From “Whip It” to “Idiocracy”: Devolution in Pop Culture

By Gary Chapman
gchapman@lc.edu

Ever since Charles Darwin wrote down his theory of evolution and natural selection, people have thought that evolution does need that push of natural selection to make sure that we are getting those spicy good genes. For instance, the tongue-in-cheek Darwin Awards “salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it in a spectacular manner!” But as time goes on, and medical treatment intervenes in death, people have thought of devolution as a result. Here are some instances of devolution in pop culture.

A good instance of this is the band Devo, who most people only know for their song “Whip It” (even though they are a great new-wave group.) Devo was started by Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh when they took the idea of devolution as a joke throughout their work until the Kent State shooting reinforced the idea. As their bio from 2007 states, “instead of evolving, mankind has actually regressed, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.”

Their stance can be identified in the songs “Jocko Homo”, which is named after the creationist track “Jocko-Homo Heavenbound”, and “Peek-A-Boo”, where the chorus starts with “The way that we were is what we’ll become.” Also, “Freedom of Choice” is about how we want freedom from choice.

“Idiocracy”, a comedy by Mike Judge, creator of “Beavis and Butthead”, “King of the Hill” and “Office Space”, also has this idea in the more social and societal impact. The film revolves around a man who was selected for suspended animation, waking up in the 26th century to reveal that the Earth, due to expectation of the 21st century society, has devolved and gotten the collective IQ of a sack of moldy grapes. The film involves the idea of dysgenics, which is the polar opposite of eugenics.

Other works of fiction, like Kurt Vonnegut’s “Galapagos”, have covered devolution where it documents that we have devolved into creatures with a smaller brain. But besides all of that, we have to set aside and think, “Are we not men, or are we DEVO?”

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