07 September 2009

Profiles: Mike Judge and Philosophies of the Self, Enligtenment and Work


In honour of Mike Judge's latest film, Extract (2009), today I will examine his three feature film directorial efforts and a handful of philosophies that embody them. There are a lot of ideas in all these movies, commonly masked behind a trinkling of dick and fart jokes. I'll admit towards just recently seen Extract, thus any truly deep meaning it may contain I may have not realised. As always, any input I'd love to hear spew from your hands in the comments section below.

I've picked his three feature films, not wanting to completely ignore Judge's television and animation efforts but essentially doing so anyway. For each film I've picked a philosophic concept or idea that I think best pertains to the story or a scene, trying my best to diversify these topics as best I could. So then, without further ado, be ready to stretch your minds, intellects and sphincters, this is the Philosophic World of Mike Judge.

Office Space and the Bhagavad Gita: Concepts of Self-Realization


The Bhagavad Gita is essentially a Hindu Upanishad, an Indian holy text that traces its earliest legacy to around 1000 BCE. Its discourse consists of around 700 verses of dialog between the great warrior Arjuna and his charioteer, Krishna who is an incarnation of God, debating the nature of God, souls and paths to inner peace. Office Space is a 1999 movie inspired by this cartoon.

The core of the second chapter of The Bhagavad Gita is all about suppressing possessiveness and egocentricity in order to know the true self and union with God. The goal being to eliminate desire for kama (psersonal satisfaction) and not let personal choices be dictated by desires, rather by the true immortal self.

Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) embodies this after his bunk hypnosis fiasco. As the Gita states in 2:55-56,
"Neither agitated by grief nor hankering after pleasure, they live free from lust and fear and anger. Established by meditation, they are truly wise. Fettered no more by selfish attachments, they are neitehr elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. Such are the seers."
As Peter states to the Occupational Hypno-Therapist, "...ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life." Peter is depressed because of his attachments to his possessions and the empty fulfillment of ego he thinks he needs. His hopeless attachment to cheating girlfriend, Anne as well as his demeaning and soulless job adhere to this principle. Once he is able to let go and not worry about work or performance reviews, his life becomes much happier.

Indeed the Universe tends to punish Peter when he strays from this path and attempts to go back on his new vow of "doing nothing" and steal money from Initech, his workplace. One of the more famous quotes from The Bhagavad Gita is thus: "You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction" (2:47) Peter selflessly attains some Nishkama Karma (work with no selfish desire or ego) through giving up his kama (personal desire for stolen money) when he decides to turn himself in, saving co-workers Samir and Michael.

In the end, though Peter had a dream of doing nothing (inactivity, frowned upon in the Gita), he settles for a job that he may enjoy, not motivated by the fruits of his action. As he says, "This isn't so bad, huh? Makin' bucks, gettin' exercise, workin' outside." Fuckin' A.

You can check out more of my thoughts on Office Space right here.

Idiocracy and Plato's Allegory of the Cave: The Confrontation of Knowledge and Ignorance

The Allegory of the Cave comes from Plato's The Republic (Book VII, 514a–520a), written around 380 BCE. Similar to The Bhagavad Gita, the Allegory of the Cave is a dialog between Plato's teacher, Socrates, and his brother, Glaucon. A whole, handy copy of which can nicely be found here. Please read through before continuing.

Nah, I'll sum it up here for you lazy asses: In the Allegory, Socrates presents a situation with a bunch of people chained to a cave their entire lives so that their eyes are fixed on the wall in front of them. In essence, their entire reality is based on the interplay of light and shadows and meager sounds they can observe. Socrates goes on to describe what would happen if one were to break free and see the outside world around them, that they would have trouble acclimating at first, but then realise how much better the expanded reality and truth is, eventually pitying and patronizing his former people. Thus on his or her return, he would appear wiser, though suddenly foreign, disenfranchised and unsatisfied with the meak shadow-guessing game that constituted their reality.

Now, this confrontation between wisdom and ignorance is very much at the forefront of Idiocracy (2006). The major disgression, of course, is that Joe Bauers' (Luke Wilson) journey, leaving and entering the cave is not as direct as the allegory states, his "cave" as it were molds and shifts reality while Joe is away, frozen in a box.

Upon his return, however, Bauers is greeted with shame and hostility for his supposed intellectual elitism and perceived effeminacy due to his normal 21st Century vocal patterns. As he tries to describe his own way of thinking, the dumbed down people of the future share a different reality and thus there is conflict. The greatest scene that exemplifies this is Bauers describing to the Presidential Cabinet his plan to fix the failing crops with water. For all of their lives the Cabinet members have only known water to exist in Toilet Bowls, and Brawndo Energy Drink (with Electrolytes) to give plants what they crave. Thus Bauer's proposition is a dangerous direct threat to their reality. The Allegory goes on to state,
"Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death."
This is verbatimwhat happens in Idiocracy. Bauers is sentenced to death for his perceived inability to solve their problems (a disillusionment with dashed hopes at an intellectual saviour not dissimilar from a movie like District 9 [2009] either).

Eventually, Bauers' system bears fruit, and he is pardoned by President Camacho. Hey, it's a comedy, not Plato after all.

Extract and Marx: The Worker's Plight

The best I can do for Extract right now is cite both some of its similarities and distances from Marxism, founded of course by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the late 19th Century CE. This section should be admittedly lighter than the other two, due to my lack of immediate knowledge in both the movement and recent film.

Essentially, Marxism is all about the workers, which the Blue Collar proletariat (and their employer, Joel [Jason Bateman]) in Extract (2009) briefly adhere to. The film is moreover about the ignorance and dumbness, if not endearing nature of the Blue Collared Worker than it is a plea to give them the rights and means to production.

Whereas Marx through careful thinking came up with the concept that Capitalism screws over the common man, the Reynolds Extract Factory workers through idiocy and misinterpretation arrive at the same concept. Fearing that Joel will sell the factory, they attempt to strike and rise against him in order to obtain an equal share in the prize. This in the context of the movie is flagrantly unfair, as Brian, Joel's second in command states on a few occasions, most of the workers are dinkuses, poor at their jobs and generally undeserving of this kind of responsibility. Joel came up with the product in college Chemistry class and is one of the only organised members possessing leadership and discipline in the entire plant.

Once Joel becomes dissatisfied with this responsibility, however, he briefly tells his workers attempting to strike that the whole place should be theirs so they can deal with all the problems he must face. I'd like to see what ol' Karlos would think of this notion, that is, the general shittiness that comes with the pressures of running a company.

So, the workers basically fail in unionizing or obtaining any money made from the rampant Capitalism that Joel would absorb if he sold the company, which he ends up not even doing anyway. Thus they fail in their flirtations with Marxism. I'd say it's not an explicitly anti-Marxist movie, if it was I'd picture Joel selling out and retiring on his new found wealth somewhere. On the other hand, though, it's definitely not pro-Marxist, if it were I'd say some credibility or intelligence would have to be given to the common worker, which sorely lacks. So basically, kind of like my feelings on the movie as a whole, more of which can be seen here, it's a flat, positionless movie. Awesome.

Sources:

Easwaran, Eknath, trans. The Bhagavad Gita. Berkely, CA: Nilgiri, 2007. Print.

Extract. Dir. Mike Judge. Miramax, 2009. Film.

Idiocracy. Dir. Mike Judge. Twentieth Century-Fox, 2006. DVD.

Kreiss, Steven. "Plato, The Allegory of the Cave." The History Guide. 13 May 2004. Web. 7 Sept. 2009. .

"Marxism." Wikipedia. Web. 7 Sept. 2009. .

Office Space. Dir. Mike Judge. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1999. DVD.

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