As of this writing, Wall-E, the latest animated feature from Disney-Pixar, has pulled in about $150 million (against an estimated production budget of $180 million). Besides being a robot love story, the pic offers certain insights on mankind and the environment. Is there a serious takeaway from this film?
At the heart of Wall-E’s story is the notion that a giant conglomerate of the future—Buy n Large—has managed to control virtually all aspects of people’s lives, and that rampant consumerism has turned the Earth into a dead planet, full of waste. Indeed, the company’s mission statement concludes: “Because at Buy n Large, we want you to leave your life to us.”
No worries, though. All of humanity is ensconced in the massive space vehicle Axiom, where robots take care of their every need, and all food is in liquid form to make things even easier. Most noticeably, all the humans are grotesquely fat, and are barely capable of movement on their own. They don’t seem to interact with or touch each other, either.
To proceed, we are simply going to have to ignore the rather large irony of having a giant movie, replete with all sorts of merchandising tie-ins, lecture the viewer about the evils of consumerism. Maybe Sam Goldwyn was right when he said, “Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union.”
As to obesity, we might not have to be as far into the future as Wall-E’s time to achieve humanity’s fate as depicted in the movie. After all, results from the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 66 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese.
The CDC notes that overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk for many diseases and health conditions, including the following:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
- Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
- Some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
No wonder that public health officials regard obesity as the number-one preventable cause of morbidity and mortality in the country today.
How about the lack of contact between humans? Certainly, as one walks down the street and sees legions of people with headphones, listening to their mp3 players; or the tremendous acceptance of online purchasing, allowing us to buy without talking to anyone, it is difficult to disagree with the observation. But, what was it that made these impersonal means of commerce so popular in the first place?
I think it has at lot more to do with the poor customer relationship systems that were put in place—starting roughly in the 1960s—than any particular epidemic of misanthropy. As a young child in the 1950s, I have vivid memories of my parents getting real live customer service, whether it was from the owner of a small shop, or a sales clerk at a large department store.
What happened was a large injection of professional management types, who knew precious little about the retail business. But, they were going to show the world how profits could be maximized by hiring minimum wage help to be mostly clueless as the customer stumbled along. Hey, the customer was still going to buy the same stuff, and look what we’ve saved on overhead.
Thus, the once professional and knowledgeable sales clerk was replaced by an army of teenage kids—which later included educated immigrants who were unable to find something better. Retailers such as Nordstrom tried to buck the trend by installing a somewhat higher-end sales force, but to do this was forced to charge premium prices. Lately, this has not worked too well for the company, as its same store sales are in decline.
In the end, it was simply better to go online.
Finally, could the Earth actually become uninhabitable, based on too much waste? In a word, NO. For one thing, if such a situation were even beginning to happen, it would be noticed, and measures would be put in place to reverse the trend. Our success in cleaning up air and water pollution in only a couple of decades after perhaps two centuries of former abuse is proof of that.
And, could one mega-corporation control our lives as Buy n Large does in the film? Not a chance, but a mega-government sure could, and nearly does now.