American Manufacturing in Disguise
by Alex Carnevale
When we look back at the achievements of this lost decade, film students will, in their infinite stupidity, miss the finest contribution of the aughts. There has never been a more subversive piece of art than Michael Bay’s Transformers, and with the collapse of industry that marks each day’s evening news, there may never be again.
On its surface, Transformers is the same product tie-in pablum we’ve all been forced to endure since Star Wars made a fortune’s worth of dubloons in secondary markets. And yet the tale that was told is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. On its surface we have the long war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, now staged on the battleground of Earth.
The version of the Mythos in the film is this: Shia LaBoeuf’s granddad finds the Decepticon Megatron ensconsed in ice at the Artic Circle. Clad in black, Megatron resembles a Satan, or at the very least a Dark One. It never occurs to Admiral Witwicky that he has unearthed a hero in the ice.
Bred in the combat pits of Cybertron, Megatron was raised for fierceness. Essentially, he was a slave for the Autobot hierachy and was pitted against other monsters for the amusement of the Autobots. It is easy enough to see the prodigious hand of American imperialism here, when the powers-that-be were content to let so-called lesser nations fight amongst each other. Instability was profitable: it limited rebellion and it made for good business for those who supplied the weapons.
Once Megatron became too strong for the prevailing Autobot hierachy, they saw the strength of the being they’d created and began his long exile. Megatron is vulnerable, neutralized in a government facility when Michael Bay’s film begins, and the Autobots are free and clear.
The prevailing assumption lent to the viewer is that the Autobots are the fighters of freedom. The film then gives the audience more than a few clues that the Autobots aren’t all they seem to be. History is written by the victors, and the Autobots were the victors in the Great War, a conflict that led to the Pax Cybertronia. Under the terms of this pact, the Deceptions became second-class citizens, and little was told to a young transformer about what had happened in the past.
Our American heroes start in Revolutionary War days, and so on from there. It is clouded so that our people barely remember the real history of what happened. Yes, the states had more than a right to demand freedom from taxation. But to tell the story in that fashion omits the slave labor on which this country was built. Without the value of that labor, America would never have been wealthy enough or strong enough to fight the King. Instead of freeing its black citizens, as Great Britain did, it turned its back on the very people to which it owed its victory.
The current irony is that we are being taxed more strenuously than ever — the very charge we levied on our colonial predecessors.
And so on, to the present, where automakers salvage billions from the taxpaying public. And for what, exactly? To keep their Autobot machines pumping vile toxins into our atmosphere, and gas confined to a racket between America’s power, perched on the back of the subjugation of Arab peoples in every oil rich nation? Instead of criticizing this country, it is easier to blame Israel, as if they were the ones who led to this state of affairs. They’re a victim of colonial power, not an agent of it.
Chief ally to the American military is Optimus Prime and his coalition of autobots. They are expertly trained to appeal to human emotions – shiny colors and cute noises emanate from our hero’s favorite destructive robot, Bumblebee.
The fact is, humans will believe anything. Does anyone hear Megatron out? He desires the AllSpark for the power it possesses to return him to his homeworld. Is it any wonder he doesn’t want his slavers accompaying him on the trip home?
I said the film was subversive, and it is. The portrait of the American military collaborating with the Autobots is of a deeply flawed, entirely helpless organization in which vindictiveness triumphs over caution, and John Turturro’s skepticism towards the prevailing Autobot view of things loses out over the machinations of a hormonally charged loser who wants respect from extraterrestrials as a means of seducing an underage teen. Such intercourse would be statuatory rape, but thirst for sex wins out over wariness.
We know the automakers want nothing good for us. Their executives fly around in private jets and congressmen pretend to be chagrined. It is the chaos that the Decepticons can provide that is what we need so badly, if only our vapid president would stop granting wishes like a genie in town hall meetings and see that we need a far larger change than he called for. Anyone who buys an American car is a bigger fool than a president who bails out American carmakers. In America, business is only charity if it’s big business.
All great civilizations perish on the backs of their own excess. “X is suffering,” cries this way of thinking. “We must solve for X no matter the cost.” The Decepticons posed a threat to a way of life on the all-metal planet, so they were banished and destroyed.
We have no need for American industry or the military as it exists. Our military strength grows still larger, to fight no enemy we can see. What should we be more afraid of? Thousands of Americans dead in the wake of mad men crashing planes into our Autobot superstructures, or the resulting war against nothing and no one that cripples the finances of the people this output was supposed to protect?
Instead of propping up companies we no longer have need for, let us have them die an appropriate death. Our new president is in hock to these fools. He cannot break free of them any more than George W. Bush could write his own name.
The planet Cybertron did not belong to the Autobots any more than it did to the Decepticons. In the resulting battle, “won” by the Autobots, the means of rebuilding Cybertron was destroyed by the Autobots’ human ally. Great job – better to destroy a homeworld than lose the battle. Soon we will hear “they are just machines” and the instruments of prejudice will be once again America’s, to use or put down as they like.
War contrives a reason for existing. We must fight to go on. But if the fight destroys us, too? We might be better thrown into the Laurentian Abyss, or the deepest point in the world, Challenger Deep and frozen even colder, even deader than Decepticons. Perhaps theirs is the better fate.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbles here.
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