Early in the 2016 primary race, comedy screenwriter Etan Cohen began to notice some similarities between the Republican candidate, mendacious former reality star Donald Trump, and Cohen's 2006 movie Idiocracy, which features fictional wrestling champ-turned-president Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho (Terry Crews). Ever since, those similarities have only grown, leading to Cohen and Mike Judge, who wrote and also directed Idiocracy, now working on a series of anti-Trump ads with Crews reprising his role.
The 2006 satire shows a semi-distant future in which the world has been overrun by dummies and, as a result, is falling apart. At first, the parallels to the real primary race were “just a general lizard brain kind of thing: The presidency is all about entertainment value,” Cohen, who also directed and wrote the 2015 comedy Get Hard and co-wrote the 2008 hit comedy Tropic Thunder, told BuzzFeed News over the phone. “Then it started to get, as the year went on, weirdly specific. People pointing out things like, 'Oh, Camacho was a wrestler and Trump was a wrestler.' … It's like, the more things go on, the more it actually seems to be kind of merging in a very specific, eerie way.”
Cohen and Judge have always maintained that the movie had a kernel of truth to it, but, Cohen said, “We just thought it would take much, much longer to get to this point.” The film was meant as a satire of the obsession with celebrity and entertainment culture in America. “Obviously, when writing the movie, we knew that that was true about TV and movies and pop culture," he said. "But it was a crazy joke to think that it could be extrapolated to politics. It seems to be happening really rapidly.”
In February, Cohen tweeted, “I never expected #idiocracy to become a documentary.” Soon, The Hill, the Huffington Post, Business Insider, Entertainment Weekly, and the Washington Times, to name a few, turned the tweet into a headline. There's even a Facebook group called "Movement to Classify 'Idiocracy' as Documentary."
“I didn't think anyone would see it,” Cohen said of the tweet, which has since been retweeted more than 3,800 times. “That was just an interesting, eye-opening thing, like, wow, this is just tapping into something that a lot of people are feeling right now.”
After his tweet gained so much traction, Cohen called Judge and they decided to seize the moment and write campaign ads for Camacho satirizing Trump. They plan to shoot the ads after Fox clears the rights with Crews (“There’s only one Camacho,” Cohen said).
Throughout the process, Cohen and Judge have struggled to satirize Trump because he is already so outrageous. “If you're making Idiocracy 2, and you're trying to write whoever's the heir to Camacho, if you put in Trump, it would be too silly to be in a movie,” Cohen explained.
But they worked through it — Cohen felt a call to action, saying these ads are very important to him. “This is what satire is for … to be able to hold up a mirror and say, 'This is crazy,'” he said. “Idiocracy was like that, but this all of a sudden felt like a very immediate need for the true meaning of satire and what it can actually do.”
Of course, Idiocracy and Trump's campaign aren’t completely parallel: Under the leadership of President Camacho, crops are watered with a Gatorade-like drink and criminal sentencing options include death by giant drill in a large stadium full of spectators. Trump’s policy proposals include building a very large wall along the U.S.–Mexico border and spending less money on helping people who flee their countries to escape war and persecution. And, while the electorate of Idiocracy votes against their interests for a man who is entertaining but bad at being president, many white Trump supporters are voting for their interests. But Cohen does see some ideological overlaps between the fictional president and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee: “They both seem to be intent on destroying the world. But maybe Camacho more accidentally?”
“The most dangerous contrast to Trump is that Camacho actually realizes he needs advice from other people, and knows that he's not the smartest guy in the room," Cohen continued, noting that he would "definitely" vote for Camacho over Trump. "Also, not a racist.”
Ariane Lange is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Ariane Lange at email@example.com.
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