Television

The Mind of Mike Judge

A satirist's worldview

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HBO

Willy Staley has written an entertaining profile of Mike Judge for The New York Times Magazine; if you like the writer/director/actor's work at all, I recommend reading it. I don't want to spoil any of the article's anecdotes by quoting them here, so instead I'll highlight this passage:

If you set aside his long-running TV show "King of the Hill," which is much too loving to be considered satire, Judge's corpus of work cleaves neatly into two pieces. In one, people are driven nearly to ruin in their efforts to escape the crush of immense managerial apparatuses ("Office Space," "Extract"). In the other, we see the opposite—imbeciles left completely and terrifyingly to their own devices ("Beavis and Butt-Head," "Idiocracy"). "Silicon Valley," remarkably, fuses both of these impulses. The tech world it skewers is the most dynamic sector of our economy, possibly representing the greatest concentration of brainpower and capital ever seen in human history, creating products that insinuate their control into every last corner of our lives. And yet it's nevertheless lousy with man-children who seem to want nothing more than the ability to prolong adolescence, theirs and ours alike, and have the means and the license and the asinine product ideas to do so.

Fox

With one big caveat, I think that's a nice summary of how Judge's perspective manifests itself in his work. (It also helps explain why I prefer Office Space to Idiocracy: Both are funny, but only one really resonates with my worldview.) The caveat is that King of the Hill was shot through with satire, no matter how loving it could be. It's just that the series was a lot more willing to leave an imbecile to his own devices. Hank was naive, Bill was a loser, Boomhauer was barely coherent, and Dale was a raving paranoid, but they balanced each other out; everyone's good qualities made up for everyone else's flaws. The show's most reliable villains were interfering outsiders: regulators, ideologues, managers with MBAs, Ritalin-dispensing doctors. When such forces left it alone, their little suburb was able to take care of itself. You'll have to decide for yourself how much that represents a sunny side to Judge's outlook and how much it merely reflects the utopian conventions of the small-town sitcom.

Judge's current project is Silicon Valley, and most of the Times profile is focused on that. The show's "implicit suggestion," Staley writes, "is that if you want to see how the tech world's ostensibly freewheeling nature conceals a willingness to be party to systems of bureaucratic and governmental control—not to mention how it runs on a crass sort of hucksterism, and how it might represent a terrible misallocation of wealth and intellect—all you really need to do is look straight at it." To read the rest, go here.

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  1. Idiocracy didn’t resonate? I got a resonate; you’re a dick!

    1. The movie made me laugh, because Judge is a funny writer. But I’m not one to freak out about the dumbing down of pop culture, let alone the eugenic stuff.

      1. Don’t you know we’re living it now, brother?

        1. We’re not living it until I can get a handy at Starbucks.

          Well, I mean, one legitimately sold by the establishment.

          1. Satire is best confined to light, comedic humor expressed on certain television shows and other appropriate venues (including perhaps Starbucks); inappropriately deadpan forms of “parody” have been criminalized as a form of fraudulent deceit in New York (in a decision written by a distinguished judge who apparently committed suicide yesterday), and those who tweet in the “names” of university presidents around our great nation should cease and desist from such activity immediately if they wish to avoid the firm hand of American justice. See the documentation at:

            http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        2. Don’t you know we’re living it now, brother?

          Fist is Walker’s brother?!?!?!?!?!? I KNEW IT!

      2. Check out this particular individual!

    2. Damn. That was a comment that seems out of character for you.

      1. South Carolina, what’s up!

    3. South Carolina, what’s up! [high-fives Fist]

      1. That’s the State of the Union Address I can watch over and over.

    4. Your shit’s retarded and you talk like a fag!

      1. Don’t worry, Scro. My first wife was tarded and look at her now. She flies planes.

  2. In one, people are driven nearly to ruin in their efforts to escape the crush of immense managerial apparatuses (“Office Space,” “Extract”).

    I’m still interested in reading the full profile, but…this snippet suggests he hasn’t even seen one of the movies he’s writing about. The only thing similarity between Office Space and Extract is that they both take place in workplaces. The employees in Extract are not sticking it to the man, they are idiots who go on strike because they falsely believe there is a buy-out taking place. There’s also the guy with the lawsuit who drops it as soon as the manipulative con artist girl leaves and he’s promoted to floor manager, not exactly motivated by “managerial apparatuses”

    1. In my memory of the movie (which I saw nearly a decade ago, so my recollections may be unreliable), Extract is much more sympathetic to the business owner but is still ultimately about the absurdities of the corporate world.

  3. King of the Hill was the last sitcom that treated southern, conservative, and semi-rural whites as decent people. The bad people on that show came from California or some other cosmopolitan locale. That show would never be accepted by any studio today.

    “I miss voting for that man”

    – Hank Hill in reference to Ronald Reagan

    1. And I remember it being unusual for that reason even when it aired.

    2. We always think that, but I don’t know. I don’t think the popular entertainment industry is as uniformly anti-middle America as we might think.

      “So what’ll it be? The Roger Staubach or the Rookie Roger Staubach?”

      -Hank’s barber

      1. Cotton Hill: “He’s nothing more than a one-term peanut farmer” (in reference to Jimmy Carter)

        1. Bobby, if you weren’t my son I’d hug you.

    3. King of the Hill was just as critical of southern culture. One of the recurring sources of conflict was Hank getting stuck between maintaining the appearance society expected of him and fulfilling his actual duties. e.g. Hank wants to be a good father, but the way his society expects a “good father” to act and doing what was actually best for Bobby often conflicted.

      1. But, not in the ‘look at how subhuman these stupid hicks are’ kind of way

        1. But, not in the ‘look at how subhuman these stupid hicks are’ kind of way

          ^ This.

          My progressive friends had no idea what to make of that show, because the only lens they had for it was “laugh at the stupid hicks.” The fact that it wasn’t Beverly Hillbillies and actually developed its characters as sympathetic, three-dimensional humans really confused them, and they had a hard time seeing the humor beyond “they talk funny.”

          1. Well, I live next to Garland, Texas (Arlen). Every Boomhauer makes me laugh still. But to your point, those guys are always genuine, loyal, and trustworthy in my experience. To ignore their pithy, although difficult to understand, points is to have a critical flaw in personality. Just like ignoring the often quiet southern grandparents that only speak when wisdom is required.

            One of the best qualities to have is to know when to listen to others.

      2. Sure, they were clear that the world had moved on from many of Hank’s values, for the better in some cases. But he was capable of making adjustments if he thought it was the right thing because he was a moral person, and they never indicted his entire worldview. There was a nice balance between Hank’s views being outdated and in need of change, and Hank being the sane one compared to the crazed progressives

        It’s such a remarkable show in hindsight

    4. “What is it, Hank? Why are you so afraid of a woman in the workplace? Did having a woman justice ruin the Supreme Court?”

      “Yes. And that woman’s name was Earl Warren!”

      1. What a great moment. I still remember it too.

    5. I never got into King of the Hill. Maybe I should have. I think I was just pissed that it wasn’t Beavis and Butthead, which is still my favorite Mike Judge thing.

    6. King of the Hill was the last sitcom that treated southern, conservative, and semi-rural whites as decent people.

      Probably because Judge was from a small town in Texas. He’s simultaneously satirizing the “simple people” who live in places like those while at the same time showing them to be far more decent people, generally speaking, than the coastal elites who sneer at “those kinds of people.”

      The irony is that I’m sure at least some “coastal elites” watch that show and laugh at the naivety of Hank, and the idiocy of Bill, Dale, and Boomhauer without even realizing that he’s also portraying people like them (snobby elites) to be, most of the time, God awful human beings. I’m sure that probably at least partially explains how the studio execs were talked into green-lighting it. Basically, they didn’t get that Judge was really ripping on people like them, not the “flyover country rednecks.”

      1. I’m reminded of the show Due South. The creator once commented that it was real popular in Canada because the Canadians all thought it was making fun of Americans and it was real popular in America because the Americans all thought it was making fun of Canadians.

      2. Or maybe they just thought it was a good show that people would watch. I think that’s what they actually are interested in, after all. Most people aren’t actually snobby elites and probably get that a show can have decent, simple characters who can be funny on several levels and also poke fun at the sort of people who make fun of simple, decent people from small town Texas.
        For all the apparent polarization that is going on now, I think most people are still somewhere in the middle and know that most people are neither dumb, racist hicks or totally out of touch snobs who sniff their own farts all day.

  4. King of the Hill is one of the rare examples of a conservative/libertarian leaning show, like South Park. Or at least in the sense that it isn’t progging all over the place like most other shows.

    How many other shows would dare poke fun at low flow toilets, carbon credits, etc.

    1. …electric cars and nanny state food regulations

      1. Yeah, Bob’s Burgers has a strong… i guess it’s not so much a “reactionary” streak as it is an antiauthoritarian “oh my God what is this latest nonsense” streak.

        1. I’ve never watched Bob’s Burgers. Maybe I’ll check it out. Although it’ll be hard to not picture Sterling Archer every time he speaks.

            1. +1 Manning coleslaw

              I remember that Archer episode. It’s how I learned the H. Jon Benjamin was also the voice of Bob.

              “I’m, like, Chuck Norris-esque.”

          1. You’ll be surprised at how different the characters sound, even though they do pretty much sound the same.

        2. I’ve seen people bitch that it’s reactionary and conservative, for the reasons you’d expect. It does rely on the same basic story structure as KotH: quirky working class family is beset by weirdo progressives and overeager bureaucrats.

    2. “This is the Showerblaster 5000 – they use it on elephants!”

  5. Silicon Valley has a rather Randian undercurrent in that it repeatedly differentiates between companies run by people who (while the certainly hope to make money) are primarily driven by a vision to accomplish something and companies run by people who just want to make money.

    1. I disagree. We don’t see visionaries on the show, just people who feel obliged to pretend to be one.

  6. Bobby, there better be a naked cheerleader under your bed.

    1. LOL! Hank sure had a lot of great one-liners.

      My housemate and I used to call each other Bobby in that tone Hank had, well, always.

  7. Silicone Valley is magnificent, as someone who is a sort of IT guy, interacts with IT guys, it is spot on. They nail the personality archetypes that you find in that community.

  8. BTW, if you like Office Space, I recommend a movie called The Pentagon Wars which is a dark comedy based on the actual development of the Bradley IFV.

    My favorite scene:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXQ2lO3ieBA

    1. That wasn’t bad. I haven’t seen it in a long time.

    2. The movie is hilarious but I actually recommend reading the book to get a better sense of what Burton was dealing with there. He writes that towards the end of his fight with the Army, he was downing a bottle of wine a night to due to the stress. If you read that in conjunction with Chuck Spinney’s “Defense Facts of Life: The Plans/Reality Mismatch” and Bob Coram’s biography of John Boyd, you’ll get a really good, if one-sided, picture of the culture wars within the DoD regarding weapons development.

  9. I didn’t realize Silicon Valley was a Mike Judge creation.

    I find the show very good, pretty damned funny. But it’s an interesting world of tech I was never privy to. I cut my teeth in the old, very un-glamorous world of “silicon valley” where unkempt dudes soldered shit in their garages and there was way, way less specialization. I guess what I’m trying to say is Silicon Valley is funny, seems like a spot on parody of what my perception of modern-day silicon valley is like, but like Mr. Walker, I identify most closely with Office Space.

    1. I haven’t seen it and although I work in IT myself it’s the corporate world and I have a feeling quite different from what is probably depicted on that show.

      1. The show is largely focused on the white-hot world of ‘startups’– young entrepreneurial techies coming up with flashy ideas for ‘apps’ and lots of super-hip, wealthy ‘tech luminary’ types that are the stuff of so much Ted Talks.

        The story’s main characters are working in an ‘incubator’ house, but the last time I saw the show, they were in a struggle to sell (or not sell) their hot idea to a couple of competing billionaire douchebags.

        I feel that some of the best characters are those billionaire side characters. They all act as if they’re some sort of Messiah simply because they made a ton of money being the first to come up with a novel way to post text or music on the internet.

        There was a scene where the main characters were shocked that one of the guys was a billionaire because he streamed Radio on the internet. The explanation was simply that he did it first.

        1. the last time I saw the show, they were in a struggle to sell (or not sell) their hot idea to a couple of competing billionaire douchebags.

          You’re behind. It’s worth catching up – the second season has a great IP narrative that is the main arc of the season.

        2. It’s a shame that the actor who played the less flash billionaire died. That character was truly great.

          1. Yeah – that guy was great. The sesame seed episode was a classic.

            I heard somewhere that that character was based on Peter Thiel.

            1. They didn’t try to hide the inspirations; he’s introduced at a TED talk about how college sucks. I think they even explain his absence later in the season by saying he’s overseeing a seasteading project.

              1. Wasn’t he on Safari in Africa or something?

                He did also have his private, artificial island.

          2. That was a sad loss. He was great here and on Rubicon, and he died young.

        3. That character is Russ Hanneman, he’s based on Sean Parker and he’s *hilarious* because he’s so out of step with the current Silicon Valley esthetic. For one thing, he admits he loves money.

    2. You just brought piss to a shit fight.

    3. Don’t have HBO.

      1. I *do* have HBO – against my wishes. The cable company says it will cost me more to drop it while keeping my sports package than to keep it. I have no idea if they’re lying about it because it’s not like they don’t pull their rates out of their ass or anything.

        1. Heh, heh, you said package.

  10. HANK: I thought you were busy teaching girls to blow up basketballs. When did this turn into a desire to ruin wrestling?

    PEGGY: Oh, give me a break. I don’t see how having a girl on the team would ruin it. Did a woman judge ruin the Supreme Court?

    HANK: Yes, and that woman’s name was Earl Warren.

  11. If you set aside his long-running TV show “King of the Hill,” which is much too loving to be considered satire…

    It’s satire, but satire that you may have had to grow up in a small town in east Texas to fully get.

    1. The caveat is that King of the Hill was shot through with satire, no matter how loving it could be.

      Should have read the whole post before commenting.

  12. Judge also had a one season satirical show called The Goode Family, about a family of eco-conscious, social justice types.

    1. I suspect it was only one season, because we can see the Goode family every time someone in my local government gets in front of a camera.

  13. Bobby, some things are like a tire fire, trying to put it out only makes it worse. You just gotta grab a beer and let it burn.”

  14. People like Office Space because it reminds them of the insane IT staff.

    IT staff like Idiocracy because it reminds them of how everybody else actually is.

    1. Go away! Batin’!

  15. Did Mike Judge have anything to do with Daria?

    1. He created the character, but I don’t believe he had anything to do with the show.

      1. That woman’s name was Earl Warren.

  16. If the NYT is covering him at all it’s because he’s tame and safe for them. Not too too right of center not too too insane and there’s enough left over for the SNL to thump their chests and claim he’s one of them. Real satire, when it’s sharp enough, is hard to tease out of full blown insanity. That’s what makes Silicon Valley so arch. It REALLY IS what SV is like with about a 5-10% kick toward ‘more’. Let’s not forget that Swift WAS Irish, which makes “A Modest Proposal” possibly the angriest thing ever written in English.

  17. I can’t believe no one brought up John Red Corn.

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