In my earlier post about this film, I lamented the heteronormative focus apparent in the preview and the normative gendering of WALL*E and EVE. Now that I have seen the film in its entirety, I am glad to report the gendering/hetero romance did not play the prominent role I assumed it would given the preview. And, I was happy the film critiqued Wal*Mart, ooops, I mean BuyNLarge, in such a funny, thought-provoking way. However, I do have a bone to pick: the representation of fat people as the embodiment of over-consumption, sloth, greed, and mindlessness.
I had quite a few reactions to my earlier post, many of which argued that the film was not as bad from a gender perspective as the preview makes it out to be. I agree. The film is not as hetero-romance focused as the preview suggests, and for this I was glad. (Although I was disturbed that the hand holding scene referred to in my previous post involves WALL*E holding EVE’s hand without her knowledge or consent as she is in ‘shut down’ mode. Seemed kinda stalker-creepy to me). Overall, the movie didn’t ram the romance script down the audiences throat, but I do agree with one of the readers from the previous post that this romance thread was unnecessary.
Also, to the film’s credit, there was a certain level of gender transgression going on. EVE was the savior, not WALL*E. She, like some futuristic Disney prince, had all sorts of tricks up her robotic arm that allowed her to save WALL*E multiple times. And, unlike Disney princess flicks, both the female and male characters were allowed to play the ‘damsel in distress’ and the ‘savior prince.’ And – even better – not a princess dress in sight!
I also enjoyed Wal*Mart of the future, BuyNLarge, being lambasted throughout the film. The skewering of mindless consumerism and unimpeded corporate expansion (love the “BuyNLarge Outlet Mall Coming Soon” sign on the moon!) gives the movie a positive environmentalist spin- one that doesn’t trade in the “Buy Organic” or “Go Green” message that by buying more stuff we can save the planet. This anti-consumerist, anti-corporate theme was great. Yet, things went a bit sour for me once the ‘baddies’ who consumed too much were represented as mindless fatties. In comment threads around the blogosphere, this representation seems popular with many fat-phobes. For example, Carrie at Filling the Well refers to Walle as “Pixar’s first horror film” (without explanation). Then, in the comments section to this post, a fat-phobic reader agrees with the film as horror “if you count the physical state that the human race has come to in the movie.” Roger Ebert’s review also traded in attacking the fattie (odd given that he is a fatty himself!). He argues that the fat humans of the future “resemble those folks you see whizzing around Wal-Mart in their electric shopping carts.” Great Roger, insult two groups with one phrase, fat people and disabled people.
Jessica Melusine, in her post about the film, got it right I think. She asks in a letter of complaint penned to Pixar “Do you know what it feels like seeing a shipfull of fat people who exist to show how dissolute and horrible and wasteful people can be?” As she continues, “It is horrible when you see the only bodies shaped like you as things to laugh at, as living examples of as a culture, how shoddily we treat the earth. There’s no complexity, no understanding, just an easy punchline.” I agree. Pixar could have done far better here.
The mindless consumerist, perpetually-plugged-in human is a scary (and all too real) representation. However, did Pixar have to choose fat bodies to represent these futuristic humans? In so doing, they are perpetuating many of the same fat stereotypes that Kung Fu Panda traded in. Namely: fat people are lazy, fat people eat all the time, fat people are dumb, fat people are out of shape, fat is unhealthy, etc. (For an analysis of the anti-fat message in Kung Fu Panda, see Melissa’s Shakesville post here or my previous post here.)
In fact, it would have made more sense to have these plugged-in-consuming-all-the-time future humans be surgically sculpted in the extreme. This seems the more likely scenario given the way consumerism and the beauty imperative go hand in hand. Then the film could have also critiqued body norms and the crazy excesses people are employing to modify their bodies via technology. I think this narrative has far more possibilities than the endless consumption of food in a cup.
So, while any film that pisses off the far right this much must be doing something right, it also did some things not so well, and some things downright wrong.
In the right category:
- Critiques consumersim and corporatism
- Great gadgetry and nostalgia factor
- Strong characterization of the robots
- A fem-bot that is as strong/smart (or more so) than the male-bot
- A representation of humans as coming in more colors than white
In the not so well category:
- Focus on unnecessary hetoro-love narrative
- Stereotypical representations of gender/beauty norms
- Glorification of explosions/violence (especially via EVE’s arm/weapon)
- The captain of the Axiom white and male (wow, really pushing some envelopes there!)
In the downright wrong category:
- Equating fat bodies with laziness, over-consumption, and mindlessness
Overall, I think the film deserves one baby f for its inclusions of certain feminist ideals and premises. EVE is a strong female character (if a bit too trigger happy with that arm) and WALL*E shows a tender, affectionate, nurturing side that male characters are often not given the chance to show in films. For this, I like the film. But, note to Pixar: enough with the gender norms and fat phobia already!