Saturday, September 26, 2009
Best Dude: Mike Judge
I was going to just write a review of Extract, but I am such a huge admirer of Mike Judge that I might as well continue this "Best Dude" series. To which you might react, "the creator of Beavis and Butthead in the same ranks as the creator of Tom and Huck? Are you insane?" Oh dear reader, Mike Judge belongs there. Because, not unlike Twain, he draws us into mirrors only to show us our most unattractive selves. He is a satirist of the highest caliber, unmatched in our culture today.
His latest film, Extract, is not what anyone expects. It's not Office Space 2. Sure, there are plenty of stabs at the blue-collar hick demographic, but these are actually peripheries in Extract. The workplace stuff is really just there for a setting. What Judge is really getting at in the film is something much more delicate and personal.
But really, this shouldn't be surprising. Mike Judge's work is NEVER understood upon initial release. Critics and audiences alike are always looking for something that's not there. And when they don't find it, they try to write it off. Thus the nature of the beast that is satire. It will be misinterpreted, unappreciated and ignored.
What is satire though? Here's what our dictionary tells us:
1 : a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
2 : trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
You'd think at this point, audiences and critics would be able to sit down for a Mike Judge movie with some preparation. He is a satirist! He has never been anything else. He is a writer, who holds human vices up for us to see, and he ridicules them. He is also a moralist (he discredits human vices). Some of his favorite vices have been ignorance (Idiocracy), laziness (Office Space), obstinateness (King of the Hill), and now with Extract he holds up for ridicule: infidelity.
A satirical examination of lust does not happen very often, because lust is often confused with "sexiness" in our culture. We try to forget that it's a vice. (I try to forget that it's a vice) Until Mike Judge comes along and says, "maybe you should hire a gigolo for your wife to have sex with so you won't feel guilty if you cheat on her".
Here's the other thing that great satire does, it goes for extreme exaggeration while always keeping one foot grounded in realism. Oh, if you didn't realize, that invented quote from Mike Judge is actually the plot device of Extract. And if you didn't realize, it's totally ridiculous.
But it's not too ridiculous, because husbands cheat on their wives every day. And, honestly, there's not a reason that isn't ridiculous when it comes down to it. Infidelity is a horrible vice, one that can never be understated. But Mike Judge exaggerates in Extract so that we might actually see how disgustingly familiar infidelity is for many Americans. If the film was about "work," it wasn't about the work you do at 9 to 5 jobs, it was about the work you do to in order to maintain a healthy marriage.
I don't think I've ever felt so convicted by a Mike Judge project before. As I gazed into a mirror with an aspect ratio of 16 : 9, Extract pointed out my folly.
I doubt Extract will join the cult-hit-club that Office Space and Idiocracy are members of, simply because of the state of our society. As long as our marriages have a 50/50 chance of survival, people won't want to look in the mirror that is Extract.
I have this negative feeling because it seems like a lot of people are trying to shut Mike Judge off. Two of his shows were canceled in the past year, the long lived masterpiece of television that was King of the Hill, and the short lived genius-work that was The Goode Family. Americans don't want to be shown what they're doing wrong anymore. We're not even open to the possibility of our misguidedness. We're not wrong, the government is. Or the media. Or somebody. But not me, I'm right.
The last episode of King of the Hill aired just a couple weeks ago. It was a very silly episode about Bobby's surprise hidden talent for meat inspection. Hank, being a proud propane (and propane accessories) salesman, was thrilled. Ever since the first episode, Hank would look at Bobby in shame and say, "the boy aint right". But in the last moment of the show, it didn't matter what father-son discrepancies may have developed over the course of the series. Hank and Bobby stood together, father and son, two men separated by a cultural gap that may never be bridged. But still they stood together.
It was a beautiful moment of the virtue of family. It wrapped the show up so perfectly, the satire not quite giving us the ideal ending, but leaving possibility for future follies. But at least momentarily, we saw what looked like open-mindedness and love. But it's now up to us. Because, really, if we don't demolish our vices, the government, media or church won't do it for us.
Mike Judge will not give us what we want. Because what we want is shallow, sexy, cheap, etc. etc. etc... But he does give us what we need. He gives us satire. And this is why he is the best dude.