!”
I sympathise, because although it made me a little uncomfortable on my first viewing, that’s what I thought the film was about, too. However, on a second viewing, I don’t think that’s quite what Mike Judge was aiming for.
The film’s greatest failing is that it could’ve done more to drive its point home. Instead, it’s squeezed it into a single line, where Joe says “I think maybe the world got like this because of people like me”. Not because of ‘idiots breeding’, not because of shitty television, advertising, or a sustained campaign of anti-intellectualism, but because of average people, like the viewers (ie you and I), who had endless opportunities to improve themselves and didn’t. Because they were too busy looking at everyone else and thinking “well, at least I’m smarter than you.”
So Idiocracy is one of my favourite films, not because it criticises others, but because it criticises me. It’s not just poking fun at our the trashier aspects of society with Mike Judge’s trademark clever-dumb sense of humour (really, any film that contains an energy drink called ‘Brawndo’ is a winner in my book), but poking fun at the arrogant, superior attitudes of average people who might agree. And it’s done so subtly that most people don’t seem to get it. I didn’t get it until last night either.
I guess we’re not as smart as we thought we were.