Monday, July 21, 2008

Wall-E & Our Humorous Future

Discussing our human condition in the middle of downtown Los Angeles must be similar to pondering Catholicism in Vatican City. I found myself ensconced in that very topic with a stranger during a recent trip to L.A. As she sat comfortably, her hand over her seven-month pregnant belly, the stranger mused over the psychological impact on those who live in what many consider to be an unlivable city. I myself could almost concur, as Mike Davis’s Ecology of Fear had been my choice in light, airplane reading. The stranger, who turned out to be an artist dabbling in the medium of puppetry, expressed her concern with our general outlook on life, fearing that society can only evaluate itself is through a veil of sarcasm and irony. She referenced Team America and Idiocracy, films whose statements are valid and simple while also brutally steeped in cynicism.

It is with this in mind that I took my $10.50 and saw
Wall-E, the story of a robot left to clean up an Earth whose condition was declared to be uninhabitable after being trashed by human’s addiction to Buy N’ Large, a Costco-like corporation that revels in excess. While the first half of the film is a silent homage to Buster Keaton, only focusing upon the solitary life of Wall-E the robot, the second portion focuses on the humans and their massive spaceship that wanders aimlessly through the galaxy, awaiting the day that one of several robots will return from Earth with proof that life can once again be sustained. Yet unlike the biblical Noah’s Ark that only had a waiting period of forty days, the humans in Wall-E remain on their ship for several centuries, causing their bodies to devolve into helpless blobs that rely solely upon hover chairs. Ultimately, the eradication of all physical activity causes the humans to be morbidly obese and lose half of their bone density.

Pixar, a company who made its name by producing classic, animated Modernist cartoons about heroes who work their way to the top despite adversity, finally broke from their mold by crafting a storyline that is relevant to current societal problems. Yet once the humans are introduced in the latter half of the film, Pixar resorts to over-the-top sarcasm, seemingly one of the few ways we are able to deal with the possibility of a self-made, bleak future. While it seems unfair to criticize anything that attempts to discuss our political and environmental dilemmas, it raises the question of whether satire and irony are successful modes to translate an ultimate message. We all know that we have an oil dependency issue, and sure, we got a good laugh from the “I’m Not A Plastic Bag” bag. Yet, did that bag actually deliver it’s environmental directive, or are we simply satisfied with just a laugh?

Now when I think about my artist friend, surely battling her way through L.A. at this very moment, I can’t help but feel that her fears are just. Is it possible to make something, anything, that evaluates our condition without resorting to the sarcasm that quite often comes along with being creatively clever? And if it is possible, will everyone still think you’re cool? Until then, my Tivo is still set to record
The Daily Show, and there’s not much you can do about that.

1 comment:

Mike Neal said...

Since you bring up the Daily Show, Jon Stewart touched a bit on the topic of satirical news versus serious journalism during his famous appearance on what was CNN’s Crossfire. He heartedly tried to differentiate the relevance of his own show’s satire against the social importance of the journalism that should be the domain of the news network, not Comedy Central. Basically he made the point that while comedy is important, it needs to be balanced by serious commentary.

Great comedians such as Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Prior, Bill Cosby etc… held up the mirror to our society to make us see how ridiculous we were. But if their observations become directives, they cease to be comedians, but rather, preachers and in that change something of their message is lost. Wall-E, Team America, and Idiocracy though with different tones follow the comedic guideline to entertain first and inform second… a close second. The message they offer needs to be taken up and augmented by “serious” outlets as well as the general public.

Incidentally, if you’re searching for non-comedic social commentary in the movies try Batman: The Dark Knight. But then, look at the agent of social commentary — The Joker.