I was sick in bed when Jeff Bezos took his 10-minute walk in a dick-shaped rocket to the suborbital space on Tuesday morning, so I tuned out all the valid news coverage on the cable and proclaimed that this was somehow good for humanity. (It is not). Instead, I looked at something else.
In it, a global mega-corporation has destroyed the earth and transformed the planet into a wasteland littered with garbage where nothing can grow. All life on the planet – except for a cockroach – has either perished or escaped to spend eternity on a spaceship called Axiom, where humans are waited on by robot servants, spend all day looking at screens and smiling silly while their muscles deteriorate . A sign that reads “Welcome to economy” hangs over the heads of passengers with shiny faces.
Of course, I’m talking about the Pixar masterpiece Wall-E. Although released more than a decade ago, the film feels eerily fleeting at the moment when capitalist titans like Bezos are focused on making room for either a zone of joy or an industrial nightmare.
When Wall-E came out in 2008, the fictional Buy-n-Large company that serves humans in space made comparisons with Walmart, but director Andrew Stanton said the film was actually inspired of the emergence of companies like Amazon. He was definitely on to something. Like Buy-n-Large, which started as a yogurt company, Amazon started in the book market but quickly took over basically everything. And despite Bezos’ proclamations that he cares about the climate crisis, Amazon, like Buy-n-Large, is destroying the earth. It produces hundreds of millions pounds of plastic waste, spies toxic and planetary warming gases out of their thousands of cars and save, and helps oil companies extract deadly fossil fuels more efficiently. The company too throws out millions of products in just one warehouse, and the waste problem goes deep.
Instead of making some serious attempts to tackle Amazon’s environmental damage, Bezos has increasingly talked about how we must prepare to escape the earth completely. Just after his trip to space, he smoothly remarked that humanity should unload all polluting industry to space. In the past, he has said he will build colonies in the earth’s orbit to support billions of people.
Wall-E warns us of some of the dangers Bezos’ dream future may bring. We can lose sight of the things that make us human, like having a relationship with other living things. The earth has been turned into an endless landfill. Robots like the title character tend to waste left behind by a one-time lifestyle pursued by a violent company. Buy-n-Large’s Axiom is a glorified shopping center, lit by holographic billboards with daylight that advertise endless shit to buy from the rocking chairs that shoot the space station’s debilitating residents around for soda and soda. Absent is any sense of nature or society. Instead, it is a pure consumer experience.
One thing we do not see in Wall-E is what happened in the run-up to humanity leaving the earth. But based on what we know from the real world, Wealthy business executives probably saw the best results, just as the billionaire’s spaceflight has seen the richest man on the planet be one of the first to leave the earth. Meanwhile, climate change and ecological destruction have hit the poorest of us the hardest. This can be seen from black and indigenous households that are more likely to lose everything when forest fires strike, for environmental justice societies living in the shade of chemicals, paper and oil refineries that produce disposable items at Amazon love to sell us, of which much ends up as waste in poorer countries.
Jeff Bezos rightly said that we all paid for his stupid trip to the edge of the room—Not only because workers and customers made him rich, but also because Amazon and other companies have done so loaded by the pollution costs on all of us. This cycle will only get worse in the coming decades, unless we take steps to end it.
In real life, we also have no backup plan. If the destruction of the earth continues at its current pace, we will be fucked. We can only keep a handful of people alive on the International Space Station thanks to the thousands of ground workers who support them. Even the commercial dystopia that is Axiom is nowhere on the horizon.
Despite these differences, a core message of Wall-E rings true: Life on earth is doomed if we leave people like Jeff Bezos at the helm. We are on the verge of annihilation if we continue to let companies chase endless profit growth. IN Wall-E, it is a helpless robot that is left to suffer to a brave human leader, the captain of Axiom, decides to turn the spaceship and rebuild the earth. Although Wall-E is dark (I cried at least four times and this was a rewatch), its ending is relatively optimistic. But today it is people who suffer. And it will take more than one captain to turn the ship around.