Love in the Time of Pollution: A Look at Eco-Feminism Roots in Disney's "Wall-E"
Despite critics’ assumption that WALL-E centers its plot upon an anti-pollution/sustainability theme, the writer Andrew Stanton never intended his movie to contain an environmental message. Instead, what he intended to do was create a movie that epitomizes the importance of human relations to the natural world. “What’s really important,” he says, “is relationships, everything else, the planet, benefits from that.” Set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, it ironically takes the love of two robots to reintroduce humans to the power of humane connections. Through observing EVA and WALL-E’s love, the artificially (and literally) plugged in humans in a space station realize just how disconnected they are from each other and the “natural” world and seek to reestablish life on Earth. Therefore, it is through Stanton’s idea of “humanness as connections to society,” acting as the force responsible for revitalizing the new Earth, that Stanton unknowingly applies “eco-social feminism” ideals to solve the environmental problem of productivity (Merchant, 207).
Eco-social feminists believe that “nothing in nature, takes place in isolation” (208). Everything is inherently and intrinsically connected to something else, and therefore any attempt at segmenting a material, or matter of life to manipulate without concern for the resulting consequences is exploitive. Traditionally founded in Marxist thought, they believe that nature is dominated because humans dominate each other through the value they place in “dualisms,”-slave/master, women/man, child/father, etc., and the organization of hierarchical structures of power (205). Structuring their environmental thought within a homocentric outlook, eco-social feminists believe that it is through reestablishing the connection between people in considerate terms that nature can once again be valued. If one abolishes power struggles in society, than society would be left to function on the socially just and equitable term of a communal setting. Nonhuman life would then be used as “essentials” of life, and not victims to means of a rapid growth of capitalism, or focus on productivity. The goal is to sustain life, and the quality of life, not material wealth nor any other means of expansion economics.
WALL-E’s world is representative of the social eco-feminist argument that a life centered on productivity threatens the sustainability of all life forms on a planet, and the planet itself. Within the first few scenes of WALL-E, one sees that all signs of vegetation and human life are gone. The only being that remains is WALL-E, a waste allocation system whose sole job is to organize heaps of trash into neat trash piles. Since the world has accumulated so much waste due to the overabundance of production, humans and other life forms have no place left to live and reproduce. To solve this problem, they literally take to the skies and build a space station, abandoning the earth for an artificial world that they can create.
Through this logic one can see the inherent flaw that eco-social feminist see in centering the world on productivity-the lack of concern for the condition of life. When structuring a world around production, reproduction, and thereby the quality of life becomes secondary to the idea that what can be destroyed can be recreated. In WALL-E’s case, since the earth is destroyed, the world can hence be recreated in favor of pioneering a new, better world in space. What becomes lost, (the bio-diversity of crops, animals, generations of people whom may not have been able to afford a trip to space), all become the necessary and consequential means to the end of a new future model. Social eco-feminists argue that it is by this capitalist structure that life becomes reasonable to exploit. Instead of focusing on “people’s needs,” WALL-E’s version of earth displays how the focus of “people’s greed,” subjects an entire planet to barrenness.
By sending EVA, the female voiced vegetation allocator machine, to search out for retrieval of plant life on Earth, eco-socialists would argue that her assignment is representative of the gender role bias associated with nature-women nurture, and man destructs. Since eco-social feminists do not believe in hierarchies or dualisms of power as valid structural claims to society, all roles, even gender roles become abolished on behalf of sustaining a socially just environment. Even though some feminists argue that nature and women have only been subjected to exploitation due to the westernized and mechanistic thought of man, (and therefore only women should liberate nature), eco-social feminists believe that it is just as exploitive to exclude men from fixing the problems that their structures created. By assuming only women have the power; feminists are only fueling the gender bias that women are biologically programmed and responsible for the entire environment.
However, it is not EVA that finds the plant, but WALL-E; who only gives the plant to EVA because he thinks that it’d be a gift that could make EVA fall in love with him. Therefore WALL-E not only reverses the gender bias assumption that women’s role is to be biologically responsible for the existence and reproduction of life, but also displays how emotional connections can restore the quality and reverence of life. Although cultural and liberal eco-feminists would argue that it is still EVA that holds the plant in her stomach, and thereby is still inherently filled and responsible for life, it is the cause behind this, that nature is only found to be preserved by an act of love that this claim can be superseded. Therefore, WALL-E promotes the sustainability of life based on the true definition of eco-social feminism-the leveled connection between two sexes, two life forms, based on consideration and not exploitation.
Although Stanton did not intend to write a movie with an environmental message, it becomes clear that his characters’ environment became victimized by not only the product of its people, but the ignorance of people acting as products. Since people are focused on the product of the future, (the space station), the Earth becomes desolated. When people arrive at the space station, their only means of communication is through a plug connecting them to a television screen that connects another face to another screen, in an attempt to mirror a human conversation. By separating the humans from humane connection between each other, Stanton creates characters that are products of technology, not people. It is only when technology steps in-WALL-E and EVA, having first experienced the human connection of love, that the space station becomes unplugged and the character recognize their own artificial recreation of life. Once the humans face each other again, their desire to rebuild the vegetation, and Earth in general, emerges as well. Stanton exemplifies how eco-socialist feminists view that human relations between each other have a direct correlation between their environments.
While there are no robots alive today capable of falling in love to demonstrate to humans the power of its potential, WALL-E still produces a relevant eco-social feminist message to today’s audiences- the only means to saving the environment, is through reestablishing humane connections to each other, and branching out that idea of considerate compassion to the land that we inhabit if we ever hope to sustain the existence of our planet.
Merchant, Carol. Radical Ecology. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall Inc, 1992.