Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wall-E’ World

In recent years, we’ve seen our world destroyed in a wave of dystopian, post-apocalyptic depictions via fiction, documentary and currently computer generated imagery (CGI) with “Wall-E.”

In 2007, the Pulitzer Prize for literature went to “The Road,” Cormac McCarthy’s hauntingly beautiful, but dark as night, novel about a father and son traipsing across a scorched, barren earth.

While readers were raising “The Road” onto the best-seller lists, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” was packing theaters. With the simplicity of a power-point production, we saw how humanity was sliding into the sea.

Now with “Wall-E,” Mother Earth has been abandoned by humans, leaving a lone robot to clean up.

Each work, in its own way, presents a bleak vision that hasn’t been seen in pop culture since the Cold War, when doomsday scenarios were a constant, from “Fail Safe” and “Dr. Strangelove” to television’s “The Day After.”

But while threats of nuclear-style Armageddon was the cause célèbre back then, a sense of environmental catastrophe is rampant today, transmitting its potential effects everywhere.

Omnipresently, many corporate brands are rethinking their image as they lay claim to Green. Fashion-wise, green is the new black. And with good reason, as businesses are responding, because environmental sustainability is now one of consumer purchasing behavior’s top influences.

Along those same lines, Hollywood has created “Wall-E,” the first Pixar movie that speaks to both adults and children — each on their own level. While “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo” were great fun, I still pretty much saw the same narrative my kids did. In “Wall-E,” while the kindelach enjoyed the light comedy and special effects, I understood its weightier theme of planetary destruction and came away carrying the burden of the future all the while knowing, when they get a little older, they’ll realize the deeper themes.

For a generation born right smack-dab into the 9/11 era, theirs has much to be concerned about.

Alongside the environment, the essential economic structures of our society seem just as precarious. Unstable financial institutions are propped up by the federal government. Once symbolized as icons of strength and stability, personified by the bull and by owning a piece of the rock, pieces of Wall Street are crumbling. Automobiles, the mark of American ingenuity, are veering off the road. And newsprint, woven into the fabric of the Constitution, is getting shredded.

Semantically, eco-sustainability takes on a dual meaning, as it’s both ecological and economic. The two are intertwined.

And, if there is a group of people who know a little something about sustainability, it’s us — the Jews. After all, look at what we’ve endured. Look how we’ve sustained. As a country, America should look to Israel as it embodies that notion, not only in its being, but in its newly created philosophy of going Green.

While Israel is surrounded by countries that are abundant in oil, Israel is not. Indomitably, Israel has taken on a mission to break the oil addiction with electric car recharge stations all over the country. Solar panels on rooftops are everywhere, and pay phones and streetlights are powered by the sun.

Granted, Israel gets a lot of sunlight, but the determination to find a solution to the ecological challenge came from the business community — the economic engine of Israel.

Early on in “Wall-E,” we see the skyline of what we think is an enormous city, possibly any of many inspiring American cityscapes. Upon closer viewing, we come to a different, far more disheartening realization.

Just as our generation avoided nuclear Armageddon, sustainability signifies a new future challenge.

Abe Novick, whose work is at abenovick.com , writes monthly for the BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES on the intersection of American and Jewish culture.