No, we don’t look to Disney/Pixar for biting social commentary, but it is a welcome addition to the otherwise simply romantic and irritatingly dialogue-less first half of Wall-E when the titular hero travels to Axiom, the space resort to which the universe’s known homo sapiens population (us) absconds, in the year 2100 or so, after ravaging Earth. Axiom is a floating utopia of leisure made possible by the ironic advance of technology. Here people recline in hovercraft chairs, suck from soda straws, and move along conveyors from one simulated “activity” to the next. All are obese, muscleless (later, when tipped from their chairs, none is strong enough to right himself—each lies helpless like a beetle on its back), obnoxious and impatient. The environment is sterile, almost militaristic. LCDs pump in ads, lights, sounds—hollow stimuli. On Axiom, there is no struggle, no human will, no love or hate, only constant satiation, constant reward. (But for what?) It’s a future that, though fantastical, is a logical outcome if the desires of the American consumer, as depicted by advertisers today, were to be fulfilled to the essential, diabolic extreme: nothing but passivity, stasis, and consumption, yet no guilt about global destruction, as the globe is already destroyed.
Axiom is unmistakably satirical.
Pixar’s two main contributions to the animated genre, as I understand it, are the advancement of CGI images to near-lifelike qualities of light, shadow, and perspective; and the savvy inclusion of adult elements to keep the chaperones, renters, and buyers interested. Wall-E’s love, Eve, is whisked away to Axiom just in time to make good on the second of these. The extraterrestrial spa/domicile reclaims the attention of viewers tiring of the predictable and rather one-dimensional mechanical courtship underway. This only adds to the potency of Axiom as a satirical element. When we see humans for the first time, we’re captivated by what they’re up to; their escapades get us thinking. Viewers as young as ten, I would venture, can see there’s something vile about the human condition there. This easy apparentness, this translucence, is a necessity for satire’s success.
Well, that success has been dealt a strange blow. Dish Network is currently running an ad, on CNN among other channels, for its upcoming broadcast premiere of Wall-E, in which a quintessential
nuclear family—tall, slim, handsome, brunette white male, his slightly shorter blond wife, and their two bright, tidy progeny—wear red and white unitards identical to those worn by people on Axiom, and partake in the same acts of axiomatic leisure. These are live-action, “real” people in the commercial, not Pixar animations. They are not corpulent, but rather fit, healthy and happy-seeming. They are (pretending to be) on Axiom. They receive massages in a stadium-sized room and smile at each other. They gather around a table, socializing, now superimposed over actual Axiom footage from the film Wall-E: its massive interiors of gleaming smoothness, unalarming colors, and edgeless corners that cannot bruise flaccid flesh. The family members’ easy demeanors describe a visit to an entertainment complex where one takes a welcome respite from hectic modern life, a return to which is made after a few hours, having not adjusted expectations so far as to make reacclimation to the emotional gravity of family conflict, suffering, and strife uncomfortable. In their excited visages we read the question, “Isn’t it wonderful to be here?” Though perversely, “here” is Axiom, a monument to sloth and gluttony. Then the family gathers before a TV, and orders up the film Wall-E from Dish Network.
And in this gesture they retreat from their role as visitors to Axiom. Now they are just humans here on Earth, where we still have TVs and satellites, doing what you should do: ordering the film that conceived and contains images of Axiom. Why? Because it’s the next best thing to being there! That is the earnest message of the Dish Network ad: that Axiom is a futuristic playground your kids will recognize and want to revisit.
But the contrary is precisely the point made in Wall-Eabout this orbiting oasis: it is not heaven but hell. The captain realizes this, and wages a battle with the onboard computer for control of the ship. Total inertia, it becomes obvious to him, is not bliss but a miserable paralysis.
The ad certainly confuses the message of Axiom, and may even degrade the film, even if only my memory of it, in which a poignant notion is dramatized entertainingly. Perhaps my hope that children seeing the film would remember this depiction of an imagined human outcome and do their best to prevent it happening in their lifetime was naïve. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d expected too much from a dramatic work. But assuming that some branch of the studio signed off on this Dish Network spot, one has to wonder, Why make satire if its pungency is going to be blithely negated to market itself? Perhaps that is naïve too. Perhaps right now cereal boxes are being filled with little plastic hoverchairs.