Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Wall-E" for real this time

Although I understand many of the critiques of "Wall-E" for the way it seems to conflate obesity with laziness, with moral inferiority, with social solipsism, what struck me was, ok, get ready for it folks, I'm really going to change it up on you - the ways in which it recalled to me Jeanette Winterson's newest book, The Stone Gods.
I am not typically a reader of science fiction. Or a viewer for that matter. Perhaps I am a bit simple or a bit old-fashioned or not even a very good feminist, for that matter, but futuristic fantasies usually leave me a bit cold and unsettled and with my brow unattractively furrowed days later ... I couldn't even get through Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.

"Love, all alike no season knowes, nor clyme"
The Stone Gods takes place deep into our future and even deeper into our past. The story takes place centuries (or so) from now, nearly 300 years ago, and also, somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion years ago. It moves about a bit. It is as much a love story as it is a social commentary, as it is a dystopic fantasy. Billie, the main character, falls in love with a cyborg, Spike. Billy falls in love with an explorer/seaman Spikkers. Billie and Spike journey through space, traverse worlds, colonize a planet, die, live, find themselves abjected from the brave new world and find themselves the subject of the very same.

"Thy beames, so reverend and strong Why shouldst thou thinke?"
Perhaps Winterson can achieve her critique of human activity in her dystopia because it is not visually depicted. If we were to see Captain Handsome or Pink McMurphy or Manfred, we might experience a disgust and a dissociation parallel to that which many felt in seeing the infantile, round humans in "Wall-E". Pink has been "fixed" so that she will never look older than 24 (she's 58). She wants to be refixed to age 12 to regain the attraction of her husband. Manfred is cold and nearly robotic. And, well, I like Handsome, so that's not so bad. He loves poetry. But the scene in the Peccadillo, were it to be visually depicted could potentially have activists of all stripes angrily blogging and reviewing: children, 'ugly' persons, those who not so long ago might have had lucrative careers in the circus industry - depictions of these bodies might very well anger the anti-perfection activists.

In "Wall-E" this is the case, the depiction of a human body mistreated through near-complete inactivity has angered many whose bodies are larger than Vogue norms as well as fat-positive activists. But the etiology is misunderstood. "Wall-E" is not saying 'fat people make the world bad' or that 'fat people are the source of degeneration'. Rather, it seems that, given a situation in which, rather than change our world, we leave it to wait for a miracle, a savior; given a situation in which humans take on no projects, have nothing to do, simply spend time in consumptive pastimes waiting, waiting, waiting - it seems reasonable to expect the body to be marked by the mental and social inactivity which precedes and enables the physical inactivity as well.
I am aware that I am writing on a razor's edge, but I hope I am making some sort of distinction which may be interesting, may trouble these critiques at least in some sense.
It is not the case that current cases of obesity are caused by mental and social inactivity. What is required in a film is a visual depiction of psychic and physical phenomenon. Certainly if I did nothing but sit for 24 hours a day drinking cupcakes in a cup, I would lose muscle tone, muscle mass, gain weight, etc. But what is interesting and difficult in movies is the strength of the link between mental, social and moral reality and physical embodiment. In a book these things can be alluded to, glossed over, done subtly. They cannot be so subtle in a movie.

"She is all States, all Princes, I, Nothing else is"
And yet, in both The Stone Gods and in "Wall-E" we have improbable love stories which are believable and beautiful and characterized by enormous hope. Interestingly as well, the lovers in both stories are vilified and become subversive, as though we are to be led to believe that love is increasingly subversive. John Donne's poetry takes on even deeper metaphysical meaning in The Stone Gods and poetry itself becomes somehow dirtier than a sex club. Love is all but meaningless except between a human who would not have herself genetically fixed and a cyborg. Or, in the film, human physical contact is all but eliminated (and then touchingly, hopefully reintroduced) and the most beautiful expression and experience of love (one of which both Beauvoir and Kierkegaard could, in some ways, be proud) occurs between two robots, neither of which are expected to feel at all.

"Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare."


chora said...

This was really interesting. I think you're right, it's an important distinction: by portraying the people in the film as round and immobile as a result of physical inactivity, Pixar isn't thereby suggesting that all obesity or immobility is the result of laziness/moral deficiency. But I still think it's jarring because that belief is so common that the film likely ends up contributing to or exacerbating that sort of thinking about obesity. So I think the problem is not so much in Pixar's depiction but in its reception, and in how this representation will function in thinking/discourses that are largely anti-fat--and that maybe Pixar should have anticipated this reception/function a bit more. (Maybe they didn't end the film with the population becoming fit and able-bodied for this very reason?)

Anyway, good 'chat.' Oh, and I need to read Stone Gods.

philosophotarian said...

ok, I've now read oryx and crake...