If I’m being honest, I didn’t design this column as a soapbox to stand on for which to project my discontent with The Transformers movies. I promise my geeky interests extend beyond the borders of Iacon, but my heart seems to be buried deep inside Vector Sigma while it’s steward, Michael Bay (or “Mike Bae” as I prefer to call him), has discarded the key into the sea of rust. Again. And he keeps doing it. While also giving me and my generation the finger.
Bae recently posted a little teaser on his instagram for the 5th Transformers movie in his now decade old franchise based on some transforming robots that liberally resemble the ones from Hasbro’s toyline based on two earlier japanese toylines based on transforming robots. The teaser features an animation model of Optimus “Murder” Prime’s overly detailed face (because, you know, face “plates” need to be covered in pointless kibble and shit), followed by the reveal of the new logo and title of the 5th movie in the series, “Transformers 5: Knights in Space”. I mean “Transformers: 5 Knights in Space”. I mean “Transformers : The Last Knight”. I mean “Transformers Last Night”. I mean “King Murder and the Space Knights of the ROM table”. One of those.
I’m aware that I stressed patience when reckoning with Hollywood’s interpretation of our childhood heroes in my previous article. I certainly do not intend to undermine that position because it still stands on it’s own. We don’t know how Power Rangers will turn out. This, however, is Bae’s 5th go ‘round. We’ve got a pretty good idea how this will likely shake down.
The greater concern for me is with one simple argument that’s not exclusive to Transformers fans, but it’s used to excuse the same laziness and disrespect for the source material that this series parades into theaters and thoroughly extensive merchandising campaigns as cavalierly as you would expect from commercial extortionists rather than artists moved to create art for the sake of doing what art does. I hear my sisters and brothers of the Transformers fandom drop this point with resignation usually reserved for death, breath, and taxes. It breaks my heart every time.
The excuse: “…but it makes money”.
We’re expected to accept this as reason to allow mediocre handling of something that has emotional value for us while handing over vital monetary income that has real economic value, only to have our values disregarded and, frankly, insulted. I wasn’t using the word “punishment” in my previous article for dramatic emphasis.
Now, I’ll concede to having a history of angrily railing against capitalism, consumerism, and large scale industry in general, but I implore you stay with me for this. I assure you that my working knowledge of economics and free market enterprise is sound. To get on a grandstand and challenge the merit of a movie franchise based on mythology explicitly created to sell a physical product is admittedly dubious. I actually see a hint of beauty in that layer of irony. That doesn’t mean the argument that “movies like ‘Transformers 5: Swords Are Cool, Right?’ are an inevitability we must indulge as fans” isn’t in itself antiquated and backwards.
There’s a fundamental question that I feel is a good place to start. Why are you interested in the things that interest you in the first place? Was it because you were introduced to this as a child and, as I mentioned in VsTNHL 1.10, you now have a toxic relationship with the universe? Were you introduced as a teenager or young adult and moved enough intellectually or emotionally to continue to explore that universe? I would argue that this exercise has absolutely nothing to do with money. Zero. Maybe you’re an industry geek and the profitability of a franchise is interesting for you, which is fine, but recognize that is a separate interest from the events in the fiction. I’m confident the number of units that G1 figure sold had little to do with the excitement you felt when you unwrapped it on Christmas morning.
There’s a healthy argument that shelling out money for these bad movies and related merchandise contributes to the macro-franchise and enables cooler more fan-focused products outside of the movie stuff to be developed. This may have been true years ago, but not so much anymore. An example in Transformers parlance being the “Generations” line that spawned the current coolness of Combiner Wars and Titans Return being the result of the first movie’s success. I contend that the landscape has changed since then.
In the decade since the first Transformers movie; we’ve seen the rise of the MCU, the success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, the convention explosion, countless remakes and resurgences, and many more geek-focused emerging properties. Congratulations, grown-ups, you’re now a unique and rather large market greater in number than the niche of “comic book nerds” or “collectors”. That’s a significant change.
So where does this big money that’s being made go? I’ll spare you the diatribe about supply side economics, but I will say that it doesn’t work in this context any better than it does in government economics. Remember, Paramount and Hasbro have a working relationship, but they are ultimately separate companies on paper. There’s no master accountant over the two entities that has your interest in mind. One aspect of the intellectual property doesn’t necessarily support the other. A faceless corporate executive’s 6-7 figure bonus doesn’t help you out in any way, either.
I’m not the biggest fan of the phrase “vote with your dollars”, but framing us as a voting bloc may help illustrate my point. Think about how Batman Vs Superman went down. It would be foolish to assume that the dramatic second week box office drop off of that film, coupled with internet backlash, didn’t contribute to the subsequent shake-up at Warner Brothers’ DC films arm that saw writer Geoff Johns ushered into the executive seat. You may not be the entirety of the equation, comrade, but they definitely see you.
Look, none of this is to suggest that you’re not “allowed” to enjoy this stuff if you do. I’m disenchanted by the vocal dissatisfaction of the current film franchise from the fandom being shackled to this sense of powerlessness to resist indulging something they don’t like. It’s why I sing the praises of IDW’s Transformers books at every opportunity. It’s not Transformers that sucks. It’s these stupid movies.
Here’s my suggestion; How about not going to see “Trans 5: ROM The Space Knight is my Homeboy” on opening weekend? Just don’t. See it later if you wish, but remember that you’re not obligated to be there the moment the doors open. An opening weekend flop won’t kill the franchise, but you can bet that Mike Bae’s reign of garbage will end once it gets the people that sign his paychecks’ attention. Be the invisible hand, not a slave to it. You’ve got nothing to lose but the chains.
Also, if anyone wants to draw me a mashup of the Che Guevara profile with Megatron’s face or Karl Marx holding the Matrix, I would gladly appreciate it. I’m trying to get more tattoos.
Versus The New Half-life is a satirical feature series documenting the experience of modern geek life beyond the 18-34 demographic. Are we simply nostalgia driven super-consumers refusing to embrace adulthood by indulging childhood fantasy or have the expectations of being an adult changed? Writer J. Aaron Poole over-analyzes various geek fandoms to explore common themes and appropriate behavior from limbo as an indubitable grown-up under the age of 40.
J. Aaron Poole is a 21st century writer, musician, and geek culture advocate. He is a member of the American Sociological Association with an academic interest in the relationship between media, technology, and modern culture. Currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia, Aaron can be found making absurd comments on Twitter, PSN, and other social media platforms as @JAaronPoole.