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March 23rd, 2017

Insight

Two perfect movies for the 2016 election

John Kass

By John Kass

Published Oct. 19, 2016

If Americans know one thing about the 2016 presidential election, it's this: We can't talk honestly to one another about politics.

If you agree with what others are saying, and just nod your head so as not to cause trouble, you'll get the feeling that you're just another stupid hog in the slaughterhouse chutes. And if you disagree, you're certain to be branded an idiot and be subject to ridicule, in person, on social media, everywhere, and perhaps even have your career and fortunes crippled.

So if there were ever a time to take a break from the political nastiness and the media -- except, of course, the John Kass column -- it's right now.

But let me offer an alternative, the perfect antidote for election anxiety. A double feature of classic films that you should see before casting your vote for president:

"Ridicule" and "Idiocracy."

Why aren't there any good political movies this year? I can't say. But these two movies will make you laugh, frighten you and enlighten your mind, or maybe persuade you to move to Finland or New Zealand or Idaho.

"Ridicule" is a 1996 French film directed by Patrice Leconte that received a coveted "two thumbs up" from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.

Set in 1783, just a few years before the French Revolution, the action takes place in the gorgeous and corrupt court of Versailles, where nobles and other climbers and professional wits seeking the favor of Louis XVI see their fortunes rise and fall on one talent alone:

Their ability to ridicule and ruin others without mercy.

At that time, Louis XVI still ruled, we are told, but ridicule was king. And this being a historical French film, there is an italic precede of sorts:

"In this country, vices are without consequence, but ridicule can kill." -- The Duke of Guines.

Indeed, the elites are cunning and subtle and cruel. The academics, the gossips, the nobility and the social climbers are all about ridicule. Since this takes place in olden times, they don't have Twitter or social media. But they do have tongues that can break bones, and break them they do, mocking everyone who stands in the way of their ambition and destroying anyone who opposes them.

The sharpest wits gain a following, and their mob of followers is quick to ridicule those who follow others. There is no sincerity, no concern for the wishes of the people, just ambition clawing to get closest to the center of establishment power, the king.

And if there is any parallel here between pre-revolutionary France and the United States of 2016 I'm sure it is unintended and purely coincidental.

Sadly, the wits of Versailles know nothing about the revolution to come. They know nothing of Madame Guillotine, who will separate their heads from their necks. And they think little, if anything, of the little people who suffer, and are dismissed as fools.

"Wit opens every door, and you have plenty of it," says a wise old courtier to a poor young nobleman petitioning the court to help the peasants in need. "Be witty, sharp and malicious and you'll succeed. But never laugh at your own jokes."

"Ridicule" is a beautiful film, with a love story set in the Enlightenment, of the idealistic young nobleman and the young woman he loves. Though it is subtitled, the language is, of course, French and therefore beautiful, subtle and cultured.

And when you're done with "Ridicule," you can watch "Idiocracy."

A 2006 comedy hilariously directed by Mike Judge, "Idiocracy" is almost science fiction, but there is a scene involving what becomes of a government health care program -- it sounds suspiciously like Obamacare -- that doctors tell me is their favorite part.

"Idiocracy" begins with a narrator telling us that human evolution was at a turning point, and that natural selection had come to favor traits other than strength and intelligence. There has been a "dumbing down."

"With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most, and left the intelligent to become an endangered species," the narrator says.


Luke Wilson plays Joe Bauers, an average slacker in the U.S. Army who is selected by Pentagon geniuses to take part in a hibernation experiment. A mistake causes him to wake up 500 years in the future, into an America where all the smart people stopped having children, leaving the idiots to overpopulate the planet.

And Joe Bauers realizes he's the smartest man in America.

Narrator: "The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes the genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources were focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections."

"Ridicule" and "Idiocracy" aren't new films, but they are the movies of our time.

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