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Transformers 2: Offensive Archetypes in Disguise

Internet buzz about Michael Bay's (director of landmark crap-tion films like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island) latest film Transformers 2 has mostly centered around who has the most scathing review, how hot Megan Fox is, and a few murmurs concerning coded racism in two of the robots.

The rumors are true: twins Mudflap and Skids are Stepin Fetchits. They constantly fight, they talk in ebonics, and exist only for "comedic" effect. Just visually comparing the two, the Twins are complete messes compared to the other "good" robots.

versus...

(That's Optimus Prime, alpha male of the universe. Autobots want to be him, Deceptacons want to....kill him--stop me if my plot synopsis is getting too dicey. When not in robot form, he's is a hulking, diesel-guzzling eighteen wheeler--no wonder he's such close buds with the US Army!)

Michael Bay's response to the criticism is flip, saying,"We're just putting more personality in. I don't know if it's stereotypes — they are robots, by the way." In the same AP article, Allyson Nadia Field of UCLA explains how robots, or crows, or aliens, can actually be stereotypes: "There's a persistent dehumanization of African-Americans throughout Hollywood that displaces issues of race onto non-human entities. It's not about skin color or robot color. It's about how their actions and language are coded racially."

Eh. Says Bay, "Listen, you're going to have your naysayers on anything. It's like is everything going to be melba toast? It takes all forms and shapes and sizes." Yep. All forms and shapes and sizes and stereotypes.

For just a brief glimpse of these characters, fast forward to :25 of this preview:

And believe it or not, the twins aren't the only racially problematic issues of the movie. The opening scene is a textbook definition of the Native Other. Conflating all brown people, a nameless, mute, half-clothed and body-painted tribe hunts…a tiger….in the desert (and if I followed the idiotic plot throughout the movie--not easy!--I think that desert is supposed to be in Egypt. You know, Egypt! Land of tigers and aborigines). In one shot, a hunter opens his mouth and yells something. It's done in slow motion and emphasizes the baring of his teeth, and it seemed like a very purposeful way of dehumanizing him. Then there's the citizens of Jordan and Egypt who are rendered invisible, speechless, and militarily-impotent (Jordanian soldiers fly in to assist the US against the robots--yes I watched the movie this long--but end up crashing.)

Apparently the sequel has brought in more women than the original movie as well, but not for its strong female roles. Transformers is soaked in the male gaze, from when the dad of Shia LeBoef's character Sam asks his college-bound son "How long are you gonna be riding that scooter?" which cuts to Megan Fox bent over, ass up on a motorcycle in the shop she works at, to the multiple slow-motion shots of the heroine panting through the desert in a tank top.

The other notable female in the movie, Isabel Lucas, plays a mysterious vixen that Sam meets when he arrives at college (a school so idealized Asher Roth probably has wet dreams over it). At first I was rolling my eyes at another stereotype: Lucas plays the whore to Megan Fox's Madonna, the sex-crazed slut who'll stop at nothing to seduce our hero (doesn't she know he is in a committed relationship?!), when in the middle of sex scene she totally transforms into this creepy, violent Deceptacon (that's an evil Transformer, btw) and then she tries to kill him with this spiky chain thing that comes out of her butt! For a second I was going to argue that by using sex as a means to get what you want can be subversive and empowering but then I remembered I was watching Transformers 2 and that Lucas' character (and all the accompanying crotch shots) are not, in the least, revolutionary. (It was still kinda cool when she tried to kill him with the butt chain).


Heartbreaker in disguise!

The third (and final female character to have more than one line) is LeBoeuf's mother, another atrocious caricature--a hysterical, submissive wife and mother who is subjected to way too many embarrassing lines to address here.

The US military plays a big role in the film—they save the world (by destroying Shanghai, a small Egyptian town, and the Great Pyramids), and are besties with the Autobots (those are the good Transformers!). But despite their strong presence throughout the movie, I counted two women in intelligence or military positions--both shown for a hot second, both white. Two seems to be the magic gender quota in robo-world too, as the only other female robot I spotted besides the sexy co-ed fembot was a motorcycle who briefly appears here and there (I was kinda hoping for a while that the Transformers lived in a gender utopia without sexism). How did I know it was a female Transformer? Well, it's pink, and because it's on the Internet:


Pink + Boobs = Girl

It shouldn't shock anyone that Michael Bay's latest lacks a feminist perspective of film and society. It's just troubling that it's made SO MUCH MONEY.

I don't have the latest numbers, but it pulled in $390.4 million worldwide in five days, breaking historical film records. From Variety:

Transformers 2 came within shouting distance of the best five-day gross of all time: $203.8 million for WB's The Dark Knight. Overseas, the action tentpole grossed $166.1 million as it opened day and date in virtually every territory (pic opened the weekend before in the U.K. and Japan). Official tally was ahead of the Sunday estimate of $162 million. Either way, Transformers 2 scored the second best international opening of all time, after Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($216.3 million), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ($193 million) and Spider-Man 3 ($164.9 million).

There are a TON OF PEOPLE watching this crap! As a friend of mine put it, "Two percent of America saw Transformers this weekend." And Michael Bay obviously sees money as the only indicator of success. His blog Michael Bay Dot Com is super defensive about critics, and he justifies it all with "it's what the people want."

The 400 critics around the globe spoke. Then fans around the world spoke.

Transformers made $60.6 million dollars in the United States for a total of around $100 million from the world on opening day! One of the biggest single days in movie history. Then [sic] never seem to understand that I make movies for people to take a ride and escape.


Michael "No one understands me" Bay

And from IMDB:

There are tons of people who hate me. They hate my movies and whatnot. But you know, hey, my films have made a lot of money around the world. 2-something billion dollars, that's a lot of tickets. They said that I wrecked cinema. They said that my, uh...cutting style. They say I cut too fast. And yet now you see it in movies everywhere. Do I take pride in people knowing my style? I think it's nice people know a director has a style. And you can reinvent yourself too.


Michael "They say I cut too fast" Bay

How will Michael Bay reinvent himself for the third Transformers picture? What coded stereotype will be featured next? Will he introduce a fourth female character or cut it down to two? Maybe 1.5? Which new city will the United States save by bombing to rubble? Has any other reasonable person even SEEN this movie?! Lemme know!

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Comments

14 comments have been made. Post a comment.

(Spoilers, if anyone cares)

Arcee also dies in the film. So if you're a female robot (WHY COULD THEY NOT HAVE MADE THE ROBOTS GENDERLESS), you're either a seductress or you die.

Let's not forget...

...that these movies are supposedly based on a cartoon that debuted in 1984 presumably for a demographic of little boys. Don't get me wrong. I am as sick as one can be of hearing about Megan Fox and her having to trot around in various skimpy costumes for Michael Bay to potentially approve for her overly-sexualized character. (Sorry for the hearsay here. I read that bit in a regional newspaper, and I can't find an online citation for it.) However, genderless transformers? This isn't Metropolis (unfortuntely).

I'm not a long time fan of the cartoon series or anything, but I've been doing some scratch-the-surface, Wikipedia-type research, and there were definitely female transformers in the original series. Here's a little sketch someone did of the pink one with boobies, or Arcee. She was created in 1986 (pink and perhaps even more busty than her 2009 version). And, she was originally supposed to be in Transformers (2007) but the online fans strongly objected due "to the fact that there was not enough time in the movie to explain the presence of a 'female' in a robotic race," and so, she was dropped from the script.

I absolutely agree (even without seeing the film in its entirety) that the limited roles all these women/female robots are allowed to play is bullshit. And, I think there was a lot that could have been done differently without totally shitting on the original series. It's just really obvious that was not Bay's aim.

Amanda L. Kraft

You forgot Sam's roommate,

You forgot Sam's roommate, astonishingly not white (or at least the actor isn't), who at first seems cool, but then is portrayed as an incompetent coward and made a laughingstock. I was really disappointed.

word

You're totally right about how he's competent and a little cool at first and then made a loser coward. I think both his character (who's Latino) and Tyrese Gibson's character both are the token non-white (male) second-in-commands but have nothing to really contribute to the plot but forgettable one-liners.

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

Hm, Volcom?

For some reason, I'm more interested in how much Volcom paid (if anything) for that super bright, peachy-orange product placement.

Amanda L. Kraft

Hacksville

Michael Bay is a hack and a half. He and Jerry Bruckheimer revel in their idiotic male camaraderie flicks. They boil down masculinity to its simplest, most palpable form and throw it up on the screen with lots of well-choreographed explosions. BS on that. I’m particularly peeved at Megan Fox because she keeps agreeing to be in these dumb faux machismo movies and then dares to call Wonder Woman a “dumb character.” But don’t worry, big bad daddy Michael Bay has already “put Megan Fox in her place:” http://www.hollyscoop.com/megan-fox/transformers-director-puts-megan-fox...

Personally, I’ve refused to watch every single Michael Bay production since Pearl Harbor. I won’t give him my money or my anger. He doesn’t deserve it. I will continue to tout good action directors, like Michael Mann, who always makes thoughtful, beautifully constructed movies with male characters like Heat, Collateral, Miami Vice, and Public Enemies. Women may not be at the front of the narrative in his movies, but they’re always depicted as equally strong and brave people.

?

Does it make me a bad person for enjoying the movie. I thought it was fun. I did notice the two robots and I thought that was wrong as well. I also noticed that there were only two females in the entire army. But, over all isn't it just a movie made for entertainment purposes only? Are we asking too much from a summer blockbuster?

It matters

It is vitally important for a movie to exhibit positive representations of minorities, women, the GLBTQ crowd, etc. because movies are windows to culture. Millions upon millions of dollars are raked in by movie studios every week because people go see countless movies “just for entertainment.” When films perpetuate negative stereotypes or foster prejudiced ways of thinking, these masses of people are guided into thinking the same way. I’m not saying every single audience member is a sheep or completely susceptible to these cheap ploys, but a great deal of people don’t think about what they’re watching and will undoubtedly be influenced. Michael Bay knows what he’s peddling because he’s addressed the criticisms from critics and movie goers alike. For every ticket someone buys to Transformers, The Proposal, or something as blatantly misogynistic as Obsessed, they are essentially re-affirming the studio’s slacker attitude regarding positive characterizations and storylines. Why would they put in more effort into eliminating racism, sexism, or homophobia if no one cares and they earn hundreds of millions of dollars every single day?

Also, it’s all about the opening weekend - - so if you really want to see some shitty blockbuster, try to wait until it’s been out awhile. Studios plan sequels and such based on the opening weekend box office results alone and that‘s where they earn most of their money back.

that's entertainment

That a film may be made for entertainment purposes only doesn't mean that it serves entertainment purposes only. It also creates part of each culture in which it is consumed, and the more widely it is consumed, the more significant its contribution to the makeup of that culture is.

Tolerance of the blinding, white-hot racism (and lesser, but still pretty terrible, sexism) that pervaded the first Michael Bay Transformers film is what made this one cranking it up a notch possible. If that had actually had any impact on people's willingness to fork over their bucks that time or this, then there would be pressure to change those things.

Michael Bay manhood in question

You know what, I am calling out Michael Bay- if you are reading this and want to man up this is an invitation to apply for the ass kicking of a lifetime.

I watched Transformers when I was a kid. I was 6 years old and happy as old hell when pink (I hated pink but dealt) Arcee came rolling out to play third or forth fiddle to Ronimus Prime in the animated feature. I bought those toys even though I wasn’t being marketed to, and I was influenced by the ideology. So I wasn’t a target market, robots in disguise are fricking cool. I was expecting a trip down old memory lane, hoping to applaud with my guy friends.

Sure, squirming uncomfortably while women are being paraded half naked on the big screen is a normal part of the movie going experience these days, and maybe I should have been prepared. Of course the marketing world gets precedence when it comes to the messages they are going to bombard us with. If you haven’t the wisdom to realize you aren’t the target market, understand they don’t give a sweet copulation how you feel about their film: it’s your own damn fault for showing up.

I get that, I am a good little consumer. I like the products I am told to like and spend where I am supposed to spend.

And I am slowly understanding I am naught but a frail reed against the onslaught of masculinist backlash against feminism.

I cope, I keep my feminazi garbage to myself at gatherings of all but the most leftist men, and I shave my legs and try to get laid in a very good girl manner.

But that pee are eye see kay just crouched over some of the fondest memories of my innocent childhood and took a steaming hot dump on all of them. My friends, guys I love and respect are not getting why I am miffed the only female representations in that movie are doltish or pure uncut sex objects.

I WAS A KID LIKE YOU AND I WANTED TO BE AN AUTOBOT YOU EXCREMENT HEADS!!!!!!!!! I was there in the eighties when there were grudging female archetypes I could get my brain around, or at least not be utterly threatened or insulted by what I saw on the screen. And they still managed to sell toys to boys even then.

And yet here I am in my late twenties going to the same theater as guy friends my age thinking I can reasonably expect if not an improvement on the movie going experience at least as much gender equality as I enjoyed while I was a kid.

And there I was, wondering if they were entirely serious about the whole show, waiting for the moment when the heroine redeemed her soft porn performance for just a moment of ingenuity to give her a reason to exist other than to be jacked off to. Nothing.

I got two hours plus of fuel for rage for my ten dollars. It is war, it is on. Mess with my pay equity, mess with my body image, mess with my career, mess with every and all aspect of my life but DO NOT MESS WITH MY CARTOONS.

Michael Bay, you can continue about your life joining the ranks of moral rapists like those folks at Girls Gone Wild or any random show on Spike, and you will doubtlessly win great success and tons of dollars in this fashion. But if you do not step up right now and face me mano et femo then know from now until time immemorial you are a gutless coward and deserve every bitter retribution Karma sends your way.

Rant off.

Blech...

I was invited to see this movie with some friends and found it not only really weird and cheesy (worst dialogue and plot ... ever) but incredibly racist and sexist. I lost count of all the gratuitous slow-mo running shots of Megan Fox. And as one of my car pals put it after her first appearance in the movie (bent over, ass to camera, in a half-shirt and Daisy Dukes airbrushing a motorcycle), "Yeah, that's totally how I airbrush." It was profoundly disappointing, made even worse by the dozens of patrons filing out of the theater around me (plus the millions around the world) talking about how awesome it was.

I agree, but then again I don't

I agree with everything you've said. I agree with every argument the critics have made against this movie. I'm a feminist and I was offended by the (I've stolen this from another blog) Racistobots. Micheal Bay is a total ass and doesn't understand anything in society and is just another privileged white male that doesn't see how his actions harm society. That being said, I still liked the movie. I still went and saw the late showing the day it came out and only slept 2 hours before dragging myself into work. I am a woman and I like movies that go boom boom. I like serious and deep movies, too, but I just can't watch those movies all the time. I get too depressed. Yea, there is a lot that's bad about the movie, but I like to look at the positive. At least this time we got female robots. (BTW, there are 3 motorcycle female autobots - they don't last long, but they're there). Its just like the Grindhouse movies (which I just saw). Yea, there is a lot of exploitation of women and a lot of male gaze, but doesn't it just make you feel good that those ladies at the end of DeathProof beat the living daylights out of Kurt Russell? They got the best of him because they were good at their professions (stunt women), a profession that is typically male oriented. Yeah, mindless violence is bad, but its a movie and sometimes I just like to sit and be mindless for a couple of hours. Yea, its not perfect. I would like this to be more positive and less stereotypical and a lot offends me. But, I can't throw a fit everytime something offends me. I think the best thing for me to do is to discuss it with someone, especially someone who didn't notice it, and hope to open one or two minds. There is no point in getting angry because Micheal Bay is a dumb ass. Let him be a dumb ass and maybe try to change some other, more open, people's minds.

(Also, harder Captcha Math questions, please)

Agreed on the Racistbots

Not sure how Bay puts off criticism by claiming that these are just robots. They are characters that reflect the personalities of people.

The worst part was when the inner-city robots proclaimed that they couldn't read. Jeeeeez.

So this is probably going to

So this is probably going to get me in trouble but before I knew who Megan Fox was, and I didn't know who she was for sure until this latest Transformers 2, whenever I would see her in pictures I always used to wonder, who's the pornstar, is she trying to cross over...? Seriously, isn't there something porn-y and artificial about her?
As one of the main heroes she just was walking around with that open mouth "sexy" face all the time.