When Lit Crit Fails: Star Trek and the Transformers

Sometimes a giant transforming robot isn’t a Republican, it’s just a giant transforming robot. A few years back, when Star Trek was all the rage, someone wrote a literary criticism of Star Trek, “The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek: An Analysis of References And Themes in the Television Series.” It was interesting, but often wrong.

I remember two distinct errors. First, there was the claim that the transporters represented…hell, something. In fact, the reason the transporters were developed wasn’t an attempt to make a subtle point, but because the original show couldn’t afford the cost of a shuttle set, so transporters it was. The second error was arguing that the Borg ship was shaped as a cube to highlight its inhuman nature, particular in contrast to the curved, fluid shapes of the human ships. Intriguing, but goofy: the Borg ship was shaped as a square because, at the time, the computer graphics were too expensive to make it spherical (the show’s designers actually wanted a spherical, Death Star-like thing).
Reading purpose and meaning into things apparently isn’t the sole purview of the creationists (although they are damn good at it, aren’t they?).
Forward to 2007, and the Transformers movie. The conservative blogger Libertas argues that the Transformers celebrates Republican values and other such silliness. Unfortunately, one of the screenwriters doesn’t think so:

All this reveals is two thing[s] — first, this sort of culture score-carding is idiotic. It’s way, way beyond wet-brained. The Variety review, for example, pointed out how Optimus Prime sounded like Bush when he said “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.” What the reviewer plainly does not know is that is the Big Guy’s catchphrase, and if I’d left it out of the first draft a mob of people in cardboard transforming costumes, led by Seth Green and his now full-sized and deadly Robot Chickens, would have gibbed me. I didn’t sit there and say “You know what, I should use this movie as a way to express the righteousness of an international crusade of liberation and nation-building.”
…Second, hopefully this may slooooowly spin you around to the idea that being “pro-American, pro-military and even *gasp* pro-freedom” are not just conservative values. Progressives are also pro-American, pro-military — in my first draft, the Army guys actually have [a] bigger role, although they’re a little grungier and working-class than all shiny and model-y — and *gasp* pro-freedom. We just believe you serve these values in different ways. Demonizing each other is a way the Bastards in Suits try to keep the game going, and keep their little scams in place, so we don’t suddenly notice that we’re all on the same side, we all support the troops.

Can’t we watch a movie about giant robots without politicizing it? For Intelligent Designer’s sake, it’s a movie about giant robots.

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5 Responses to When Lit Crit Fails: Star Trek and the Transformers

  1. G Barnett says:

    Seen it twice — my only real semi-political observation about it is that the filmmakers do have a helluva lot of respect for the grunts on the ground, and far less respect for the guys in charge.

  2. K. Engels says:

    Big Difference: When Optimus says ‘freedom is the right of all sentient beings’, he actually means it. Plus Optimus actually knows what the word ‘sentient’ means.

  3. Will Goring says:

    And what the word freedom means.
    And what rights are.
    And… oh, it’s just not worth it. Anyone can see that there’s no credible comparison.

  4. Joshua says:

    This madness just keeps popping up. Like when people were arguing about whether, in 300, Bush was represented by Leonidas or Xerxes. Correct answer: neither. It was a movie about people getting their heads chopped off and kicked into bottomless pits, dammit. Same with 28 Weeks Later, which everybody swore was about Iraq, when for the life of me I thought it was a movie about rabid unzombies killing everybody. (And also about how children ruin everything.)

  5. The Optimus Prime Experiment concurs with your assessment that Transformers is a movie about robots. The most awesome robots in the history of awesome robots. There endeth the lesson.

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