500 Years of Stupid: Idiocracy

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The following is a reprise of a review I wrote some years ago. Unfortunately, as the years have passed, the film looks less like a satire and more like a documentary.


Director and writer Mike Judge’s cult classic film Idiocracy mines lethal satire from low comedy and shows a genius for defining stupidity.

Welcome to the year 2505. The president of the United States is a former porn star and three-time “Smackdown” champion, the nation’s top law school is housed in Costco, the most popular TV show in the country is the graphically painful “Ow My Balls,” and the Number 1 film in America is the aptly titled Ass, a full-length feature that simply depicts a bare buttocks accompanied by audible fart sounds.

Such is the bleak yet hilarious future world of director, writer, and actor Mike Judge, whose comedy Idiocracy presages an America so dumbed down by dysgenics and junk culture that steroidal consumerism and baseline I.Q. have combined to create, literally, an Everest-sized cultural garbage heap.

A five-century siesta

Idiocracy’s story line follows Private Joe Bauers, played by Luke Wilson, an average, middle of the Bell Curve guy and Rita, a pimp-persecuted hooker played by Maya Rudolph, who in the year 2005 become guinea pigs in an army experiment to suspend soldiers in deep sleep for use in future combat. Continue reading

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Honor—A Man’s Gift to Himself

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Professor Giovanni Gullace gave me my first real lesson in honor.

Our paths crossed early in my life, late in his, when I entered graduate school at a university in upstate New York to study French Literature. I’m guessing he was in his mid 60s when we first met. But his crumpled expression and shuffling gait, along with a dull bald pate, thick glasses, and grizzled salt and pepper beard, endowed him with an ancient air which, I suspected, made him a sworn enemy of modernity. He was cantankerous, gravelly, and brilliant.

“Blabbermouth”

Dr. Gullace’s scholarship crossed six centuries of Italian and French literature and philosophy. I first came under his tutelage when I signed up for his semester-long seminar on 18th century literature, specifically the philosophe Denis Diderot—whom on the first day of class Professor. Gullace, to my delight, labeled a “blabbermouth.” After that, I made myself alert to everything he said, both in and out of class.

He, in turn, took a rough, avuncular interest in my behavior, mostly critical. At our first faculty-student party, the music started, and some of us got up to boogie down. As we bumped and swiveled to the beat, I noticed Gullace shaking his head in disgust. I sidled over to him. “What’s the matter, Professor Gullace? You don’t like the music?”

“Ah! You all’a dance’a like animali,” he snorted in his halting Italian accent. “You’a know nothing of grace and beauty.” With that, he swirled a scarf around his neck and bee-lined for the door. Continue reading

Russia’s Happiest and Saddest of Instruments

Everything you didn’t think you needed to know about the balalaika

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Say “balalaika” to most Americans, and they think of “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago — where no balalaika was actually played — or a cheesy 1930s Nelson Eddy movie of the same name.

And from this they might conclude that the three-stringed, triangle-shaped instrument is either a folk relic of limited musical range or, worse, a quaint purveyor of string-laced schmaltz.

But the humble balalaika can, in the hands of a master, produce a sound and richness unequaled by any other musical instrument. And its virtuosity is celebrated not only by brilliant soloists, but entire orchestras as well. Continue reading

Maidan Mania

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Poor Ukraine. It’s suffering a national bout of political dyspepsia, and almost no one seems to care.

Well I do—it’s a subject close to the homefront.   So, for the sake of domestic tranquility I offer this wildly partisan analysis of recent events there.

The capital city, Kiev, has since November witnessed huge, sometimes violent demonstrations in the city’s main plaza, Independence Square, the so-called Maidan, as police clash with protestors and different factions confront each other.

At odds are two unyielding blocs of the Ukrainian people separated by politics, culture, language, future ambitions and, largely, regions: Eastern and Western Ukraine.

The protests erupted when Ukraine’s president, Victor Yanukovich, scrapped a deal that would have brought closer economic ties with the European Union. Instead, he chose to favor the country’s traditional patron, Russia. This was, so to speak, a red flag for millions of mostly Western Ukrainians, who have long sought closer ties to Western Europe.

Eastern Ukraine, for its part, feels a strong kinship with Russia and a strong measure of nostalgia for the Soviet Union. Many Soviet leaders had roots in Eastern Ukraine, including Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Kirichenko. During the Brezhnev era, over half the members of the Politburo claimed Eastern Ukrainian origins, and the old Red spirit still haunts the region. Even now, as the country seeks to revive and make Ukrainian the undisputed national language, Easterners cling to Russian in their daily conversations, official transactions, and historical loyalties.

Continue reading