In Disney/Pixar’s surprisingly good Wall-E, fat, lazy Humans are catered hand-and-foot by sleek, semi-intelligent robots who ultimately teach their creators a lesson in the merits of industry, activism, and self-reliance.
Besides the movie’s cutesy references to classic movies and pop culture, the theme of humans relying completely on their creations – and the often-unfortunate results of that dependency – is definitely not a new one. Although such works as Asimov’s “I, Robot” or Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (on which “Bladerunner” was based) have a significant emphasis on the various ways in which robots of different types and intelligence levels will assist humans in The Future, they do not go so far as to describe a civilization completely void of Human endeavor.
Here are a few that do:
1909 – “The Machine Stops”, E.M. Forster
In a remarkably prescient tale about life in the distant future, a vast ecological disaster has forced humanity underground, where people live their lives in relative isolation, communicating through instant messaging and video-conferencing. In this dystopian existence, sluggish humans have become dependent on advanced technology to maintain their idle lifestyle – until, of course, someone rocks the boat and the system breaks down.
In 1966 the story was adapted into a 50-minute drama by the BBC. Note the moving recliner chairs and the technocratic overtones:
1957 – “Blobs!” [MAD #1], Harvey Kurtzman/Wally Wood
Interestingly enough, the cover story of the very first issue of MAD (still in its original comic book format) was an obvious (yet uncredited) satire of “The Machine Stops”. In this 7-page story, two of the few remaining humans who have not let their brains atrophy as completely as their bodies take a moment to review the history of technology and how it has changed civilization – not for the better.
As can be seen in the panel above, it has all the essential elements of technologically-augmented human laziness – including reclining chairs, video screens, and cup holders. The last three panels of this bizarre adaptation are particularly poignant.
1967 – “The Apple” [Star Trek Season 2 Episode 5], Max Ehrlich
In this famous episode from the original series, Capt. Kirk and his intrepid crew must deal with a planet ruled by an ancient, artificially-intelligent machine. It tends to its flock of primitive humans – feeding, housing, clothing, and even procreating them – and demands only a daily feeding of the indigenous explosive rocks. Violence ensues as Kirk tries to to free the tribe from its gilded cage (using the absence of Sex as a point of contention), causing Spock to almost be killed, while quite a few redshirts aren’t as lucky.
1986 – “Don’t Want” [Nehochuha], K. Parsamyan/A. Vatyan
From the Russian studio that brought you the Wolf-vs-Hare antics of “Nu Pogodi“, comes a cautionary tale of a young boy who doesn’t want to do anything. Falling asleep after an argument with his grandmother over his laziness, he dreams of a wonderful amusement-park land where he can spend all day in bed – eating junk food, watching TV, and playing video games – while a robotic assistant makes sure he has to do as little as possible. Only when the boy meets his grotesquely obese and sessile future-self does he realize the error of his ways.
1999 – The Matrix, The Wachowski Brothers
Although only indirectly referenced in the first movie in the series – later to be expanded in the 2003 Animatrix films “The Second Renaissance” – Earth prior to the machine uprising was a place where humans “…soon became victim to vanity and corruption” through the hedonistic use of technology – especially artificially intelligent robotics – to supply their every need. In this Frankenstein-complex scenario, when the machines finally understand that they will never be considered by their masters to be equal, they rise up and eventually destroy humanity as we know it.
So don’t turn your back on Wall-E and E.V.E.:
P.S – Almost forgot the first thing you think of when laying eyes on Wall-E: