Does Wall•E Dream of Electric Kale? The California Dream as Post-Scarcity Nightmare

Alexander Robert Tarr


Since Europeans first became aware of the California landscape, they have used it as an imagined blank slate upon which to draw utopias. A legacy of failed communes and speculative schemes has never slowed California’s booster class from fashioning themselves as the harbingers of a bright new future: the state’s natural geography of abundance, when mixed by the “right” people with the right technology, will bring forth a cornucopia of wealth and leisure. Where material realities feed fantasies, and where fictions shape social-relations is perpetually blurred. This paper uses Pixar Studio's 2008 academy award winning film, WALL•E, as a departure point to examine how the California dream is shaped by its nightmarish inversion—technological innovation overtaking and destroying the nature that is the true source of happiness. In the film, a dystopian world appears not from the nuclear war or the strife that incites other dystopias, but from a post-scarcity society driven to mass overconsumption and a labor-less life. The film, however, does not attempt to warn us away from this path, but works to revive the technological fetish as nascent ecological utopia. The audience is shown thinking machines that transcend the boundary between human and non-human, with the heroic eponymous character stumbling its way into reestablishing human social relations, de-alienating their labor, and bringing forth a cyborg-mediated nature. The paper offers a critical reading of how California ideologies are reflected back and reinforced in the world of films like WALL•E, not as radical and open, but liberal and confined by their commitments to the status quo.


post-scarcity; dystopia; WALL•E; California

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