Watching Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, which finally hit the shelves this week on DVD, I couldn’t help noticing its uncanny resemblance to Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Sure, Idiocracy is a low comedy, full of kicks to the groin and monster-truck rallies, while Children of Men is a serious dramatic thriller about the extinction of humanity. But both movies are chilling visions of a future dystopia extrapolated, with pitiless logic, from our current moment. Both feature a reluctant hero (Clive Owen in Children of Men, Luke Wilson in Idiocracy) who’s jolted from his depressive complacency and asked to save the planet from destruction. And both posit human reproduction (or the lack of it) as the problem that threatens the future of the human race. 

One other commonality: Both movies were scandalously underpromoted by the studios releasing them. Judge’s film sat on a shelf for two years at Fox before being hacked down to its current 84-minute running time and dumped, unadvertised, into only a few cities on the slowest movie weekend of the year. Children of Men’s fate has been slightly less ignominious; it was released nationwide, largely untrumpeted, on Christmas Day, and only this week, after countless critics (including me) put the movie on their 10-best lists, has Universal rushed to mount a too-little-too-late push for Oscar consideration.

The burial of Children of Men was lame, but comprehensible. Figuring that few viewers would flock to such an unremitting downer of a film, Universal must have decided to market the movie modestly, hoping at least to break even with attention from art-house audiences. But Fox’s choice to withhold Idiocracy even from the markets where it was most likely to find cult viewers—New York? San Francisco?—and to eschew all advertising is simply bewildering. The shrouding of Idiocracy in what amounts to a marketing burqa is especially ironic given that the film’s most pointed satire is aimed at the ubiquity of advertising in American life. ~Dana Stevens

On Children of Men, I think Ms. Stevens gives the studio too much credit.  It isn’t just that the movie is an “unremitting downer of a film” (some might say that Schindler’s List is something of a downer, too, but that didn’t stop the studio from promoting it like crazy), but that it is a downer with an obvious but decidedly uncomfortable message for the wine-and-cheese set: if every couple in this country had only one child or had no children, the future for our people would be just as bleak as it is for all of the people in Children of Men.  Natalists immediately saw the potential significance of the movie as something that would dramatise their arguments for them.  I suspect that it received such pitiful studio support because it might make natalism the respectable, sane option in the same way that dystopian stories of totalitarianism have made various forms of anti-statism the obvious alternative.  However, as we all know, natalism is the preserve of fundamentalists and fascists and therefore forever off limits to respectable people, or so some people would tell you.

The reason for the opposition to Idiocracy is more obvious: it was not acceptable, even as a big joke, to tell a story about the dysgenic results of the ever-declining average intelligence of humanity achieved through the prolific breeding of morons.  You can’t even talk about that without some penalty, much less put it on screen!  (Here’s Reihan’s old review of Idiocracy.)  Before it’s all over, Ms. Stevens must also register her own disapproval:

Ultimately, Children of Men’s vision of the future is more inclusive, and kinder, than Idiocracy’s. Judge’s gimlet eye is so ruthless that at times his politics seem to border on South Park libertarianism—a philosophy that, as has often been observed about South Park, can flirt with the reactionary. And there’s more than a little classism in Idiocracy’s fear that the dumb—here pictured as trailer-park trash and fast-food-swilling losers—will inherit the earth. Would we be better off in a world in which the brittle, infertile yuppies shown in the movie’s opening moments had populated the earth with their spawn?

That’s right: the movie that depicts the near-extinction of mankind is “kinder” than Idiocracy.  Ms. Stevens is pulling out all the stops: it’s libertarian! it’s like South Park! reactionary! classist!  (I confess that I have never before seen the word “classism,” but in our age of race-class-gender studies, we would have to have classism to go with racism and–coming soon–genderism to accommodate all the transgendered out there.)  The answer to her question is pretty clearly yes.  The idea behind the movie is that the world would be better off if those yuppies at least managed to reproduce at replacement levels.  That is what frightens the studios.  Here’s a possible reason: studios are having a hard enough time getting people to go to movie theatres in an age of Netflix, DVDs and, soon, the iPhone, so the last thing they can afford is for their childless, moviegoing audience to get crazy ideas about having large families that will consume more and more of their time and leave them fewer occasions to go to the cinema.  Therefore all movies that might encourage middle-class professionals to start having more children must be kept out of sight for as long as possible.  What do you think?