Will those despicable Decepticons blow up the moon? Stay tuned...
Evil and tyranny and blowing the moon out of its orbit – oh those despicable Decepticons. In Transformers Epidsode 65, evil machinations mount to once again wreak havoc upon the Earth, and it’s up to three scrappy kids and a whole bunch of Autobots to save the day.
In this episode, the Decepticons‘ destructive multi-robot is needed to operate a laser cannon that will blow the moon from its orbit, hastening the Earth’s destruction. At the beginning of the episode, this destroyer bot gets destroyed itself, and one of its personality chips gets lost in the shuffle. Some scrappy kids (two rebellious boys and a smarty pants nerd girl in glasses) working on a science project find the lost personality chip, put it in their own robot project, and let the new beast loose. It wreaks havoc thanks to the evil robot personality inside it, but the Autobots come to the aid of the kids and help them deactivate the beast. The kids then reprogram it and use it to help the Autobots foil the Decepticons‘ evil plan. Hurray.
As Cross mentioned, most events in the episode are marginal and not based on any particular threat. There are moments, however, when the Decepticons deal with an Hispanic dictator for spare parts and weaponry. They also break into a pseudo-Russian base and steal more parts for their evil robot. Other than this, however, the action is between the robots and is kept light with humor mixed-in here-and-there. In such, it reflects Cross’ statement of a lacking real world presence in PLCs. The conflicts are located in the now, as well, despite the oblique reference to Soviet soldiers. The three high schoolers are roped into the episode as well, due to their crazy science experiment gone awry. There aren’t really any adult concerns, except for the kids’ teacher who berates them and challenges them to really apply themselves. Overall, the episode is bland and not compelling, with a rote message on finding your place in the world even if your a weirdo, hellion, or poorly functioning robot. The time is displaced, and the consequences seem minimal.
I watched the pilot for the original Transformers animated series, which premiered in September 1984. The name of the pilot was “More Than Meets The Eye“. In the episode we are transported “many millions of years” before the present (1984) to a planet called Cybertron. This is a technologically advanced planet populated by shafeshifting machines. The planet is being ravaged by a civil war being fought between two sides- the Autobots and the Decepticons. The Decepticons are said to be greedy, evil machines bent on total domination; the Autobots, on the other hand, seek only to stop the Decepticons and return peace to their beloved planet. The energy sources on Cybertron are depleted, so both sides leave the planet in search of alternative sources with which they can fuel their ongoing battle. They end up crash landing into a volcano on Earth, where they lay in wait for four million years until the Volcano erupts, somehow switching their power switches back on. The Decepticons regroup decide to mine Earth for all its energy supply, then return to Cybertron to create a weapon capable of dominating the universe. The Autobots take it upon themselves to stop the Decepticons, and protect life on Earth at all cost. With this, the stage is set for the rest of the series.
The Transformers animated series is basically the embodiment of Gary Cross’s argument that
The old view that children should learn from the past and prepare for the future is inevitably subverted in a consumer culture where memory and hope get lost in the blur of perpetual change. (course packet page 290)
The world which the Transformers inhabit, Cybertron, could be the pictorial representation of the word fantasy in the dictionary. It is a distant planet, tucked into some obscure corner of the universe. The beginning scene of the animated series’ pilot involves a period of “space travel” as an introduction- no doubt meant to communicate to children the remoteness of this faraway land- isolating them from their worldly surroundings while simultaneously engaging their focus with measured buildup. As we meet the Transformers, they are amazing marvels of engineering. Otherworldly aliens that, oddly enough, when shifted resemble vehicles we normally encounter here on Earth. The sight of a car speaking in the first scene, then later empathizing with his fallen comrade quickly remove all semblance of familiarity. These are not vehicles like we have on Earth- these are much cooler. As we shift scenes from battling on Cybertron to intergalactic space travel and later to mid space battle, the characters somehow end up on Earth. The scenes on Earth are deliberately staged in areas where humans would not inhabit: the desert, open ocean, a volcano. Even when humans appear in the series, they are tiny, thoughtless, impulsive beings. Their role on the show is much like a mouse or a dog would be portrayed on a present day sitcom- our function is to be weak, frightened lifeforms dependent upon the autobots for our salvation. There is no tie in towards learning from the past. Absolutely no mention of how children should prepare for the future (unless calling down forty foot robot guardians from space counts as a plan- pretty sure Newt Gingrich would approve). There are no lessons taught, to be quite honest. Even though the show takes place in our world, it strives to maintain its “other-worldliness” by reducing mankind and its achievements to a mere side-show- “ants” that the glorious Transformers may step on at their will. The show is about one thing and one thing alone- promoting the Transformers toys. The real world has no relevance here…
I did an investigation into Gary Cross’ claims against the “program- length- commercials” of the 80’s. Cross argues that the shows had nothing to teach children, and that they had no content relevant to helping children understand the “real world.” I watched an episode of Transformers from the 1980’s on YouTube. I could not find the exact date it aired, but did find that it was the 27th episode from the second season, titled “Golden Lagoon.” The way the show is formatted, a child has to follow the show almost religiously to stay on top of what is happening. Having jumped straight into the 27th episode, I found myself in the middle of a battle, not knowing who was good, and who was bad. The Autobots and Decepticons (I hope I’m spelling that right), are in the middle of battle, when one of them finds a pond full of a gold liquid called electrum that makes makes the Transformers invincible. The Decepticons get to the pond first, and have the upper hand, until the Autobots stealthily get to the pond as the electrum is wearing off for the Decepticons. The Autobots win the battle, and they celebrate in a destroyed forest as a result of the battle. There was no big mention of teamwork, or protecting the environment, or anything that could be remotely beneficial to a child’s learning experience while watching television. The only possibility would be that, if the Autobots are the “good guys,” that good always prevails, but that’s a stretch. From the episode I saw, Cross was correct in his criticism.
This is the course website for Rebecca Onion's American Studies seminar at the University of Texas at Austin, convened during the spring semester of 2012. You can see the website for last semester's version of this course at this link.