Wall-E, collector or hoarder?

S. loves WALL-E, and even though her attention wanes, she thinks the love relationship between Eva and WALL-E is charming. In fact, she says of Eva, “hers his mommy.” When the film was televised recently, I suddenly reanalyzed the scene where WALL-E takes Eva to his home.

WALL-E’s job is to compact trash and stack it up. In the process he finds all kinds of treasures, some only a robot would think to keep. I find this activity heart-warming, probably because I imagine my grandfather doing the same during his trash collecting days. He was always unearthing treasures that he stored up until he died.

WALL-E brings Eva to his home to show her his collected treasures and makes the effort to impress this fancy new she-bot with the things of earth: lighters, light bulbs, television, and a plant growing in a shoe. That is, of course, the turning point in their relationship.

The question I’ve been grappling with in my work on memory hoarding, however, is when collecting crosses the line into hoarding. Sure WALL-E’s place is a bit like the set of Sanford and Son, but he has everything neatly arranged and organized in trays that rotate so he can easily access them. He lives alone, can easily move about, and he uses many of the discarded scraps that he finds, especially the spare robot parts.

WALL-E’s collecting brings him out into the world, is a source of pride, and generally a social behavior. He is only too happy to bring Eva around to see his stuff. Had he been a robot-hoarder, he’d likely be less eager to bring by a lady-friend. Hoarding continually proves itself to be an isolating activity in which the relationship to stuff takes precedence over the relationship to loved-ones. Family is slowly ousted by things and friends are not welcome into the hoard. Fear and embarrassment seem to dictate much of what the outside world is allowed to see.

When the object of collecting, however, is memory itself, and sharing that memory becomes a social project, is it hoarded? Or would hoarded memory also necessarily isolate the individual?

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