Judge Adam Arseneau says, "Who you callin' stupidity? You're stupidity!"
Now with 50% more stupidity!
Me like DVDs. Me also like DVD reviews cuz they send me shiny little discs with moving pictures on them. Pictures are pretty. I like pretty things. Like my cat. My cat is pretty and soft.
So me get this review movie called Stupidity in the mail and it says this is the Special Edition Director's Cut ("Now with 50% more stupidity!"). Well, me look and look and me no find any free gift inside. What gives? I wants my moneys back!
Facts of the Case
What does it meant to be stupid? Is that a stupid question? Can we even define "stupid" as a word and agree on its meaning?
Does our culture deliberately embrace stupidity? Why is Jackass the top film in the country? Why would we elect as the man who controls the world's largest supply of nuclear weapons a person who can't even say the word "nuclear," not once, but twice? And how can it be a coincidence that humanity constantly and repeatedly wars with itself despite universally holding in high regard learning from one's mistakes? Stupidity suggests that we live in a culture that not only tolerates stupidity, but goes out of its way to nurture and support it.
Edited together from countless hours of stock footage, sardonic parody films, interviews with Noam Chomsky, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, and Joel Schumacher, and plenty of footage from George W. Bush stumbling over his words, Stupidity assembles a montage of the idiotic and foolish into a caustic world view that amuses as often as it horrifies.
Like a caterpillar metamorphing into a butterfly, Stupidity begins as a very different film than it ends up. At first, the documentary poses an honest inquiry: why has nobody given serious study to the subject of stupidity? Volumes have been written over the years on the subject of intelligence and what this means, but stupidity has only ever been addressed indirectly as an absence of intelligence. Nobody has pursued the subject of stupidity as a universal element in of itself, and it is a fascinating subject to base a film upon. As humans, how can we hope to understand the awesome power of our intelligence if we cannot even understand the equal power of our stupidity?
With an attention span of a hyperactive child, Stupidity bounces between culture and religion, mental retardation and linguistics, television and the Internet, looking for the causes and effects of our own stupidity upon the world we live. It is an uncomfortable realization to acknowledge that the most popular shows on television often prove to be the dumbest, most of the movies in the theaters are sequels to comic book and video game adaptations, and with unlimited information at our fingertips via the Internet, most of us use it to look at pictures of naked girls or watch hilarious videos of people mixing Diet Coke and Mentos mints to create an explosion. Our culture seems to pander to the lowest common denominator, providing no incentive for those who behave dumb to improve themselves or contribute meaningfully to the betterment of society. In the age of quantum physics and mapping the genome, Johnny Knoxville gets all the glory.
Still, as often as Stupidity lands profound points and thoughtful insights into human behavior, it also irritates its viewers with seemingly irrelevant statements and conclusions. Watching this film, one could almost conclude that this film, an examination of stupidity as a universal phenomenon worthy of scientific study and deep philosophical examination was only a setup to poke fun at George W. Bush. I kid you not. As often as it fascinates, Stupidity elevates the discourse to petty name-calling and endless embarrassing montages of Bush's verbal foibles to illustrate its…point? That Bush is stupid? We needed a documentary to tell us that? What happened to the lofty ambitions of the film to examine this phenomenon? Dude, Bush-bashing is soooo 2004.
There are small nuggets of interest peppered throughout the salt-laden fields of Stupidity worth appreciating. I love that they spent time talking about the "Bert Is Evil" Internet memo that swept around the Internet showing Osama Bin Laden and Bert from Sesame Street. Best connection/practical joke/culture jamming ever. Some of the footage from a live Steve-O (Jackass) performance in Montreal is incredible, and you will find yourself laughing at the utter absurdity of the events presented on screen. Of special interest are the insights into religion, and how deeply held belief systems—no matter what they may be—often result in individuals eschewing new ideas and belief systems in favor of tradition, even when presented conclusive evidence as to the fallacy of an established idea. This was a nuance that I felt could have used some expanding.
I wanted to like this film more, I really did. The first two-thirds of Stupidity are curiously fascinating, examining the unspoken appeal and acceptance of being blue-collared and brainless, but the attention of the film jumps around so badly that very little theorizing takes place. Nevertheless, I genuinely believe the filmmakers were onto something in creating Stupidity, but the execution was simply fumbled. There is something here worth examining in greater detail, something that humanity can learn from itself. I just wish the film stuck to it. I find it especially irksome that the film degenerated into Bush-related irrelevancy rather than sticking to more relevant inquiries. At the end of the film, Stupidity fails to draw any conclusions or make any relevant points beyond cursory condemnations of popular culture en masse. Yawn.
Stupidity looks and sounds terrible. Cobbled haphazardly from stock footage, sound bites, flashing lights, throbbing music, and quick cuts with narration in a slow, laconic style, Stupidity almost seems to be deliberately ironic in presentation. Most of the footage is filmed in parody of "reality" television shows, violent movies, and drunken debauchery, and men walk around with dunce caps to visually illustrate the point of stupidity in a cacophony of quick cuts and intertextuality. Unfortunately, the quality of the transfer is not on par with modern-day documentaries, exhibiting some nasty grain, weak black levels, pallid color tones, and a nasty, VHS-esque graininess wrapped up in letterbox form. The audio is oddly balanced, lurching erratically and balanced poorly, with low hissing dialogue and a booming narrator that seems to move from channel to channel.
In terms of extras, the director contributes a full-length commentary track, which is fairly mediocre—lots of silent pauses and irrelevant comments. We get about 50 minutes of extended interviews with some of the more prolific interviewees (Jay Teitel, Jim Welles, Bill Maher, Noam Chomsky, etc.), which provide a nice solid backdrop to the subject matter. In fact, these interviews are the best part of Stupidity, as they present some articulated observations in unbroken form without being punctuated by annoying techno music and quick MTV-style cuts. A 25-minute interview from the Documentary Channel interviews the director, who fares much better on camera than on his commentary track. To round out the material, we get some reading list suggestions and some trailers. The offering of material is fairly solid, partly making up for the lousy presentation of the feature film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My overt criticism of Stupidityis not to say I disagree with the sudden political slant of the film. Far from it; I've got a copy of You Are Being Lied To in my bathroom right now and it entertains me to no end. Still, I am not in favor of pushing a political agenda at the expense of common sense. Aggressively slanderous assertions, amusing as they may be, have absolutely no place in this film or in any serious documentary whatsoever. The last 15 minutes of Stupidity add nothing to the discourse, and constitute nothing more than a massive, irrelevant waste of time that will sour the perceptions of anyone watching.
Now, I dislike the current American administration, as much as the next 54 percent, but for this film to degrade in the last 20 minutes into a Bash-Bush-a-Thon is lazy filmmaking. Such muckraking only serves to undermine the film's credibility and authority.
Besides, making fun of Bush is like shooting fish in a barrel. With a 12-gauge shotgun.
Stupidity intrigues as often as it frustrates, but ultimately beaches itself with an aimless attention span and political pandering. Had the filmmakers stuck to their original hypothesis and pursued it aggressively, rather than using the opportunity to tote a political agenda—be it one I agree with or not—the film might have been fantastic.
Or perhaps the subject is simply too massive to encapsulate into a single film. This is, after all, fairly uncharted waters. Nevertheless, as it stands, Stupidity is…well, kind of stupid.
Mama always said Stupidity is as stupidity does.
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