Last time on Why I Cry…
- I intend to raise my as-yet-unconceived children on the principles taught to me by The Transformers and G.I. Joe.
- The 1980′s saw a flood of kids cartoons based on toy properties that could only be described as biblical.
- I mean the flood was of biblical proportions. The toys weren’t based on the bible. Although…
- Michael Bay and Japanese animators are working through some deeply troubling psychological issues
What did I learn from the Autobots and Decepticons? Find out in today’s thrilling continuation of Everything I Know About Responsibility and Relationships I Learned from Cartoons!
Part 2: More Than Meets the Eye
In 1984, Hasbro “acquired” the rights to several different insane Japanese toys that could change from robot warriors to everyday objects that children might play with… like guns, for example.
Which one was supposed to be more threatening? The kill-crazy evil robot or the real-sized pistol that could get you shot by the NYPD?
Hasbro took the transformable action figures and did what Japan didn’t bother with–what Japan has never, ever bothered with: making sense of them. In partnership with writers at Marvel Comics, Hasbro split the first 40-or-so Transformers into two factions, the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. This unprecedented marketing decision created a narrative for how kids would play with their toys, and influence how they collected them.
To help launch the American distribution of Transformers, Marvel released a four-issue comic miniseries that turned into an 80-issue series because of the franchise’s popularity and strong sales, and Sunbow Productions released the three-part pilot to the animated series which would run for four years.
For kids like me who grew up with two loving parents and an older sibling, it was necessary to find role models on television. What the Transformers cartoon and comic book did was clearly delineate the characteristics of “good guys” and “bad guys”, providing us with a framework for what was acceptable behavior in real life.
Adorable and educational: They're edudorable!!!
Someone at YouTube has generously (and not at all criminally, I wouldn’t think) uploaded the entire three-part pilot, “More Than Meets the Eye” for your viewing pleasure and for my handy reference. Right away in the show’s opening monologue (at the 0:50 mark), we are told that the Autobots are “peace-loving” and good, while the Decepticons are war-like and “brutal”. Throughout the show, the behaviors of each faction reinforce characteristics that I and other kids would associate with good and evil. The Decepticons are treacherous and openly hostile to people, including each other. Those were behaviors I should avoid doing. The Autobots were selfless, sacrificing their priorities for the good of all; they cleaned up their messes, they didn’t take the easy way out, and they admitted their own limitations and accepted help from others. These were behaviors I should emulate, and now, nearly three decades later, pass on to future generations.
Five Life Lessons the Transformers Taught Me
1. Follow Directions Exactly - As grown ups, we often have to reconcile directives from our superiors with what our moral compass will allow, or with what we merely think is quickest and easiest. This is a stage of social and moral development we come to much later in life. For kids, it’s healthy and safe to teach them to respect the words and wishes of people in authority.
In the second part of the episode 1, we see the consequences of characters disobeying orders and acting on their own compulsions. In this segment, at about the 1:40 point, Starscream starts shooting haphazardly at the mountain in which the Autobots’ ship had crashed, deactivating all of them. Megatron tells Starscream to save his energy and stop shooting randomly. Because he hates Megatron, and because he loves random acts of violence and destruction, Starscream ignores the Decepticon leader and continues shooting at the mountain.
What happens? The concussive impact from his lasers triggers a tremor that inadvertently wakes up Optimus Prime and the other Autobots, putting them back in position to oppose Starscream and the other bad guys. At this point, the Decepticons had won; they could have taken over Earth and enslaved humanity with nobody to stop them. But by ignoring his master’s order, Starscream woke and empowered his enemies, making his whole life a lot more difficult.
Decepticons aren’t the only ones capable of this kind of boneheaded mistake, though. At around the 3:13 point, Optimus Prime sends Hound to scout this new planet Earth they’ve crashed on and see if he can pick up the Decepticons’ trail. Itching for a fight to sate his obvious Napoleon Complex, Cliffjumper volunteers to join Hound. ”Just find them,” Prime says, warningly. ”We’ll deal with them later.”
By the 4:40 mark, Hound and Cliffjumper have found the Decepticons and listened in on their plans–exactly as Prime ordered them to do. Then, not at all as Prime ordered them, Cliffjumper pulls out a big honkin’ gun.
"You said we'd deal with them LATER. That was like two minutes ago. You expect me to wait LONGER?"
Cliffjumper fires on the Decepticons, revealing their position and forcing himself and Hound to retreat quickly under fire. At the 6:20 point, Laserbeak shoots Hound, sending him crashing into a ravine. Hound survives, but Cliffjumper and the viewer learn an important lesson about not deviating from orders. This time, Cliffjumper didn’t suffer for his insubordination; his friend did. Real tragic consequences are when somebody else gets hurt because of your stupid actions.
2. Don’t Announce Your Coup D’état to the Person You’re Overthrowing - The Bard tells us “discretion in the better part of valor.” This is a lesson that Starscream never learned, apparently, because he tells every one of the Decepticons that he plans to replace Megatron as their leader. And by telling every one, I mean he tells Megatron, too (5:25 in this segment).
He tells Soundwave and Rumble they’ll be following his orders some day, to which they just scoff (3:40) That’s usually a good sign, when your future underlings don’t respect you enough to pretend they like your chances of becoming boss someday.
"When I'm in charge they'll call me Starscream MacKillseverything!"
Starscream spends the majority of the show complaining about Megatron’s leadership and boasting how much better he would be. And this is how that plays out. From his treacherous behavior, we learn that ambition is only constructive when mixed with a healthy dollop of caution, and we also learn that the chief obstacle that bad guys always face is their inability to cooperate with others.
3. Always Be Punctual - At the end of the second part of the miniseries (8:00 mark in this segment), the Autobots’ mad scientist Wheeljack gives Sparkplug and Bumblee a bomb to trap the Decepticons under a mountain. They have sixty seconds to plant the bomb and escape, but plans go awry and the bomb detonates with several Autobots trapped as well.
Thankfully, everyone survives pretty much unscathed in the third part (2:15) and Sparkplug observes how precise he thinks Wheeljack’s bomb was set for.
Sparkplug: “Wheeljack wasn’t kidding when he said it would blow in sixty seconds.”
Wheeljack: “Fifty-nine point ninety-nine to be exact.”
Two lessons: First, WTF, Wheeljack? You’re not microwaving a burrito; it’s a bomb! You can’t round up your numbers! Second, it’s crucial to always be on time. In fact, it’s a good idea to always be early for things. Your chances of getting trapped in an exploding mine shaft diminish pretty quickly.
4. Try to Leave Things Better Than When You Arrived - Perhaps the clearest demonstration of the Autobots’ nobility is that they fight the Decepticons not out of obligation but out of ability.
Yes, the Decepticons arrived on Earth in the Autobots’ crashed ship, but no one would say Optimus Prime and his crew are responsible for bringing the ‘Cons here, and they’re certainly not culpable for any destruction the ‘Cons do once they get here. The easiest thing for the Autobots is to go back to their home planet and leave the Decepticons stranded on Earth. That’s what a few of them propose in part 2 (3:00).
Mirage: “Maybe we should repair our ship and go back to Cybertron. Forget about the Decpticons.”
Prime: “We can’t do that, Mirage. If Megatron succeeds here, he’ll be impossible to defeat on Cybertron.”
Huffer: “But we’re not fighters like they are, Prime!”
Prime: “We must have courage, Huffer. We can’t ignore the danger–we must conquer it.”
Optimus Prime chooses to defend Earth because the Autobots are the only ones who can, and I learned that if it’s within my means to fix a problem, I should do it because it’s right. I can’t avoid confrontation; I must deal with it head on.
5. A Hero Isn’t Always Who You Expect - Optimus Prime is the greatest Autobot. He’s the oldest, wisest, biggest, strongest. His fearlessness in battle is surpassed only by his compassion for his compatriots. If anyone can stop Megatron and the Decepticons in the end, it’s Optimus Prime.
Except that’s not what happens. Optimus Prime fails at the end of “More Than Meets the Eye” (5:15 and 6:10). The Decepticons blast off in their shuttle with the energon they need to conquer Cybertron and the universe, and all Prime can do is watch, distraught from the ground.
So who saves the day (7:00)? Mirage, one of the seventeen other Autobot soldiers. And what’s more profound to a young kid watching the episode is remembering that earlier Mirage wanted to write off Earth and go home. He could have done just that. He had snuck aboard the Decepticon ship, but when the time came, he sabotaged their victory and escaped even at the cost of his dream. We learn that people can change if given the the opportunity. We learn that desperate situations can occasionally bring out the best in people. And we learn that anyone can make a difference.
"Don't make it weird!"
Those are the lessons I want to pass on to my children, not like those horribly unhelpful “Knowing is Half the Battle” PSA’s at the end of every episode of G.I. Joe, which I’ll be discussing in the third and final installment of this feature.
To Be Concluded in Part 3
Back to Part 1