Set 500 years into the future, 'Idiocracy' on a superficial level has absolutely nothing in common with Joss Whedon's space western cult classic 'Firefly.' And the implication otherwise is downright insulting. But scratch just beneath the surface and suddenly these two opposing ideologies of the future merge into one cohesive universe. Let's look at the facts.
Fact: 'Idiocracy' and 'Firefly' take place at the same time.
Private Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) and Rita (Maya Rudolph) are sent into hibernation in the year 2006 and they wake up 500 years later, setting the date at 2506. The Battle of Serenity Valley, in which Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillon) and the Browncoats lost their bid for independence from the Core Worlds happened in May of 2511.
“So what”, you say, sharpening your authentic reproduction of River Tam”s axe and sword, hate in your eyes. “If anything, that proves they couldn't be in the same universe because they're not even in the same galaxy.” Precisely.
Fact: 'Idiocracy' history shows humanity took an unstoppable turn towards the stupid in the 21st century.
As advances in medicine and science made it simultaneously easier to plan a family – or have a family with no forethought to the consequences – the gap between high and low IQs widened exponentially. What began as a slow evolutionary creep hit an event horizon and the intelligent one day found themselves out-procreated by the dumb.
But as humans in general became stupider, where did all the smart people go? Surely in a dystopian future populated by easily swayed masses, a hierarchy would arise with the brightest minds taking on an elite status to rule with an iron fist. An intellectual monarchy. Yet but the time Bauers arrives, any semblance of triple digit IQs has vanished from the Earth.
Fact: 'Firefly' constantly refers to Earth-That-Was.
Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Through exposition and interviews, Browncoats know the world of 'Firefly' was brought on as humans 'used up' the Earth and were forced to flee in order to save the species. Superpowers China and the United States poured funding in to space and technology research. The end product was terraforming dozens of new planets in a single star system and a mass exodus from our home world. Without faster-than-light travel, an entire generation never saw the outside of a spaceship.
Not so coincidentally this happened in the 21st century, the same time our collective gene pool was fermenting in ‘Idiocracy.” So what if Earth-That-Was had 'used up' the gene pool and not resources? Why should the clever stay behind to take care of an increasingly suspicious and ungrateful population of dumbasses when the stars beckon? Morally you can't tell people they're too stupid to have kids, but there's nothing in the ethics codebook about using your smarts to build a spaceship escape pod to save your grandchildren from an idiocractic future.
Fact: Civilization is just entering the throes of death in 'Idiocracy.'
There are currently around 7 billion people on the planet. So why hadn”t Earth civilization already crumbled under the weight of overpopulation way before the beginning of 'Idiocracy'? Especially with the birth rates among idiots so accelerated. A mass exodus to another star system would account for the discrepancy. Think of it like the Black Plague only the symptoms can only be transmitted through sex. Stupidity is literally an STD.
Let's say humans got their shit together to leave Earth by 2063 – the year of First Contact in 'Star Trek. – and 40% of Earthians opted and/or were permitted to leave. That's around 3 billion less humans taking up space. Suddenly without doctors, or engineers, or numerous other professionals, even an alarmingly quick birth rate would have to contend with all the ways nature kills us when we don't have science to intervene. Suddenly 500 years to critical failure lines up better.
Fact: Someone had to program all the 'Idiocracy' computers to staunch humanity's self-destruction.
Of course, the ancestors of 'Firefly' weren't completely heartless. Sure they were basically throwing their hands in the air, effectively saying “We're done with you basic bitches,” but they knew the remaining IQ-challenged Earthbound humans would feel their loss. Without a class of people to explain physics or chemistry or economics, the clever obviously did their best to create technologies as a stop-gap. Surely the ignoramuses lumbering around 400 years after the last intelligent human touched Earth-That-Was soil couldn't be maintaining the machines that fed and clothed and categorized them. Instead it shines as a testament to the longevity of human ingenuity before it fled into the stars with cry of “I don't want to live on this planet anymore.” How were they to know IQ levels would continue to plummet at alarming rates, eventually leading to a planet wide crisis as basic cognitive function dissipated?
So there is is. The secret shame of Whedon's 'Firefly' origins. In a time honored tradition of revisionist history, the brilliant minds of Earth-That-Was didn't flee from a dry husk of diminishing resources. Instead they ran before the inexorable march of evolution, shedding unwanted branches of the family tree with calculating precision. Self-preservationists or heartless bastards? You decide.