Rationalizing Wall-E

Fat hatred actually isn't a deal-breaker for me in pop entertainment. Oh, its a problem, absolutely. But this is a bigotry so wide-spread that I don't feel like I can fairly single out instances to condemn when they seep into popular culture. They merit criticism, certainly, but condemnation seems trickier. This a bigotry that virtually everyone simply takes for granted, after all. To be fair, I'd need to really condemn just about everyone. So, sometimes, I just note the fat hatred and consider an entertainment on its other merits.

What I hope I don't do is rationalize fat hatred. Its a temptation I know I've had in the past and fallen into. Al Franken is a good example. I love his writing and find him very funny. So I used to really try to rationalize his fat jokes at the expense of Rush Limbaugh. Its just parody, I'd say. He is mocking the mean-spirited (and indeed, often appearance based) insults of Limbaugh himself. Its just satire. Which it is. That was clearly Franken's intent with the fat jokes he told. But that didn't mean he wasn't also fat bigoted, and there was a point where I had to acknowledge that. He really is uncomfortable with fat people. Doesn't really set him apart, but I shouldn't be excuse him from it, either. But I can still find his writing enjoyable without defending, justifying, or rationalizing the fat hatred. I just have to be careful not to defend, justify, or rationalize that fat hatred. I should be aware of it, and critical of it if I really want to continue reading his work.

The surprisingly few emails I've gotten in response to my commentary on "Wall-E" have been falling into the very trap. They rationalize "Wall-E" because they liked the movie or like Pixar. I would say that I liked the movie and I certainly like Pixar. You can do that while still acknowledging the ways the film trades off fat hatred's cultural position. I do want to respond to a few specific rationalizations I've heard, though.

So? That doesn't mean they are positively portrayed. Indeed, I'd say a big problem is how they are crafted to be sympathetic, in that they are established as victims of fatness. That's not a positive representation of fat people. The movie very clearly depicts fat as a horrifying consequence, and that troubles me even if that fat characters aren't expressly blamed for it. Ultimately, this is condesending. I don't appreciate my body being used as a metaphor for the wrongs of the world. I don't care if an individual effort to do so doesn't blame me for being fat. If it still blames someone or something for my being fat, it is just perpetuating a culture of fat hatred. I'm sorry, but there is no needle to thread here. You cannot stigmatize "obesity" and not stigmatize "obese people". Even if you don't blame people for being fat, the stigmatization of fat will still effect fat individuals. You don't get to have it both ways. The prejudice will still harm people's lives.

I gather the filmmakers themselves have been pushing this one. I'll cheritably call this naive, because irregardless of what sci-fi talk about bone density was snuck into the film, audiences took the characters to be fat and ultimately the audience interpration matters more culturally than the filmmakers intent. Intent is nice, but if that intent was not effectively communicated to the audience, it doesn't matter. Just look through what the reviews say. From professionals to amateurs, people talking about the film have consistantly identified the future humans as "obese". And of course they do, because that is the visual language the film is using, complete with cues about the characters' gluttony and inactivity. The notion that this would be taken by audiences as not a connection to fat people, but some ill-defined techno-babble result of space travel is naive at best, willfully ignorant at worst. The filmmakers have little reason not to know perfectly well how audiences will respond to the visuals. They are too good not to be aware. Irregardless, the take-away most people are taking away is that the movie's depiction of fatness does recall contemporary fat people. That's the reality of the movie's impact.

"Of course they humans would be fat" is a rationalization that bases itself entirely on the internal logic of the film. The humans are sedentary, eat a high-caloric diet, have had centuries to evolve this way. Why, they have to be fat. This ignores a key point, though. The movie is fiction. Its internal logic is internal. Someone wrote the set of scenarios that make this result so "obvious". The question is not, "how could they not be fat". The question is why THIS scenario was written at all. One which plays into all cultural bigotries about fat people (further diminishing the, "they aren't fat" defense). The writer can and should be held accountable for the scenarios they construct. None of this had to be the way it was. A writer wrote it, and it is far to be critical of the decisions of the writers. This isn't a documentary or a true story. A writer created THIS future and the specific conditions that warranted the inclusion of the fat characters. And we also need to remember that while science fiction depicts a future, it is watched in the present. The internal rules of sci-fi should not shield it from contemporary criticism because that is where the movie is being seen. In OUR society and upon the reflection of our cultural bigotries. That is the world the film is being considered through. It is the world that produced the film, and the world that is watching the film. Science fiction is and will always be very much a product of the present, and we can't lose sight of that when assessing science fiction.

All of the messages of the film could have been made without the visual shorthand of fat humanity. The social disconnection, the polluting of our planet, the passive consumerism. You don't have to use fat people to represent the threat of these things to talk about them. Doing so just trades of contemporary bigotries about fat people and the expectations of a population which takes fat hatred for granted. Now, you can like everything else the movie did. Fat hatred is so taken for granted that being fat positive often leaves us unable to reconcile our beliefs with a popular culture that has no room for us. But we should let ourselves be unable to reconcile things some times. Its okay for entertainment we like to sometimes disappoint us. We have to let it disappoint us, though. Because I look around at all the people who felt head patted for their fat bigotry after seeing Wall-E, and it really concerns me.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.