Transformers and the Absence of Peril

I’m so glad that our local public library now carries DVDs of the old 80s Transformers cartoon; the newer versions feature the nauseating combination of whiny robots and even whinier humans.  And I just can’t get into the Mini-Cons mythology. The original series, however, is pretty cool.  It has a lot more humor than I remember catching as a child.  Lots of automotive jokes.  And who can’t help but smile when Megatron gets sassy?

My son, who’s six, simply loves the shows, the toys, and showing me how he can build transforming machines out of his ol’ Duplo blocks.  Transforming robots–what’s not to love, right?–but there may be more to the boy’s obsessive fascination.  He’s the type who wants to know what’s going to happen, especially if anyone is in danger.

When we watch movies as a family, he continually interrupts with questions the film will answer in two minutes.  He doesn’t want to wait; he wants to know now.  I’m currently reading The Hobbit to him, and there’s no shortage or menace or his asking, “Is this the person who will kill the dragon?”

When watching Transformers, he never asks questions or acts anxious, but then, every episode is pretty much the same.  Autobots fight Decepticons, the good guys win, and no one gets deathly hurt or killed.  Their laser guns may as well be water guns.  Once you get the formula, there’s really no peril and no real drama.

I don’t wish my son to feel overly fretful or anxious, but I find myself wondering if these Transformers stories could use a little more peril.   On the flip side, the boy knows from personal experience how unfair and harsh life can be, so I’m not worried that he’s going to develop a cartoonish perspective on the world, and maybe his fixation on the “nothing ever really happens” formula of Transformers functions as a needed comfort.

What say you, Internet?

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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10 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Watch Watership Down with him.

    (Note: Do not, whatever you do, watch Watership Down with him.)

  2. Will Truman says:

    Well, at six, a lack of peril is probably good.

    At some point… Robotech!

  3. Eric M. says:

    Kyle, I’m not sure if you’ve seen the animated “Transformers: The Movie” from 1986 (I haven’t watched all of it myself), but I’m sure a few of the Autobots die in the first few scenes and Optimus Prime himself meets a tragic end. So the movie definitely has some peril and drama…

    • Burt Likko says:

      Warning: contains spoilers.

      I was sort of upset when Optimus Prime died, the way I was upset when Spock died.

      But not so upset as I was about Bambi’s mom.

      • By the time I had seen Bambi as a kid, I had heard from so many adults about how shocking it was when his mom died that I wasn’t all that surprised or disturbed.

  4. I do think everyone needs a little escapism now and then (for example, I recently read Michael Crichton’s “Disclosure”). And maybe Transformers can be that in small doses. I watched that cartoon myself when I was young, although I don’t remember much, other than the fact that robots could turn into cars.

  5. J.L. Wall says:

    If I remember correctly, when I was 6 and watching the Transformers (and, for good measure the GI Joe cartoons) I simultaneously knew but didn’t know how it was going to turn out. There wasn’t so much a question of whether the good guys would win, but of who was going to be the hero, and how. Which is a different kind of suspense.

    Ah, to be 6 and watching the Transformers again!

  6. Boegiboe says:

    I liked watching Transformers when I was probably too old (12) to be watching Transformers. G. I. Joe, too. What I liked about the shows was that I could do my homework at the same time, because the plot was easy to follow, and at the end I’d absorbed a fairly good story about the toys I liked to collect. Of course, it was also an excuse to avoid dealing with my friends’ obsessions with dating, which, for a reason that would only become clear later, made me really uncomfortable.

    So, yeah. Comfort and control. That’s ultimately why I watched it even in adolescence.

  7. Tom Van Dyke says:

    He’s learning that someone has to kill the dragon. It just doesn’t obligingly drop dead. This is good.