This page will continue our Wall-E discussion and focus on dystopia and technology. First, I want to clear up the terms dystopia and post-apocalyptic. Back in March, my niece had a YA book that claimed to be “post-apocalyptic,” but it was missing key ingredients. This led to a discussion between my mom and me about the difference. Post-apocalyptic texts fall under dystopia, but not all dystopian texts are post-apocalyptic.
Dystopian novels, such as Brave New World and 1984, don’t have a wasteland aspect to them. The futures those texts project are of social structures that appear fine on the surface, but, when we look deeper, we see a level of authoritarian control. Normally, strict dystopian texts don’t have to have a social breakdown or apocalyptic event that ushers savage-like states for humanity to adapt to. Of course, there are texts that obviously are both. The Matrix is set in a post-apocalyptic future, but, before we see the “real world,” the matrix looks and feels like reality, but that reality is controlled by the machines, which is the authoritarian (dystopian) aspect of the text.
In the end, we can use the terms interchangeably because there is so much overlap with more contemporary texts. However, some may be purists on these terms, and I felt I should bring that up. Here’s a discussion on Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic fiction.
Sean Mattie’s “Wall-E on the Problem of Technology”
First thing…I didn’t mean to assign this article. I know, I know, what happened? Well, briefly, I read this and another article on Wall-E a few years back when I considered assigning the film in a film class I was going to teach. Mattie’s article has some good points, but it is a summary of the film. In fact, “summary” doesn’t capture it correctly because Mattie details the entire plot of the film. As I’ve stated once or twice regarding your essays: Don’t summarize. I would have given Mattie a 50%, but, apparently, his narrative was acceptable for the journal. Because I do technology studies, and I didn’t catch my mistake until too late, I can salvage (just like Wall-E) parts of his article to help us reflect on the film.
Before that, I want to mention an ideology governing my analysis of technology: nearly everyone of us believes in the efficacy of technology. I argue that to a great extent, we believe technology will improve or advance. That’s nearly a universal sentiment. Where we have to pause is when we claim that everyone believes technology will 1) get better or 2) make us better. When a person claims, “one day there will be a pill to cure that…” or “one day they’ll invent a tool to make this easier…,” they are demonstrating their commitment to the idea that technology will always advance. Wall-E challenges the optimistic view of technology always having a solution. Instead, its conclusion points to a preferred future where humanity uses technology appropriately but doesn’t allow technology to use humanity. If you stopped watching Wall-E as the credits came on, you missed a very interesting narrative shown through different art movements.
Below are some important passages from Mattie’s article:
- p. 12: Wall-E shows technology “rationally organizing and transforming the entire human situation, substituting an artificial order for that of nature.”
- p. 12: “…human beings have conformed to the mechanical processes of the ship, accepting axiomatically that all the artificial conveniences and sensations the ship offers are the sum of reality.”
- p. 13: “[Francis] Bacon believed that technology could both free human beings from material want and enable them to transcend politics (i.e., of all the inconveniences of ruling and being ruled by particular persons).”
- p. 13: “The mass desire for ever-new forms of diversion and escape from any settled state, physical or mental, suggests that our advances in technology have caused us not to feel at home, or at rest.”
- p. 14: “Constant consumption, though, meant constant disposal.”
- Now, in space, humans can just keep throwing things away without seeing where their trash goes…where do the robots get the resources?
- p. 16: “the film visualizes technology’s ambition to master all things and thereby make human beings finally at home, in a world of their own making.”
- p. 16: “Certainly the technological regime and its patterns of endless motion divert everyone’s attention away from contemplating oneself, from pondering (like WALL·E) a greater order, higher fulfillment, or final cause for one’s existence.”
- What are technologies that divert our attention away from contemplation or reflection?
- p. 18: “In learning about Earth, the Captain discovers that work is necessary, not only to revive the planet but also to fulfill human nature.”
- p. 18: “The Captain retorts that he does not want to survive, but to “live,” ranking liberty above mere life and accepting the risk of possibly not surviving.”
- p. 19: “WALL·E, though robot, expresses the higher needs and abilities of human nature, providing for himself but also recognizing his own limits and incompleteness.”
Wall-E (and eventually Captain McCrea) is curious and wants to learn. Sure, I’m biased, but that’s what separates humans from other species. Without that drive, we’re just robots, blindly consuming, going through our routines, and destroying the world in the process.
A Note on Axiom
The ship, Axiom, alludes to the idea that humans just accept the ship as reality. Axioms are self-evidently true ideas accepted by groups.