Transformers: A reflection of America’s dualistic nature

This goddamn Hub channel keeps playing terrible cartoons from my childhood. It started with G.I. Joe and now its Transformers. Let me state up front that Transformers is a terrible cartoon, with convoluted plotlines, horrifically inane dialogue, and is actually a stupid idea when thinking about it – various vehicles transforming into giant robots = stupid. I know a good deal of people like Transformers and I don’t mean to insult their intelligence (which I hope I’m not doing) but I just find it insipid; I have no idea why I liked this as a child.

Last night I recorded an episode about a group of Autobots and Decepticons traveling back to medieval times. The other episodes I watched (or rather, tried to watch) recently were too dumb to finish but I felt a time travel episode may prove entertaining. Turns out it was. However, it wasn’t the antics of these transforming robots that I enjoyed; it was the critique of energy consumption that I enjoyed more.

According to Wikipedia here’s a description of the Transformers’ primary energy supply, Energon:

Energon (sometimes spelled with a capital letter, sometimes not) is the preferred fuel of the Transformer race. It takes many forms, including ore, crystal, gas, and raw energy, but it is most commonly used by Transformers in its liquid state, which is stored in many different mediums, most famously the energon cube. It is ubiquitous in Cybertronian culture; in addition to being the Transformers’ primary “foodstuff”, it also serves as the default power source for their machines and weapons, and is even used as a currency, a catch-all fuel of life, technology, war and commerce on Cybertron and beyond. This widespread use also comes in defiance of its extreme volatility: energon is prone to detonating explosively if mishandled, and is even used as ammunition in order to exploit this attribute.

Sounds like oil, doesn’t it? Supposedly the Transformers depleted the energy supply of their home world and are now searching the galaxy for more. Earth, apparently, contains a great deal of Energon and the two sides (Autobots and Decepticons) are fighting over it. Maybe I’m incorrect but doesn’t this sound like what many believe is the primary motivation behind the Iraq invasion? From a Middle Eastern perspective, wouldn’t America seem like the Decepticons? The Decepticons are a ruthless group of energy hungry fascists, willing to break oaths, kill civilians, and destroy fragile ecosystems to control natural resources. Doesn’t the United States do all three things mentioned above? I’m not trying to completely bash the nation housing my parents coupling (which popped me out) but I’m just playing devil advocate.

The above Energon description also states the fuel is a currency, much like oil. However, unlike oil, the Transformers use Energon for sustenance. Oil’s only really valuable for electricity and powering vehicles; it has no use outside of our socially constructed reality and carrot’s more valuable than gasoline without the society we inhabit. The Wikipedia source also assets that, “True energon is an emanation of Primus, the creator-god of the Transformers,” suggesting Energon is religious in nature. Essentially, the Transformers believe the energy sustaining them is part of a deity, a “part or parcel of God” (Thoreau). I’m having difficulty seeing the difference the predominant Western religion (capitalism) and the Transformers. For capitalism’s survival we need energy. We’ve built an entire civilization around the flow of power; without it we come to a standstill. Without Energon, the Transformers die. The similarities are interesting.

Earlier in this essay I mentioned the Decepticons’ similarities with U.S. foreign policy, especially regarding oil. I feel placing all this exclusively on our government is a fallacy, since America’s attempts to usurp the natural resources of other nations isn’t a solo effort. Instead it’s done in conjuncture with various energy conglomerates, which are also responsible for subjugating indigenous populations for resources. Shell’s actions in Nigeria come to mind, especially Shell bribing Nigeria’s puppet government into killing dissidents, fighting for the survival of their people and environment. Once again, the Decepticons engage in similar activities, manipulating populations (through both fear and violence) so they can accrue Energon.

The Autobots exhibit many positive traits common to America’s population and government, whereas the Decepticons are the antithesis: conniving, crude, and malevolent. I would be wrong if I said the United States directly resembles the Decepticons since our nation, and even our government, is capable of munificent actions. It’s possible the Autobots and Decepticons represent the duality of America – its institutions and citizenry. The Decepticons symbolize American corporations and multi-national conglomerates, which according to the documentary The Corporation, are both psychotic and sociopaths. They also represent many facets of America’s foreign policy, which many times are belligerent and vile. The Autobots are the benevolent aspects of America’s foreign policy: kind, compassionate, and helpful. The Autobots’ actions, like America’s, aren’t always altruistic, but there are many instances where our nation’s actions benefit both us and those on the receiving end. The Autobots want energy, but they’re not willing to destroy for it, somewhat resembling America’s food for oil program (although many aspects of this agenda are quite self-serving). Ultimately, I can’t help believing the protagonists and antagonists of this mediocre cartoon resemble two sides of the same coin, showing the duality of American, and also Western, ideology. Like Trey Parker and Matt Stone said once on South Park (and unfortunately I’m paraphrasing here), “America wants to have its cake and eat it too.”

4 responses to “Transformers: A reflection of America’s dualistic nature

  1. Encrazed Crafts

    I wouldn’t so much say it’s a Western duality, but a possible overall human nature thang’. Anyone can be caring, and anyone can be careless. War for resources has gone on since homosapiens first started. We need food, shelter. If someone else needs it and both parties like the location; skirmish at best. Add in large countries instead of little tribes and the word “war” holds a lot more weight to it, even though the lives of those involved is no less important. Bigger countries merely lead to bigger death tolls, no matter which side is on the winning end. To borrow your idea, I’ll close this comment with a paraphrased quote as well: “War does not decide who is right, but who is left.”

  2. People have fought since the beginning of humanity, primarily for resources (land, food, etc.), but I was looking at it from mostly an energy perspective. The Autobots and Decepticons are constantly fighting over energy, which is abundant on Earth. After watching Transformers, for the first time in many years, I couldn’t help seeing the similarities between the Decepticons and the Western appetite for oil. The devious practices of the large oil companies and Western nations (the Iraq wars, exploitation of third world populations, etc.) largely resemble the Decepticons, who’ll stoop to any lengths to accomplish their goals. However, I felt its unfair saying multi-national oil conglomerates and the United States are one dimensional, solely embracing malevolent ideals. Instead I thought America (both its public and private institutions) is a mixture of both Transformer factions. I don’t disagree this assessment is a reflection of people in general, but when compared to the Transformers – and the focus of their missions regarding Energon cubes – it really reflects Western actions regarding oil.

    Unfortunately, people are brutish animals, prone to violent outbursts and self-serving actions. It’s probably in our nature; we feel we need an abundance of resources, enough for many years, and will kill others for them without looking for any alternatives. Capitalism, which isn’t completely dangerous, falters without continual growth – regardless of who it hurts. I mention the documentary The Corporation in my post and I believe it’s a biting critique of modern capitalism, especially corporate culture. It’s a little long but it exposes corporate motivations, demonstrating their lack of empathy for anybody. I’m not certain corporations and the Decepticons aren’t similar: both will harm the general population for their own gain.

    • Encrazed Crafts

      Ah, I gotcha. Yeah, it’s really beyond frustrating. Working retail you constantly see the flaws of most of the capitalistic society. Guys up top are so far out of the realm of what is actually going down on the ground floor which where all their money is actually made. Then they dare blame the workers for possible stealing when it is their own customers doing that, and then they cut hours or simply do not hand out raises for years until minimum wage forces their hand. At that point, what authority does a snooty manager have? Oh, yes! I’m sorry I did not force this terribly made product on a friendly customer that comes in weekly that knows most of the staff by name! Oh dear! I might be let go…from a job that pays as much as any other in the state, if not lower.

      Friend of mine has a colleague that has worked at this one place for 28 years. The company decided to give out coupons in a flyer, which combined with their usual 50% off that section lead to massive orders at 70% off. She is normally backed up without that extra surge of business they just got, and the company is refusing to allow her to work extra hours or over time. How can she possibly fill the orders in any reasonable amount of time if they are tying her hands like that?

      Additionally they are refusing to allow the manager to give *any* section of the store more hours so it looks like a disaster struck. Half full shelves that cannot be restocked because the work hours are just not there. A handful of people on bare bones time-cards cannot run a store, it just is not possible to do THAT many jobs with that little people.

      And then the guys up top whine they didn’t make another couple of percentage points this year. If the morons weren’t so blinded by greed or asinine handbook-logic to see paying additional workers a simple ten or twenty hours a week they would not only earn that money back, but easily triple their income.

  3. There are two books you should check out. The first is Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, which is about a woman trying to survive on minimum wage for a year. The second is Naomi Klein’s No Logo, about corporate America, how brand awareness is influencing America, and ultimately, the world. Klein points out that many CEO’s revolve from company to company, putting in some time and then moving on to another post. There’s no loyalty to the corporation or its employees and after they’ve plundered they move on to another place, taking large bonuses with them. Their tenure doesn’t help the company in the long run, benefiting only a select group of people. It’s totally absurd.

    I used to work retail and I’m glad I don’t anymore. There are aspects of it I miss but the higher ups don’t listen to employees, relying instead on pointless “synergy” and bottom dollar strategies that actually, once again, only benefit a select few. When I worked at Suncoast we weren’t allowed extra hours and got in trouble when we couldn’t clean the store and help customers at the same time. They expect too much from employees, all the while screwing them over.

    Luckily my current job does things right (for the most part) and understands we’re only human.

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