November 26, 2008

"Wall∙E" -- Now on DVD

Here's my full review from The American Conservative of the Pixar film:

Despite its misanthropy, the superbly crafted dystopian science fiction film "Wall∙E" will be the ninth straight movie from Pixar Animation Studios, going back to 1995's "Toy Story," to earn at least $162 million at the American box office.

"Wall∙E" is stronger on execution than originality. Writer-director Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") sets loose a squatter version of the cute robot from the 1986 comedy "Short Circuit" in the dysgenic consumerist wasteland of Mike Judge's suppressed 2006 satire "Idiocracy."

ndeed, Stanton's vision of a smoggy, trash-strewn Earth resembles a big budget remake of Judge's cult classic. With its ostensibly environmentalist message, however, "Wall∙E" won't suffer the fate of Judge's politically radioactive story about the long-run consequences of low fertility among the high IQ.

In 2110, the monolithic corporate monopolist Buy 'n' Large uses the jingle "Too much garbage in your face? There's plenty of space out in space" to induce humanity to abandon the planet. All humans set sail on a luxury cruise aboard a colossal spaceship, leaving Earth temporarily to a race of trash-compactor automatons ("Waste Allocation Load Lifter ∙ Earth-class") programmed to build towering ziggurats out of cubes of compressed junk. The detritus of consumerism proves too much, though, and Earth remains a lifeless ruin.

Now, 700 years later, just one Wall∙E is still puttering along, alone except for his pet cockroach. This curious little robot brings home and carefully sorts elegiac objects that catch his fancy, such as a Rubik's Cube. The Aspergery Wall∙E can't decide whether a plastic spork belongs with his spoons or his forks, so he deposits it exactly between the two piles. His prized possession is a videotape of "Hello Dolly," which he watches repeatedly, wishing he had somebody to hold hands with.

The first half of "Wall∙E" contains almost no dialogue. This is not unprecedented in a kid's movie -- the staggeringly gorgeous 1979 hit "The Black Stallion" was similar. Stanton feels that audiences want to work for their entertainment, so he has high expectations for what they can handle. Restricting verbiage prods him to new levels of inventiveness in conveying emotion visually, in devising what his mentor, the screenwriting guru Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox in "Adaptation") calls "worlds we’ve never seen but a humanity we all recognize."

Reviewers rave over how Stanton gets us to recognize emotions in a machine. Still, although Pixar is immensely skillful, people naturally perceive personality in anything self-activated. My wife, for instance, fusses maternally over her Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, grooming it lovingly when its sprockets clog, which is often. She treats it as if he (we instantly decided Roomba is a boy) is a dutiful, though inept, family retainer.

"Wall∙E" doesn't actually peddle an environmentalist message. The real fear it plays upon is not that we'll run out of room to dump our trash outdoors. After all, Los Angeles County alone has enough cubic miles of uninhabited canyons to hold the world's trash. The 1990's media panic about a purported landfill shortage was launched by trash-hauling companies desiring higher fees. Instead, "Wall∙E" describes a more pressing modern American fear -- that we'll run out of room indoors to store all the crud we keep buying. Today's eco-mania, in contrast, is about saving the Earth through shopping -- not less often, but more fashionably.

Wall∙E's lonely vigil is interrupted when an automated spaceship touches down to unload a beautiful futuristic robot named Eve, who occasionally giggles like a Japanese schoolgirl. Her mission is to search for any signs of plant life on Earth, in the hopes that humans can then begin to recolonize the planet. She first tries to fry Wall∙E with her laser, then ignores him when she determines he's mineral not vegetable. He finally wins her approbation by handing her the only plant growing on Earth.

The movie acts out a classic nerd's fantasy -- to be left alone with cool stuff … except for a sleek girlfriend. (And if she's a Japanese robot, so much the cooler.)

Then the rocket returns to haul Eve back to the spaceliner, and the smitten Wall∙E hitches a ride. Onboard, "Wall∙E" turns into a different, more cartoonish movie, with a cruder look and a frenetically unexciting chase scene. It's still "Idiocratic," though -- in 700 years, humans have devolved into boneless wonders, obese blobs who never look up from their screens. But how much fiction is there in this science fiction?

Rated G.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


testing99 said...

A lot of fiction, not much science. Consumerism is built really on cheap energy. That is likely to be a thing of the past for PC-driven reasons. PC being a mostly female phenomena, though some men do embrace it.

Eventually there will be a stark conflict of interests: cheap energy and expanding living for all or ever more miserly circumstances to be tragically hip PC and eco-friendly.

Short-run, it's a return to the miserable, energy starved 70's. Long-run, the return of the Patriarchy with apologies to Philip Longman, in one form or another, with a lot LESS consumerism.

A lot of consumerism is status-related Steve. Either it's to get a mate (guys buying Apple Laptops to signal their money/cool-ness) or within female friend networks (the latest shoes which guys could care less about).

headache said...

What does the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner cost? And is it worth it? It may be a great present for my old ma.

headache said...

You make some valid points but I wonder whether you have not just got burned by a liberal female. Liberal chicks are nauseating but there are so many more traditional babes than the media suggest. Why bother with a status driven women, even if the legs are so great? And once a man has found his own way, what does he care about all that junk? Anyway, even liberal women admire a man who knows what he wants, even if he is a conservative.

The PC thing though does seem to even get "conservative" politicians. Here in Germany even some CDU members are now talking down nuclear power. They think it’s a bridge technology. A bridge to what? Fusion? They obviously have been reading popular science mags. Fusion is going nowhere. Green power is going nowhere; in fact it’s only driving up electricity costs. Oil is the Arab and Russian Trojan horse. The only viable alternative is Nuclear, together with lots more efficiency, and maybe far down the line some sort of storage mechanism, but that is very iffy. Then electrical cars to keep the Arabs at bay. I love the way everybody talks about the need for electrical cars to save the environment. What rubbish! The only reason for electrical cars is to get the Arabs and Russians off our backs, though the latter worry me far less.

miss marple said...

You know some nerds who want stuff; I've got stuff I don't want. It would be like a swapmeet where I, the really low IQ participant, get rooked into giving away all my things to geniuses without getting anything in return.

Take advantage of me, please. I'm too dumb to know the difference between Monopoly money and real money. The garage sale is everyday until its all gone. No offer will be refused.

Ever had a fantasy that some robbers stole all your possessions: jewelry, books, photographs, old dishes, the broken weedeater. Then your furniture got repossessed because you thought it was paid for but it wasn't. At the end all you're left with is a footstool and the ancient TV from your bedroom. You find yourself alone in a room so empty it echoes watching reruns of all your favorite old shows. Not a bad dream, is it? ; )

"What does the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner cost? And is it worth it? It may be a great present for my old ma." - headache

In the real world it's time to give and receive more stuff. I'm not Steve, Headache, but I feel like someone's old Ma these days. I seem to remember seeing a Roomba for not too much money especially considering it's for your mother. I thought about getting one myself, setting it to clean the livingroom then leaving it alone with my dogs to see who or what was left when I got home. It's too expensive to do that with though as you might imagine.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the film, but I've heard that this film has a subtle gay rights message. They're gay robots! -at least on some level. The "female" robot is named Eve, but look at how "she" is depicted - very masculine, don't you think? Makes sense. Why would Disney pour so much money and artistry into a film that isn't subversive?

testing99 said...

Headache, no it was just that a light went off when reading Tom Wolfe and Steve Sailer. Status obsessions are really fairly new to especially America, and more generally the West.

It's the only thing that really explains how the West just "changed," dramatically, to that of of uber-PC. Everyone SAYS it's inevitable, but no one says WHY. It's a huge blind spot because no one wants to say the truth. Not even Mark Steyn.

As for the makeup of women being liberal-status obsessed vs. conservative, there are relatively few conservative women. The US Census has detailed tables for "Family Living Arrangements" and if you look at the 2007 numbers, and add up the women between 20-44, with married versus unmarried/widowed/divorced/separated, you get only 42% married. Single women seem to have given Obama his victory, going 70-29 for him over McCain, though as Steve notes the exit polls may be bunk.

If you look at for example, advertising, you will see something shocking (but only if you reflect on it): a total lack of male-oriented ads. Men are half the population, yet are neglected by advertisers, with very few ads aimed just at them, the only exception being the icky Viagra type ads. This is because IMHO of the huge money shift to women, and their own internal shift to uber-PC being mostly single and concerned with what other women think of them, not with the material advancement of children or husband or both.

We've seen a huge shift in living patterns, people single for FAR longer, than historical patterns, a lot more emphasis on the mating game, and thus status-obsession. Men are not immune to it either, a lot of stuff is done to signal mate "worthiness" like peacock feathers. If you look at the "He Went To Jarod" jewelry commercials, you'll see what the store is selling is female status among other women (the women all nod approvingly that the woman's boyfriend "went to Jarod" etc.) That's a huge "tell" IMHO, advertisers are presumably tapping into that desire among women to compete within their female social groups for status, something we've never seen in Western society to this degree and power.

I can't think of a time when we've been so dominated globally (even in non-Western countries) by female marketplace power, reflecting disposable income by mostly single women who are a global phenomena. As a social problem, it's like the gout. A lot better than starving, since high female income *CAN* produce much healthier, adjusted babies, but still a problem no society has really worked out.

It's an inevitable result of the freedom for women socially, politically, and economically, which is a good thing in and of itself, and the "cute" Steve mentions in the Japanese robot is just as much to appeal to women, who are suckers for "cute" even in formerly uber-Macho Japan (home of the violent Samurai flicks and Samurai culture). Look at Godzilla, morphing from thinly disguised America stomping all over Japan because foolish leaders messed with a force of nature, to "cute" anthropomorphic mascot.

The one thing that Tom Wolfe seems to have missed is how status dominates female social networks even more than male ones. I think that plus the global economic-political-cultural power single young women wield in the marketplace explain most of politics today.

Particularly the lack of focus as you say on energy. Green is about "status" and if you look at male-oriented networks (really, just ESPN) vs. female oriented ones: HGTV, Food Network, WE, Oxygen, Lifetime, etc. you'll see gazillion Green stuff on the female oriented ones and nothing on ESPN. Heck NBC's "Green" football broadcast with the lights out in the halftime show was mocked by their own anchors.

DYork said...

Some IQ and occupation info:

Image graph

pdf of research article

Reg Cæsar said...

Speaking of robots, can someone explain why the fact that Steve worked as a marketing executive in Chicago for years, and married a native there, is so controversial that it has now been removed twice from his Wikipedia entry?

Is this information somehow threatening now that the Oval Office is welcoming its first Chicagoan?

rightsaidfred said...

>>>> DYork said...Some IQ and occupation info:

Info was from a Wisconsin longitudinal study of high school students circa 1957. Evidently the children are above average: 23 occupations had a mean IQ below 100, while 33 occupations had a mean IQ above 100. (I'll assume a regular distribution of numbers among the occupations. The text didn't give raw numbers.)

I slogged through some of the conflicted article, which wanted to poo poo the usefulness of IQ as a measurement. It was pretty much an unconvincing response to "The Bell Curve". If IQ doesn't explain any sociological phenomenon, what does? The authors offer less than satisfactory alternatives.

It reminds me of the Stanislov Ulam question: "Is there anything in the social sciences that is both true and non trivial?" IQ as a measure of life success is about as close as sociology gets, but even this is discounted by liberal researchers, so there is no hope for the field.

rightsaidfred said...

>>>>humans have devolved into boneless wonders, obese blobs who never look up from their screens.

They also seemed to be pasty white with no interest in their surroundings (low IQ?).

I found this womb-to-the-tomb 'topia interesting, akin to the Matrix, along with the machine-human conflict, and the human revolt.

Anonymous said...

Reg, Steve's wife is Canadian. Maybe that's why the information was removed?

Ronduck said...

testing99 said:

Single women seem to have given Obama his victory, going 70-29 for him over McCain, though as Steve notes the exit polls may be bunk.

Single may have been the margin of victory, but there was another group that contributed as well: White Catholics (link), who went 49-41 for Obama. 49 percent is not the lopsided victory that single women gave Obama, but considering that Catholics make up a good portion of the electorate in many Northern states, their votes for a pro-abortion candidate swung the election.

In contrast Evangelicals voted for McCain 25-68. (Link, Link)

headache said...

Good points t99. Yea, Steve is the definitive source, that's for shure!

I enjoy reading your stuff though I'm a little leery of the neocon angle. Us Afrikaners used to be uber-Israel supporters with even closer military cooperation than the US has. But when the time suited them, the Israeli Foreign office dumped us like a hot potato, even though many Israeli military officers protested. Since then we have become a little more sceptical. Anyway, that's history now.

Your points about the marketing power of women are valid. No doubt this also affects politics which is heavily marketing driven. Surely it’s easier for marketing companies to use the same templates they usually use for cosmetics and shoes, and just plaster Obama on them. And as you rightly point out, the cosmetics posters usually have darker-skinned models on them or blond models with black men. I would be interested to know where this black man/white women modelling fad comes from? It’s not as if your standard couple look like this.

Married women also control most of the money their men make. So I guess women do control most of the spending power in society.

michael farris said...

"I would be interested to know where this black man/white women modelling fad comes from? It’s not as if your standard couple look like this."

I remember when following video came out:

I mentioned it during a grad student beer meeting (people still talked about videos then) and all the (waspy) women, mostly in international social science kinds of fields loved the black-guy/white-girl dancing in it. IIRC they liked that it was relatively chaste and emotionally intense (and got more so throughout the video).

Me (and the guys present who had anything to say) thought the girls dancing at 4.10 were very, very cute (all the more so for the not so coordinated 70's choreography).

Chief Seattle said...

I just watched it with my four year old. I was surprised how much attention it required to make sense of it - normally I can absorb Pixar movies in bits and pieces, but this one required starting it from the beginning to make any sense of it.

I like to think I'm pretty well attuned to political messages in children's fare, and I didn't notice much of it here. Yes, the people are fat and don't move much, but they're always polite and help each other when there's an emergency. Not the greatest Pixar movie, but a good watch, and IMO safe for the kids.

Anonymous said...

It's the only thing that really explains how the West just "changed," dramatically, to that of of uber-PC.

testing99 a.k.a. Evil Neocon = total liar.

The West was changed by scumbag Marxists and their 'long march through the institutions'.

Political Correctness originated with the Bolsheviks and it blasted off in the West not long after the successful Cultural Revolution took place in America in the 1960s.