Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Your guide to the WALL-E controversy

Illustration for article titled Your guide to the WALL-E controversy

He's cute. He's cuddly. He has the power to make grown women weep with little more than a longing gaze. Like Jesus Christ and E.T. before him, Pixar's WALL-E is an adorable, otherworldly creature of patience and pure love sent to save humanity from itself–so it's only natural that people are clamoring for his blood. And perhaps it's merely indicative of the easy access to self-expression afforded by blogs, but the backlash against WALL-E seems to be spiraling out of control lately. For all your cocktail party needs, I've compiled this handy list of four of the most popular complaints making the rounds about America's new favorite robot. (Go input yourself, Johnny 5.) Clip and save!

1. It promotes liberal fascism!

WALL-E predicts an Earth choked with waste, sentenced to death by its former inhabitants' shortsightedness and need for instant gratification–in short, it's the same logline used by every environmentalist organization asking you to recycle, cut down on your consumption of fossil fuels, and maybe not eat everything out of a Styrofoam container if it's not too much trouble. So naturally the same people who have accused Al Gore of "fascism" for urging immediate bipartisan action on global warming, namely the ever-vigilant-against-perceived-liberal-bias crusaders at The National Review, have come out swinging against WALL-E, accusing it of promoting "Malthusian fear mongering." While that line comes from Editor-At-Large Jonah Goldberg–the same man who once drew parallels between Gore and the Nazis with the statement, "One of the most fascist phrases you hear in modern contemporary life in America is this notion that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem"–Goldberg also conceded that WALL-E is a "fascinating and at-times brilliant movie." His fellow columnist Shannen Coffin, however, had harsher things to say:

From the first moment of the film, my kids were bombarded with leftist propaganda about the evils of mankind. It's a shame, too, because the robot had promise. The story was just awful, however. Nice to see that Disney and Pixar can make mega-millions off of telling us just how greedy, lazy, and destructive we all are.


(Right, as opposed to making millions off of telling us how powerful, righteous, and handpicked for greatness by almighty God we are.) While the influence of "enviro-wackos" is easy enough for "right-thinking" people to ignore, others–like Editor-In-Chief of The Rational Argumentator Gennady Stolyarov II–see it as an out-and-out Marxist attack. In his essay "WALL-E: Economic Ignorance And The War On Modernity," Stolyarov cites the fact that fast-food restaurants are serving "health foods," "landfills are remarkably effective at storing garbage," and that traditional farming is, like, hard and stuff as flaws in the film's logic:

WALL-E is an assault on modern civilization, borne of deep economic and historical ignorance. The film shamefully betrays the efforts of countless heroic individuals who have raised humanity out of the muck of barbarism. Its anti-technological, anti-capitalist message needs to be exposed and countered by all thinking individuals.

So in short, give in to WALL-E's alarmist message and you'll be pissing on all of human evolution. Have fun in your socialist work camp, toiling to grow vegetables for your new liberal Nazi overlords!

2. It's prejudiced against fat people!

Of course, the real "villain" in WALL-E isn't the faceless, greedy corporation (and none-too-subtle Wal-Mart substitute) Buy 'N Large, but the big, stupid man in the mirror: Undone by their own unchecked consumption and aberrant laziness, humans find themselves exiled from Earth and set adrift on a never-ending luxury space cruise, where they spend all day floating around on hover-chairs, slurping cupcake shakes, and playing virtual golf. Such torpidity has caused their bodies to atrophy and balloon to the point where they're basically amorphous blobs–and thus WALL-E has also managed to piss off America's "fat pride" community. "Food, fat, feminism" blog The F Word accuses Pixar of "using animation skills for evil" in its perpetration of discriminatory attitudes toward the overweight, saying:

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.

That sentiment is echoed over at Fatshionista, which characterizes the film as "deeply unfortunate":

The "villains" of WALL-E…take the form of (the ever so original and not hackneyed at all) Fat! American! Couch! Potatoes! I didn't want to believe that Pixar, the folks behind last summer's resplendent Ratatouille, a brilliant movie about the importance of nourishment and appearance not ultimately dictating a person's (or rat's) skills or passions, could be capable of perpetrating some sort of heinous obesity crisis storyline but it seems the ugly rumours are true… This is so INCREDIBLY disappointing. I feel personally betrayed by Pixar right now.


And again at CalorieLab, which has been steadily updating reports on the film since late last year, asking:

Will today's overweight moviegoers spend their money to see a movie that in effect is characterizing their own bodies as the first step on the road to mankind's downfall?


CalorieLab also digs up quotes from parents of children with eating disorders, who are up in arms over the film reinforcing their anorexic teens' unhealthy attitudes toward eating:

"I didn't think for a second that a movie about a little robot could have anything to do with weight. My son keeps making comments about 'all of those fat, lazy people just sitting around doing nothing.' We've seen a significant increase in [his] anorexic behaviors since we saw the movie yesterday."


Maybe Kyle Smith's review best sums up the big-and-beautiful backlash when he says,

Perhaps never before has any corporation spent so much money on insulting its customers…The meatball humans in WALL-E are like customers passively being served up a fake existence at the Magic Kingdom (which readily provides wheelchairs for not merely the afflicted but also the obese and the simply lazy), snorfling up the latest wows in an entirely artificial setting where every beverage and hotel room brings profits to the same corporation.


So wait, Disney's customers are primarily fat, lazy people who are likely to take umbrage with being portrayed as fat, lazy people–yet for some reason this is supposed to win sympathy for the fat "cause"? Look, I'm all for pointing out hypocrisy, especially when it comes to Disney, but WALL-E's most egregious offense in this regard is not necessarily the film itself–which, let's face it, was produced by Pixar's (according to right-wing critics) "Berkeley hippie" creative staff independent of, if in grudging indirect service to, the Disney marketing machine. No, the main reason to shout

3. It's hypocritical!

…is the fact that the film, like every Disney product, inevitably comes packaged with the usual tide of tie-in crap, plastic trinkets that roll off the conveyor belt predestined for the landfill. Take Devin Faraci's report on the film's press junket for CHUD:

The room was stuffed with what seemed like a hundred or more tie-in products ranging from WALL-E branded plastic Crocs (with tire tread patterns on the soles) to plastic WALL-E action figures to WALL-E branded clothing and bed sets and drapes. When asked which of the items were made with post-consumer recycled material or were made of biodegradable material, the PRbot giving the pitch seemed flustered. She said that they tried to use such materials whenever possible, and pointed out a post-consumer WALL-E branded Kleenex box. Every environmental group will beg you to avoid Kleenex, since they're wiping out Canada's Boreal Forest to give you a place to blow your nose, so the Kleenex connection is fucking pathetic in itself for a movie that trumpets taking care of the environment.


Oddly enough, this also forms the basis for condemnation by The National Review's Greg Pollowitz, who gets so apoplectic in his effort to paint the movie as leftist propaganda that he accidentally reinforces the movie's message:

It was like a 90-minute lecture on the dangers of over-consumption, big corporations, and the destruction of the environment. All this from mega-company Disney, who wants us to buy WALL-E kitsch for our kids that are manufactured in China at environment-destroying factories and packed in plastic that will take hundreds of year to biodegrade.


Pollowitz has a point: No doubt by the time the year 2700 rolls around, disposable WALL-E tchotchkes like these cheap promotional wristwatches will be blanketing our graves, so all's fair in pointing out the hypocrisy, and maybe even joining him in his proposed boycott of all such tie-in merchandise. But, uh, I thought all of that stuff about factories destroying the environment and the evils of non-biodegradable plastic was just a horror story concocted by liberal Nazis out to scare us into acquiescence? Does the hypocrisy of the film's promotional campaign somehow mean that we're not facing an eventual solid waste crisis? Is this the same logic that dictates that, because Al Gore travels by jet, he's wrong about global warming?

My brain is starting to unravel from all of these logical loopholes, so before I curl up under my desk weeping, here is the fourth (and my personal favorite) strain of anti-WALL-E sentiment:

4. It's too popular!

The howling backwoods that is IMDB.com is where film criticism goes to die (and then have its corpse gang-raped, called a racist, and accused of supporting Al-Qaeda), but it's amazing how much stock people still place in its ranking system. Right now WALL-E's message board is overrun with commenters aghast at the film's high placement on the completely meaningless and arbitrary Top 250 Films, which compiles numerical "votes" to paint a topsy-turvy world where Se7en far outranks Citizen Kane, Vertigo, M, and Chinatown, to name but a few, and The Shawshank Redemption is second only to The Godfather. Last week, WALL-E edged out Schindler's List, cracking the top six and sending users into a frenzy: Seeking to counteract all of the "10" votes, many people have been encouraging others to rate the film a "1" out of pure spite, setting off a storm of controversy on the message board that rivals only those ever-popular "Maggie Gyllenhaal is a terrorist!" threads for utter pointlessness. The film has since dropped down to number 19, a fact many of its detractors are now gloating over as though that indicates a shift in the public opinion towards rationality.

Of course, the real question is why all of this matters so much to those who have put WALL-E in their crosshairs. Why is so much effort being expended to decry a nearly wordless film about the slapstick shenanigans of a lovelorn machine? As Gawker puts it:

One reason for the conservative disappointment with the movie is because Pixar is the cultural equivalent of the swing voter: despite its hippie culture, the studio has been attuned to shifting public attitudes; indeed, given the lead-time on Pixar projects, it's successfully anticipated them. The studio's most political project before WALL-E was The Incredibles; the 2004 movie is a not-so-disguised argument against enforced equality and political correctness, and was adopted by conservatives as a morality play of their own. This time, however, Pixar is voting Democrat.


Given the current childish squabbling between voters who have reduced the upcoming election to inarticulate name-calling like "NoBama" and "McSame," this sort of forced, knee-jerk backlash isn't entirely surprising (if still entirely disheartening). But my fellow Americans, whatever your political beliefs, I ask you: If we can't come together over a cute fucking robot, what chance do we have?