Throughout the 1980's and 90's a number of thinkers expressed concern about the decline of virtues in America.
Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart appeared in the mid 1980's and chronicled the "hollowing out" of the American heart, once governed by inner habits formed by the virtues of Christian community, but now ungoverned due to shallow individualism.
In 1993, William Bennet's The Book of Virtues appeared (before the vice of gambling attempted to crush him) and many parents began to read classic stories to their kids in an attempt to habituate them with some of the classic virtues rather than the shallow values of consumerism that have left so many people in our generation hallow on the inside and fat on the outside.
Then there was David Well's amazing and scathing, After Virtue, which implicated Evangelical Christianity as a sell out version of the Gospel due to our pursuit of Individualistic Consumer Christianity that has traded values for virtues, Madonna for Augustine. Rough stuff but expected fare from some of our secular and relaigious intellectuals- and I am only touching the surface. At any rate, this stuff (individualism and consumerism) do not make for typical dinner conversation in many areas of our culture.
That is, Until Pixar's Wall-E came out. This amazing film (and it is a "film" and not a mere "movie") deals head on with some of the really serious problems that our culture, and our kids are facing today. How so? Well, if you have seen the movie, I hope it is obvious. If not, allow me to explain.
Wall-E is a movie that explores the life of a robot, designed to be a producer in a world where production has all but totally lost its value. In fact, this robot is the lowest member of the proverbial food chain because he is designed to be a garbage collector- and he happens to be the last productive species on the earth which has been abandoned by humans for the past 700 years while Wall-E is left to clean up the crap that they have left behind.
Meanwhile, said humans are off on a never-ending vacation where EVERYTHING is done for them- their only responsibility is to make consumer choices while they get fatter and fatter. Now, here is where the morality of the film comes into play. Wall-E, in producing and struggling, and suffering and creating, develops a personality- He is being (as Aristotle put it) habituated or developing the kinds of habits that allow him to become, well, human. He develops a sense of love, of loyalty, of courage, of compassion, and of justice. meanwhile, back on the space ship humans have devolved into fat mindless drones who act more like machines than humans. And why is this? Well, becuase they have been so relentless about creating a world where ALL their needs are met that they now are unable to DO anything. They exist to consume and have been effective in creating machines that will do all the work for them. However, now the machines rule and have begun to exploit them.
The movie plays out with Wall-E and another wonderful robot (aptly named EVE) waking the sleeping humans from their stupor like theprotagonist in Plato's Cave (See Neo in the Matrix freeing the people from the machines). Classic, powerful, and, a kids movie? Yes. My youngest wept through the entire film and when it ended she dried her eyes, deeply moved by the morality play that had unfolded before her eyes and said, "Daddy, I love Wall-E." This is a GREAT film that I would recommend everyone see. It is in a class of its own.