Wall*e came out on DVD a while back, and I viewed it again with a particular eye for how bodies and genders are represented in order to reconsider if I feel my previous reviews still stand (see previous posts here and here). In sum, I think they do. I still think the film perpetuates heteronormativity, unnecessarily relies on normative gendering of the robots, and propagates a fat-phobic message. However, one of the people I viewed the film with disagreed mightily. He and I got into a rather lengthy debate after watching Wall*e, particularly in relation to the ‘fatties of the future’.
“Can’t you lose the reactionary feminist response for once? You are so anxious to see ‘wrongs’ that you refuse to see how logical having the humans be fat is! Of course they would be fat! As the movie explains, they have lost bone mass. It’s nothing to do with being anti-fat; it is merely a realistic representation of what would happen to the human body in such a situation.”
Although the “reactionary feminist response” comment was really annoying (why is it people are always so quick to use the F-card when they disagree?), I can see his point. Yet, when we have a general cultural hatred and fear of fat, such a representation, even if it is logical in ways, is still problematic. If we lived in a culture in which all bodies mattered, the fatties-of-the-future narrative thread would not so easily illicit disgust – a response that the film effortlessly promotes via showcasing the fat future-ites as lazy, oblivious, and not-too-bright. If fat was not code for dumb, lazy, and gross, the narrative would have had to work much harder to establish the future humans as such. But, by relying on fat as a culturally negative sign, the film (lazily) uses a shorthand symbol – and one that perpetuates bias towards particular types of bodies.
Further, while the representation is explained within the narrative framing (in the short sequence that shows the bone mass of humans shrinking and the flesh expanding), there are so many other representations the film could have chosen. For example, the future humans could have been so obsessed with their virtual screens and other gadgetry, they could FORGET to eat – they could have been skeletal creatures plugged into their techno chairs that could have doubled as a sort of life-support system with a feeding tube. Wouldn’t skeletal future humans who cared more about consuming technology and things than taking care of and nourishing their bodies also have been a logical representation?
The fat card was an easy one to play, a lazy one to play. And while I still see merit in the film, I see this as a major fault. It may be a logical representation, but it is also a hateful one.