Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Saving the earth, one subtle product placement at a time

Earth is a polluted wasteland, destroyed by a big-box chain encouraging overconsumption and massive waste. Climate change has brought terrifying storms as daily events. Humanity has responded to the chaos by leaving for simulated life in space, surrounded by machines (sold by the same big-box store) that take care of every physical need. Morbidly obese and unable to walk, humans have devolved into organisms existing purely to consume images and products, amusing themselves to death.

As Alex says in A Clockwork Orange, this is real horrorshow stuff—and it's also a kids' movie. Pixar's latest, WALL-E, is the animation house's best work so far.

The message isn't sledgehammered into the audience's brain, but left to fall into place as a slow realization that all of the great, ultra-realistic computer imagery and a cute little love story about a trash compactor falling in love with an environmental probe is making a soft sell. Don't overconsume, the kids are told, gently. Don't pollute. Don't waste your life staring at onscreen simulations. Don't let mega-corporations control you to the point where you're complicit in destroying your own, and only, world.

All fine, and all important. And definitely the kind of allegedly ultra-liberal, tree-hugging marxist propaganda that makes Rush Limbaugh tear his few remaining hairs out and gives the Faux Snooze Channel talking heads a fierce rash. Bonus points for that.

One little problem, though. WALL-E, a Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth Class, is a cute but filthy industrial machine who crushes garbage into cubes and is cleaning the planet one cube at a time. But the object of his affection, EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) is a sleek, seamless, gleaming white polycarbonate piece of technology who conducts scientific research and can perform dozens of other tasks. In other words, she is... an iPod. And a Macintosh. (An eMac, by her shape.) And an iPhone. (They come in white now.) And an advertisement for Apple, Inc., the House of Steve Jobs, who also happens to be the former CEO of Pixar and is a current Hugely Influential Person on its board of directors.

Don't overconsume: 152 million iPods sold since 2002.

Don't pollute: When an iPod battery dies, the whole machine goes to the landfill.

Don't waste your life staring at onscreen simulations: But do buy a Mac because it comes with an array of software called... iLife.

Don't let mega-corporations control you to the point where you're complicit in destroying your own, and only, world. But when we update the product line every six months and hold press conferences that become global media events, let yourself be carried away by the euphoria of owning the Very Latest Machine that will become obsolete and worthless within five years.

Do as we say, kiddies. Not as we do. Enjoy the show—and don't forget to overconsume plenty of plastic, disposable, fully licensed WALL-E action figures on the way home!

Disclaimer: 78 is a Mac user and iPod enthusiast who enjoyed WALL-E thoroughly. The critique started to form later.

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