In Mike Judge's 2006 satire "Idiocracy," a military experiment gone wrong sends everyman Army soldier Joe Bauers 500 years into the future. Bauers wakes up in 2505 to find stupid people have outbred the intelligent, leaving a world that promotes anti-intellectualism and has forgotten the importance of human rights and social responsibility.
TV's top show, "Ow! My Balls!," consists solely of the same man getting hit in the groin in a variety of ways, and the most popular movie of the day is "Ass," a single 90-minute shot of two bare backsides. Citizens are rude, selfish, lazy and uneducated, with no regard for the people, things and city around them.
The best satire is that which rings most true, and the dark, dim future that Judge presents is beginning to seem more and more like a reality as our society finds ways to excuse its own failings.
Case in point: Wednesday night's riots in Vancouver. Nearly 150 people required medical treatment and almost 100 were arrested after the Canucks lost to the Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Cars were overturned and set on fire; bank and store windows were smashed and items stolen; police officers were treated for bite marks and injuries stemming from thrown bricks; and citizens attempting to quell the violence were attacked for their peacemaking efforts.
The universal response to this misappropriated anger and blatant criminal activity should be condemnation, but there are far too many people simply chalking it up to fandom.
I've heard some say, "You know how much Canadians love their hockey!" -- as if passion for a sport excuses inhumane behavior. Others have said, "They found the rebellion exciting!", watching as seemingly "normal" men and women posed for smiling photos in front of burning cars or joined in the looting themselves. They weren't robbing because they needed stuff from MAC Cosmetics, one of the hardest-hit stores; they were simply enjoying the freedom to act illegally that the mob afforded them.
"Many people seemed to treat the riot as entertainment," University of British Columbia sociologist Rima Wilkes told the Vancouver Sun the day after the incident. "They were taking pictures of the fires and overturned police cars. If there had been a dead body, would they have shot a photo of that? People get caught up in the moment, and in the crowd mentality, and they think this is acceptable behavior."
Sporting events have inspired riots for years, but in the age of cell phone cameras and handheld video cameras, the images of the havoc are more widespread and more destructive. People have become desensitized to the kind of violence we saw in Vancouver and now view it as just another form of reality TV. And those who aren't consumers are providers. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to break news and get attention for the things he witnesses firsthand. There are countless reports of people who posted photos and videos from the belly of the riot to their Faceboook or Twitter accounts. Instead of worrying about their own safety, or the safety of others, they willingly walked into the violence -- and added to it -- in the hopes of documenting the incident.
The 24-hour news cycle and the ease with which the average person can be heard often adds an interesting and important dimension to entertainment and news coverage, but it can also play a big part in the dumbing-down of our society. Becoming famous, being known or heard by many, is no longer a difficult task -- one need only be in the right place at the right time, often doing something ridiculous, illegal or embarrassing.
One of the most popular shows on television is a reality program documenting the lives of sexually promiscuous, culturally devoid trolls lacking any self-awareness or self-respect (lookin' at you, Snooki and The Situation). Recent YouTube videos featuring children playing with dead animals or bullies beating up younger kids have earned their creators millions of hits. Hateful people who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet to mock things both trivial, such as an actress's weight battles, and tragic, such as the natural disasters in Japan, get their comments read by thousands. A few strong words on the right forum can end up on CNN or any other news network looking to capitalize on the most shocking and scintillating stuff.
Too often the dumbest and the cruelest among us get the spotlight. Just like the future world that Judge imagined, our culture is, in a way, now run by -- or at least focused on -- idiots. Getting on TV, Twitter or Facebook as part of the Vancouver riots -- like the young couple photographed lying in the street kissing while police pushed back rioters around them – is an example of the desire so many have to be seen, no matter the situation or the consequences. (The male half of the couple, Scott Jones of Australia, came forward Friday and said he was kissing his girlfriend, Alex Thomas, to calm her after she was injured in the riot.)
By the end of "Idiocracy," Joe Bauers has helped the world avoid starvation and overcome his own laziness and apathy to change the direction in which society is headed. The message is, of course, that all of us, every single everyman, must not simply sit back and watch in horror as our culture continues to devolve; we have to try to right the ship. By excusing the actions of the Vancouver rioters as just "part of sports today," we're essentially forgiving them. We should all take a cue from the thousands of volunteers who took to the streets of Vancouver on Thursday to help clean up the damage done by those who came before them.