Wall-E the robot and the social construction of romance

The idea behind the theory of social construction is that human beings make the world they live in through language. At birth, my brain may be like a blank slate, but it immediately becomes full of meanings that I learn merely by entering into social relationships with other people. The significance of things like family, nation, and love are learned, that is, they are not innate but produced in and throughout our encounters with other humans, and the things that other humans make (books, architecture, movies, newspapers, governments, etc.).  The way we learn is subtle and mostly insignificant. For example, the structure of the nuclear family suggests that certain kinds of sexual relationships are normal, typical, and others are not. Heterosexual monogymous relationships are normalized, homosexuality is abnormal, polygamy is perverse. To say something (like heterosexuality or marriage) is socially constructed is not to say that it is not real, but rather, to call attention to the fact that there are alternative ways of imagining the world.

At this point in the calendar year, love is all around. For me, the result of all the Valentine’s Day propaganda is usually severe depression masked by cynicism. But what if all this talk of love really is as suffucating as it feels? What if there is a better way to imagine companionship, and we just can’t see beyond what we’ve been socialized to recognize as love?

Last week I re-watched Wall-E with my intro media studies students. We watched the movie as part of our discussion of technology, but what really struck me is what this particular film has to say about romance. For years, people have been making the argument that movies influence our ideas about love. Think of that classic scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Rita Wilson tears up just thinking about An Affair To Remember while Tom Hanks and Victor Garber stare at her in amazement.


Throughout that movie we are told over and over again that love in real life is nothing like love in the movies, and yet, in the end, Meg Ryan is rewarded for her faith in the magical power of love by a real-life movie ending. She shows up at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentines day and meets the man of her dreams. Obviously, we all know that life doesn’t work out the way it does in the movies, but don’t we still hope that it will? That someone will be so enamored with you that he shows up at your doorstep with a boombox over a shoulder, or cue cards, or a caroling security guard. But have you ever known anyone that this has actually happened to? Who does something so ridiculous? Who makes herself that vulnerable? Why do we continue to exalt the big romantic gesture?

This all leads me back to Wall-E. Wall-E learns the classic love story script from Hello, Dolly!, the movie he watches every night. From Helly, Dolly! he learns about hand holding, dancing, and courtship. The lyrics from the song “It only takes a moment” that we hear over and over again, “it only takes a moment

“But it only takes a moment, to be loved, a whole life long”


2 thoughts on “Wall-E the robot and the social construction of romance

  1. I was thinking about your idea of Wall-E as the epitomal example of a being constructing his expectations via movies, and couldn’t help but think about the two “robots” (who are nevertheless made of human flesh) later in the film who fall off of their little hover machines because of Wall-E and then immediately fall in love with each other. While Eva, a robot from the land of robots, is hesitant to accept love, these two who were born in space and talk to friends non-stop via screens, take promptly to love after realizing the existence of their own bodies. What do you make of their romance? Is it more real? Is it the same? I haven’t thought it out at all, but I just think the existence of two love stories that provide similar senses of rupture between two different types of robots is an interesting element to ponder. Perhaps you can do the pondering for me?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s