Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #12

Re: WALL•E (2008)

I will admit that Pixar’s WALL-E is brilliant in a lot of ways. I still wouldn’t allow any child of mine to see it, though, because of the insidious and ridiculous anti-capitalist mentality it espouses. Of course, that’s exactly what will make the Academy vote for it. Which proves once again that Hollywood is the enemy of mankind.

This year, alas, the Academy’s top honors went to films that New York Times critic A. O. Scott perceptively described as “hermetically sealed melodrama[s] of received thinking, feverishly advancing a set of themes that are the very opposite of provocative.” Meanwhile, the Academy snubbed both WALL-E and The Dark Knight, which Scott describes as “contrasting allegories pitched at the anxieties of the moment,” “populist entertainments of summertime” that incited the “interesting movie debates of 2008.”

This was not a proud year for the Academy in my book. I’m with my friend Jeffrey Overstreet, who wants to host a “Boycotting the Oscars” party this year.

Anyway. Not only do I not agree that WALL-E is anti-capitalist — or anti-technological, as the article you cite claims — I don’t agree that criticizing capitalism qualifies one as “the enemy of mankind.” (See the Church’s critique of “unbridled capitalism” in, e.g., Centesimus Annus.)

How could a movie with such nostalgia for Rubik’s Cube and big-studio musicals be anti-capitalist? How could a movie with such a sympathetic and humanized robotic hero be anti-technological?

The economic critique of WALL-E’s one-corporation world (all consumers, no producers) in the article you link to is of course perfectly cogent. It is also almost entirely beside the point. You might as well mount a critique of the economics of Narnia, where the Witch’s hundred-year winter hasn’t suppressed the supply of sardines, boiled eggs, buttered toast, tobacco, potatoes, beer, marmalade rolls and the like.

More to the point, you might as well critique the biology and sociology of Gulliver’s Travels. WALL-E is a scathing satire, not of capitalism or technology, but of passive mass-media consumer culture and not living thoughtfully. As Swiftian satire, it offers a bold and striking image of mankind enslaved to passivity, consumption and isolation from real contact. No, it’s not a plausible construction of a possible future — not at all. But I’m reminded of the theme lyrics to “Mystery Science Theater 3000”: “If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts / Just repeat to yourself ‘It’s just a show, I should really just relax’…

I can’t say I see any danger of young minds exposed to WALL-E developing anti-capitalist or anti-technology biases. The real danger, in my book, is that they may start clamoring for WALL-E paraphernalia: video games, action figures, lunch boxes, bedsheets, who knows what all. That’s the point where parents may want to begin practicing the spirit of the movie, rather than the spirit of the merchandisers.

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