The Politics of Wall-E
Wall-E is a dystopian vision of what happens if we follow neoliberalism to its ultimate conclusions.* Yeah it is. In Wall-E, true to neoliberal doctrine, everyone has become consumer first and everything else (citizen, lover, animal, Earth dweller) second. Further, government has withered away and been replaced by a corporation (Interestingly, not a series of corporations but one big all-encompassing one named ‘Buy-n-Large’ **). The result?
1. Everyone is isolated and short sighted (literally not looking beyond the screens floating in front of them) caring primarily about pursuing personal superficial desires through their purchases rather than engaging in more substantial human endeavours. They have, therefore, lost contact with nature, natural tactile human interaction, and the importance of community and communal action.
2. The earth is polluted beyond use and all the humans have had to leave it and live on a space ship. And instead of learning from their mistakes and changing their behaviour they put their faith once again in neoliberalism for a solution - trust Buy N Large to engineer technology to fix the problem (cleaner robots known as Wall-E’s) whilst humans fun it up buying Buy N Large goodies in outer space. This doesn’t work, in part because of an evil robot. I probably can’t peg the evil robot on neoliberalism.***
It’s that nature and capitalism thing I was talking about before. And the hopeful solution provided at the end of the movie suggests the same solutions I was talking about before. As the captain and fellow humans realise, to save the Earth we need to rediscover thinking communally and working together rather than hoping someone else (robots, big powerful corporations etc) will do it for us. We need a greener way of living, need to care more about the environment and stop seeing ourselves as merely consumers. It’s a direct indictment on neoliberal ideology that currently dominates our system. Neoliberalism doesn’t provide the solution and it is only when people start working and acting communally does the world improve for the better.
Of course, this message loses a bit of traction when you consider the messenger, Pixar/Disney, made hundreds of millions of dollars selling Wall-E merchandise. They sold fluffy plush toy versions of a robot character! It was through the looking glass nuts.
Check out this article from the Guardian on the political reactions to Wall-E when it first came out.
Also, if you want another take on the politics of Wall-E, check out Rod Dreher’s article at PopMatters.
* Interestingly, the filmmakers have denied having any political intent. They’ve even expressed shock that anyone read a political message in it. It is common for filmmakers to be all ‘I’m not political, maan, I was just telling a story about a boy and a girl/robot and a cockaroach/father and a bicycle thief” etc but I find their shock to be shocking. Don’t these filmmakers do film courses at university? Don’t they also sit there learning about the feminist/Marxist/queer/racial/other ismy subtexts that permeate everything put up on screen? Don’t they think about the messages they’re sending? Especially to kids? Of course they do. If for no other reason, than to predict the reactions and feedback they’re going to get. I call bullshit Pixar.
** Isn’t neoliberalism meant to be about competition? Can competition and diversity of choice in the market really thrive if a strong government isn’t there to regulate to keep a big player (like Buy N Large) from swallowing the small ones by outlawing anti-competitive practices?
*** Actually I totally could! Something about corporations working for their own selfish incentives so not caring enough to keep proper track of the Earth. But I probably need to think it out a bit more and I’m getting tired.