- Last week of material
- Wall-E Notes
- Essay #2–Final due Monday, 6/24
Wall-E and Environment
For today’s notes, I want to point out some obvious environmental messages in Wall-E. I think it’s safe to say that one interpretation of the film is a not-so-subtle indictment of consumerist excess: Basically, we’re destroying the planet with all our trash. Wall-E is a classic example of the science fiction plot stemming from “if this continues…” The film is a warning about what we do to the environment when we throw everything away. The message is that our current practices are unsustainable.
This film’s message might be uncomfortable for many of us because, if we’re honest and think through our choices, we’ll conclude that we are all part of the problem of trash. We create a lot of trash. Take a moment to recall what you throw away. Even better, keep a record of everything you throw away in a week–including the bottles and cans of beer servers and bartenders haul away from your table. Trust me, I don’t like thinking about that.* Consider the following estimates for trash from “The Trash One Person Produces in a Year” (Bonnie Gringer uses the EPA’s data from 2013 found here):
- 38 pounds of newspapers
- 48 pounds of books
- 25 pounds of office papers
- 22 pounds of paper plates or cups
- 28 pounds of aluminum beer and soda cans
- 77 pounds of plastic bottles and jars
- 90 pounds of tossed-out clothes and shoes
- 77 pounds of cardboard boxes
Gringer also goes on to point out a startling statistic on food waste: “Each year, each person tosses out roughly 220.96 pounds of food waste.” That’s a tremendous amount. It would probably be less per person if we took out extreme outliers like my ex-wife’s family who throw away probably 1,000 lbs per year…but that’s a topic for another time.
On a historical note, some of you will be stunned to hear that throwing one’s garbage out of a car was normal. People would just toss their used wrappers, cups, cans, and bottles out the window of their moving cars. It wasn’t until the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 that changed people’s beliefs about litter. The act didn’t ban littering at a federal level, but it drew people’s attention to the benefit (perhaps just an aesthetic benefit at first) of scenic highways. Junkyards and other eyesores couldn’t be along highways, and advertising (billboards and such) had to be more regulated. Bob Greene attributes an increase in anti-littering laws to this act. It’s hard to think one act caused a paradigm shift, but people’s consciousness of the environment started to increase throughout the 1960s. The Cuyahoga River in Ohio actually caught fire several times in the twentieth century. People’s consciousness of pollution was an impetus for pushing for the Clean Water Act of 1972.
My point for bringing up this history and how it relates to Wall-E is that when people don’t pay attention to their consumption, they don’t recognize their own culpability in environmental damage. Our trash and recycling (although less plastic is getting recycled) get hauled away, so we don’t see it’s final destination. If we’re lucky, our trash gets dumped in a landfill (which still can have harmful effects on drinking water if not properly maintained). However, and I’m sure many of you are aware of this, our trash often ends up in the ocean, killing marine life. Here’s some more information on The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
More to Consider from Wall-E
- BnL–Buy n Large is a play on “buying large” (or livin’ large) and “buy and large”
- Layer of space junk orbiting the moon, although exaggerated in the film, is a serious national security concern
- Consumerism is out-of-this-world–Outlet Mall Coming Soon to the Moon
- The space station humans have atrophied…they use no muscles
- This atrophy extends to their brains–even the Captain can’t open a book
- Wall-E and EVE represent curiosity and help introduce that to the captain and John and Mary
- This is also a comment on revolution, for Wall-E’s curiosity leads him to the ship where he introduces dirt, causing the Captain to do research and overthrow, eventually, the robots in charge
- “Auto,” the ship’s autopilot is an obvious allusion to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
We’ll continue with Wall-E tomorrow. Make sure to read Sean Mattie’s article “Wall-E on the Problem of Technology.” It’s definitely too much summary, but it has an interesting argument about technology as liberator or controller of humanity. Don’t forget to do your posts by Friday, June 21st (a decade of freedom!). I hope to have feedback on your drafts by Friday, so you can revise and turn in the final Essay #2 on Monday, June 24th by 11:00 pm.
*A former neighbor of mine used to have a kegerator. I and some other of his friends would give him money for the keg, and we would use it all football season. We went from needing to make 4-5 recycling trips a week to maybe 1 or 2. We just weren’t producing the waste we used to make, and we could return the keg to be re-used! Unfortunately, the kegerator broke (think of all the inebriated users…) and we decided it made us drink more because we had too much access. One day…I’ll get a kegerator and do my part to save the planet!