*June 28 Update: This post was made during the film’s developmental stage. WALL-E has now been released in theaters and it appears as if Pixar has considerably reworked the show since the time of this post to tone down its negative and discriminatory portrayals of fat people. Still, stereotypes abound. For more information on this, see Daniel Engber’s “Fat-E” column on Slate.com.
ATTENTION NEWS ORGANIZATIONS: Note the date of this post. The comments below reflect my views on Wall-E during its production stage in the fall at the time these posts were made. The film has changed considerably since then, therefore these are NOT my views of the version that has been released to the public. If you quote from this blog, be sure to note this important detail in your story or you will be deliberately quoting me out of context. If you would like my thoughts on the film released to the public, e-mail me at Rachel at the-f-word dot org.
I have to admit, Brandon and I found the movie Idiocracy to be mildly entertaining. It’s puerile, sure, but as social satire, Mike Judge’s dumbed-down dystopia as the result of dysgenics and cultural anti-intellectualism is not only clever and entertaining, but cautionary, as well.
So, it might seem hypocritical my criticism of Disney/Pixar’s new film WALL-E slotted for a June, 2008 release.
The film, which is set 700 years in the future, portrays an environment so ravaged that humans have relocated to spaceships and have built robots like the main character WALL-E to collect trash.
But it’s not just the planet that’s trashed – humans themselves are nothing more than huge floating fat blobs who can only move because they sit in floating lounge chairs. Like Idiocracy, the film is being touted as an Orwellian cautionary tale as to the direction we’re going as a people.
A correspondent from CalorieLab (an anti-obesity, pro weight-loss site) enthusiastically viewed an early focus group screening of the film. He reported that the “very entertaining” film did indeed make a statement about the “fitness and the obesity crisis.” Given the nature of the CalorieLab website, I’m left to wonder if the rampant fat-bashing is what he found to be most entertaining.
“It shows a future in which mankind literally spends all day on a giant starship moving around in floating chairs, drinking liquified food from Big-Gulp-esque cups, and forever surfing (and chatting) on chair-mounted video screens,” says the source.
A section of the film reveals the history of mankind’s fall into sloth and fat: “There’s an amazing sequence where the camera pans over portraits of the previous captains of the ship – and we watch as they slowly devolve into amorphous blobs with each successive generation.”
The difference I see between a movie like Idiocracy (or classics like Player Piano, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and 1984) is that these stories are grounded in very real and tangible conflicts, like class conflicts, rapidly advancing technology, the distribution of power, and/or threats to the social and cultural orders. No one group of people are made to blame – it’s a collective human downfall.
But WALL-E specifically singles out and targets obese people as the primary cause of mankind’s demise, further perpetuating the stereotype of the gluttonous, slothful fat person. Furthermore, the film suggests that, in their exaggerated laziness, obese people disregard not only personal health, but also that of the planets, and are held up as the cause for the destruction of the environmental landscape.
This is, despite mountains of evidence that show, as a group, fat people do not eat more than thin people, nor are they less active and that the so-called “obesity epidemic” has been greatly exaggerated by self-serving corporate interests. For more information on this, see any number of authors on the subject, including Gina Kolata, Paul Campos, or J. Eric Oliver, or Michael Gard and Jan Wright, or Glenn Gaesser, or Marilyn Wann, or Laura Fraser.
I really like Pixar, and I think their films’ messages of self-improvement are usually on spot. But frankly, I find the premise of this film to be neither entertaining nor positive. I also find it ironic that while Disney (who owns Pixar) says its working to promote diversity amongst its workforce, it’s simultaneously contributing to a culture that stigmatizes these differences.
If you’d like to voice your complaints or want to ask Pixar and/or Disney to clarify the issues raised, here’s some contact info:
Contact information for Pixar:
Pixar Animation Studios
122 Park Ave.
Emeryville, CA 94608
The only email I could find for Pixar was for Invester Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pixar is a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney, so here’s contact info for Disney:
Press comments: TWDC.Corp.Communications@disney.com
Disney CEO/President Robert Iger
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
Another site, Save Disney Shows, have set up an automated email form at http://www.sdsmail.org/ where you can write one email and select a mass of Disney folk to send to.