Over the last two weeks there have been a couple of pop-culture controversies: The alleged environmentalist propaganda in WALL*E and the New Yorker cover depicting Barack Obama and his wife as leftist radicals. The first controversy has upset the political right while the second has upset the political left.
First to WALL*E. I saw the movie Saturday with my four-year-old son. The night before we went, the family attended a neighborhood BBQ. While talking to four other guys, the discussion turned into whether or not WALL*E contained leftist environmental propaganda. Two believed that it did. The other two disagreed. I was the only one in the group who hadn’t seen the film and therefore couldn’t comment on it.
When I went to see it the next day with my kid, my eye was open for both subtle and overt political messages in the film.
Much to my surprise, I didn’t find one shred of environmentalist propaganda in the film.
I say this as no big fan of the contemporary environmental movement. Most of the groups are run by a bunch of hypocrites who worship at the altar of global warming but are the first to file suit or protest the construction of wind farm because it will kill birds or ruin the view. Instead of a working towards clean environment while improving everyone’s quality of life, the look to lower it. They want gas, electricity and raw materials to be expensive as possible because they hate it that you fly across country, drive cars, and choose to live in the suburbs – I mean urban sprawl. Instead they want to force you to live they way they think you should live which is something akin to a living one bedroom apartment in the middle of Manhattan, having no more than two kids (the fewer the better), and riding public transportation for the rest of your life. The movement is increasingly sees people, technology, and freedom as the problem instead of the solution.
But back to WALL*E. (Warning: Minor spoilers follow.)
The film centers around a robot named WALLE who lives on Earth 700 years in the future. Humans have long abandoned the planet which has become a giant landfill. WALLE, the last robot of his kind, spends his days compacting and building large towers of trash. He falls in love with a probe named Eve and manages to hitch a ride back to her ship. WALLE discovers that humans live on a big ship where all the do is eat and even the most menial tasks are done automatically for them. As a result, they’re all a bunch of big, fat slobs who waste away their days bored and doing practically nothing.
Just because a movie of book shows a trashed planet 700 years in the future doesn’t mean it’s going to be a preachy. Such depictions of Earth in movies and science fiction literature have been going on a long time. Some have been done for political purposes while others haven’t.
The movie could have been preachy. The writers had every chance knock the human race for destroying the planet. They could have run everyone on a guilt drip for shopping at Wal-Mart, eating super-sized value meals, and become overweight slobs.
But they didn’t.
Instead they focused the story on destroyed planet or the slovenly human race the focused on the love story between WALLE and Eve.
If there was any message in WALL*E it’s that there’s more to life than sitting on your butt all day. Instead of wasting your life live, find love, and enjoy everything that life has to offer.
Where, exactly, is the political message in that?
Yesterday, the much talked about issue of The New Yorker arrived in my mailbox. It wasn’t the content inside the magazine that was getting the attention but the cover. Barack Obama is depicted wearing Muslim garb while Michelle is portrayed as a leftist radical from the 60s. An American flag burns in the fireplace while over the mantle hangs a picture of Osama bin Laden.
If you haven’t seen it, here’s an image.
Of course this sent the media into a tizzy to see their presidential candidate even though The New Yorker’s editor was on practically every media outlet explaining that the cover was a satire of the misperceptions that some people have about the presumptive Democratic nominee.
The media should be given some credit. Remember when they were similarly outraged when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were portrayed on the cover of The New Yorker as the cowboys in Brokeback Mountain?
Oh, wait. There wasn’t any controversy over that cover. I must have been talking about the time Bush was depicted as Nero – fiddling while the country burned.
Sorry. My bad. There wasn’t any media outrage over that cover either. I was thinking about the one that depicted Bush as surprised it was his fault the country was broken (drawn, by the way, by the same person who did the Obama cover.)
What’s that? Oh, right. There was no indignation or anger – at least in the press – over that one too.
So why the outcry over the Obama cover?
Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift shares a letter from an outraged reader that was also sent to The New Yorker.
There is no journalistic freedom to justify this cartoon that could have easily been generated by the merchants of hate and fear and will certainly be used by them to justify their own moronic diatribes against this most American family.
Clift adds her own two cents.
The problem is not just that the cartoons themselves are racist and tasteless, but they're spreading images that are untrue and deepening a perception that Obama is not what he says he is.
While I agree that The New Yorker’s cover is stupid and in bad taste, I’d also say the same thing about the three other covers. Yet there was no similar outrage over them. A quick search of Newsweek’s archive didn’t show any columns by Clift worried that covers of Bush or Cheney are untrue or deepens a stereotype about them held by many in the political left or “merchants of hate.”
Makes you wonder if The New Yorker had depicted a satirical cover of John McCain, if Clift and others would have expressed similar indignation.