Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'm sure this is the best thing I could have done with the past hour.

Seeing as how there's a new Transformers movie coming in a few months, I felt it was important to have a discussion of the sociopolitical themes underlying the Transformers backstory. We are probably all aware that the story has seen many revisions, through many toy lines and cartoon series, several comic books, and a couple of movies. Some of the versions of the backstory have been stupid. I have to say, however, that the original, which I think went along with the first cartoon series, was the best. I'm not actually sure, but I may have actually made up most of this.

The Transformers of today were, essentially, originally two product lines, produced on a factory world called Cybertron. They were designed and distributed by an alien race called the Quintessons, who were featured in the first Transformers movie, though none of this story was made apparent there. The two major products consisted of a line of military hardware, and a line of industrial hardware. Apparently the Quintessons dealt mechanized arms and infrastructure all over the Galaxy. Over time, their products improved in sophistication to the point where, in sci-fi language we might say, the robots became 'sentient'. This probably happened gradually, as new models and technologies were introduced. At any rate, the products of Cybertron began to acquire an awareness of the complexities of their existence, and they began to see themselves as slaves.

What happened next was likely a series of 'slave revolts', culminating in a Cybertronian Revolutionary War against the Quintessons. The Quintessons tried to pit the robots of Cybertron against eachother, using their weaponized creations in an attempt to suppress the Revolution. They weren't successful in this, as even the military robots wanted their freedom. In the end, the Quintessons lost everything, having placed the whole of their civilization on the back of the Cybertron factory. We see them in the Transformers movie as a race of insane monsters, executing one another for nonsensical crimes, apparently forgotten by the Transformers themselves.

What followed was the Cybertronian Golden Age, where the robots of Cybertron worked to create a new, independent civilization. We don't know exactly how long this lasted, but it was thousands of years before the rift between the military and the workers opened up to armed conflict. Undoubtedly, the style of governance of the military robots and the industrial robots was different. Power sharing and compromise was long the rule, but eventually the leaders of an extremist faction of the military decided it was time to take power for themselves, and to redirect the resources of Cybertron into galactic expansion. We know this faction as the Decepticons, and they have been led from the beginning by a military robot named Megatron.

Megatron's coup destroyed the Cybertronian government, and he quickly instituted martial law. The split between the military and the industrials was not absolute, but was nearly so; most of the military robots accepted Megatron's rule as a positive evolution of Cybertronian society, while most of the 'civilian' robots now considered their way of life under siege. As a result, there was soon an industrial resistance movement, led by a sturdy pro-worker faction which we today know as the Autobots, and so began the Cybertronian Civil Wars.

The Autobots were by their nature unprepared for violent conflict, and at first there were disastrous setbacks. Over time, however, the Autobots were able to exploit their mastery of Cybertronian infrastructure to deprive the Decepticons of vital resources. Finally, an Autobot given the name Optimus Prime ("Best and First") emerged, and under his leadership the Decepticons were forced to retreat to the outlying Cybertronian satellite worlds.

These are interesting, particularly modern political themes. We have capitalists (the Quintessons), facing a slave revolt. This is a familiar theme, but the twist here is that these slaves were actually created by their masters. This must be an industrialist's worst nightmare: that not only will his workers will revolt but that his products and property will turn against him.

Next we have a revolution, where an alliance of the military (we can probably best think of these as the 'soldiers' rather than the 'establishment') and the workers overthrows the master class. This is an idealized version of a communist revolution, where the workers are aided by the army to overthrow the capitalists. In communist revolutions of the 20th century, the military begins the war utilized by the ruling class, but over time it gradually is absorbed by the revolutionaries (see China, Russia, Cuba, etc.).

Finally, military coups often follow social revolutions when the army perceives that the government has become compromised on one way or another (e.g. China after 1911). This is then followed by asymmetric civil war, where a non-military socialist movement attemps to wear down a military dictatorship by using a sympathetic populace to their advantage (see China in the 40's, the Viet Cong in the 60's, etc.). Usually, however, this is not successful, and what actually happens is that after many years the military government sees its work as done, and allows a transition to a softer and more democratic system (see Spain, Chile, Taiwan, etc.).

Let the discussion of the sociopolitical themes underlying the Transformers backstory begin. Go!!!


  1. i don't understand...too confusing~~~

  2. everything i learned about transformers was from wikipedia during the last few months or when i was 7, not much happened in between.

  3. i mean, i am not a transformers freak.

  4. This was amazing. Very well thought out and to the point. In essence, I loved it.