June 30th, 2008

gort

By and Large

Wall*E is just a stunningly good movie. It's gorgeous, and genuine, and mostly avoids the overweening cute that infects most animated films.

One of the things that cracked me up about it was how much Wall*E is emblematic of geek culture: he tools around doing his job, collecting his weird objects, obsessively watching his favorite movie over and over again, and fixates on the first girl he sees, regardless of her personality or even her name. And the first thing he does is bring her home to see all his Stuff. And then...he sort of stalks her. But it all works out, sort of, because like most geeks, he is also capable of extraordinary loyalty and devotion and--wonder. God, remember when SF was about wonder? How refreshing to see someone in love with the world.

I know some people are getting all het up about the "anti-fat" message of the movie, and I think that's pretty much bullshit. Come on, guys. Fat people saved the world. Be happy. If you don't think most corporations would go absolutely priapic over the idea of being able to get us all in limited space, strapped to a chair, fed through a straw and advertised to 24/7 until we are nothing more than constantly consuming grubs, you're pretty much first in line for your blue suit. I completely believe the idea--especially since, unlike most SF space operas, Wall*E doesn't pretend that hyperdrive elevates the soul or that interstellar capability means any of that behavior would stop--it will be Wal-Mart taking us to the stars, if ever we go.

I think one of the truest, subtlest moments of the film was when BNL was advertising the new "blue" jumpsuits to the universally morbidly obese passengers--and still advertising them as worn by thin people.

There is a sad irony in the fact that this message has been brought to us by the Disney Corporation, who, let's be honest, would be first in line to strap humanity down and force-feed us frosted high fructose corn syrup Disney Princess (tm) cakes and Mickey Mouse Brand anti-depressants until we burst.

Which brings me to the end. Stop reading if you don't want to know.

Oddly enough, I kept thinking of Heinlein, who for all his faults, and they are legion, has a lot of important things to say about how hard it is to make a planet livable, about what kind of blood greases the trail from subsistence to Coruscant, about how long it takes and how brutal a task it really is.

My problems are twofold: one, they have a giant spaceship with automated farms, perfect AI, and food-generating whirly-gigs. If they didn't, they wouldn't have survived 700 years. Yet the Captain is fucking around with pouring water on dirt. If you are serious about recolonizing you have to feed people--people with a certain vigorous expectation of regular food--and one blade of grass does not a sustainable ecology make. Watching the Captain flail cutely with his watering can filled me with horror. Because those bone-degenerated, net-addicted, HFCS-saturated people who have been plugged in all their lives are simply not prepared for the task of rebuilding a planet that is still completely fucked. The whole facile "let's roll up our sleeves" solution reminded me uncomfortably of certain leaders who want to enact grand schemes as long as other people are the ones to die making them happen, and the whole, utterly corrupted green movement that seems to think handing out grotesque medieval indulgences in the form of carbon offsets makes a damn bit of difference. Why, as soon as you declare a wonderful thing done, it's done! Mission accomplished! The real work always gets done somewhere else, by someone else, via musical montage.

So welcome to a lifetime of toil and death, kids! But hey, it's worth it. It's not like you have a hyperdrive craft capable of taking you to a world that does not prominently feature deadly trashstorms, skyscrapers of garbage, and a sky blotted out by satellites, right? Right?

Which brings me around to something I talked about on the Magical Realism panel at Wiscon, and hope to post about in detail shortly. You see, mainstream fiction, filmed or printed, has an agenda. No, you say! Say it isn't so! Yeah yeah. But listen, because the message is this: you must always choose this world. You cannot choose virtual reality, or space, or Middle Earth. You must always strive to return from Kansas, no matter how shitty the Depression is, you must always choose Earth over any other planet even if you've never seen it and barely heard of it. You cannot choose the simulacrum, even if it is better in every way. To do otherwise is metaphorical suicide, and no matter how cool the aliens are on the other side, kid, you'd better choose life. This life. Mos maiorum. The Captain had to choose Earth, no matter how truly horrible life there will be for each and every one of his passengers, who will, in the main, die in awful ways, otherwise Wall*E would not be a nice little pedagogical movie meant to exhort us to action in this world. Fiction must instruct.

I have no problem with exhortations to action. But in a movie that was otherwise about not making the easy choice, the Pollyanna hand-waving of the ending jarred. Because it made the work of rebuilding earth seem so easy that it was hardly worth considering anything else. Because it glorified farming (because that sure was a ship full of farmers. Pizza plants, indeed) and bucolic life over the readily-available resources and AI that would safe thousands of lives--and this is what our own government does when it denies scientific funding because of an obsession with seeing themselves as cowboys, simple men, Christians with a foot in the other world.

There is a seriously dark future waiting for those cute, roly-poly humans. The robots, on the other hand, will be fine.

And then, after the credits, the BNL logo gleams huge and shiny and red. Which I thought was an incredibly subtle thing, an implication that all the preceding was a BNL-approved media product, with a BNL-approved message: don't worry, kids. If we fuck it up beyond all hope, we'll just wait a bit, swim in the pool, and then break out the watering cans like the salt-of-the-earth folks we are. Then we'll have a hoedown. The fixing is easy. So feel free to fuck it up.

I think Pixar understood their own morbid joke. That's what the logo says to me. It says: this is already happening, and the very people who brought you this adorable robot will be the ones to strap you into a hyperdrive chair aimed towards oblivion.

Have a nice trip.
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