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June 11, 2011 7:00 PM   Subscribe

A Glitch in the Allspark? Transformers-obsessed comic artist David Willis reports on an unfortunate quip about sexual orientation at Botcon 2011 through the eyes of his gay character Ethan of Shortpacked!.
posted by emjaybee (58 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know whether to feel angry and horrible that people continue to say things in public which basically mean that homosexuals have something inherently wrong with them...

...or to be thrilled that we live in a time where these kinds of comments are brought to light more openly and immediately and quickly disseminated than ever before.

Seriously, the more people are called out on this kind of bullshit, the sooner they'll stop saying it out loud. And the sooner they stop saying it out loud, the fewer people who will grow up and mature in a world where this kind of worldview is passed along. And eventually the whole mindset will die out.

And bravo for that website for having a comment stream which doesn't peel the paint off the walls.
posted by hippybear at 7:10 PM on June 11, 2011 [21 favorites]


Here's the quip on video.
posted by Leucistic Cuttlefish at 7:10 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


(also, the first link in the FPP directs the browser to the comment box at the very bottom of the page intended. Could the mods fix that link to read http://www.shortpacked.com/2011/comic/book-13/02-the-new-girl/glitch/ ? Thanks.)
posted by hippybear at 7:10 PM on June 11, 2011


Crap, hippybear, thanks for pointing that out. Yes mods please fix!
posted by emjaybee at 7:15 PM on June 11, 2011


[Fixed. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 7:20 PM on June 11, 2011


Glitch in the Allspark. Can we say that now instead of Big Bang?
posted by humannaire at 7:22 PM on June 11, 2011


An old friend and I have agreed that when somebody gives you something deeply substandard, something cheap, plastic, unsatisfying and plain old wrong, that person can be said to have "given you a Gobot." If you've ever wanted a Transformer and been given a Gobot, you know what I'm talking about.

This is some bullshit, and David Willis and society in general have clearly been given a Gobot right here.
posted by mhoye at 7:36 PM on June 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


Can anybody tell exactly what was said in the video? It sounds somewhat different from the account given in the comic, but I can't quite make it out. I imagine the panelists' precise words are important to calibrating the appropriate level of outrage here.

What it sounds like to me:

"[something] isn't necessarily uh... They don't have to reproduce, so they don't have to really have that kind of thing going on..."

"There was a glitch in the [something] of Allsparks. The day the spark uh... Yeah [something]"
posted by Rhaomi at 7:37 PM on June 11, 2011


Ever feel like some FPPs have too many links? Let me get this straight (ha!)... he made an unfortunate quip that insinuated homosexuality was a "glitch" and then called himself out on it?

This is registering very low on my outrage meter. People say unfortunate shit all the time. We're on a panel, we want to say something clever, our brains are firing along making linguistic short-cuts trying to come up with a joke. Unfortunate stuff happens.

A friend of mine killed herself recently by jumping in front of a train. The other day I used the phrase "thrown under the bus" in front of her ex. Felt horrible about it for a second, then got over it. Shit happens.

Given the facts as I understand them, I don't know if I'd classify this as a bullshit mindset. That being said I think we can all look forward to the day when this is no longer an issue.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:41 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or maybe this is a comment someone else made? I'm not sure why I thought he made it himself and then called himself out on it, which changes things. Too much wine?
posted by nathancaswell at 7:45 PM on June 11, 2011


Nathan, Willis is a webcomic artist who attended a Transformers con, and heard a panelist make this remark. Then he blogged on it via the persona of one of his characters (who is also Transformers obsessed and was attending the same con in the strip).
posted by emjaybee at 7:51 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


And said character, Ethan, is gay.
posted by maryr at 7:52 PM on June 11, 2011


And very into Transformers.
posted by maryr at 7:53 PM on June 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I'm realizing that now... I think I read Transformers obsessed comics artist and for some reason assumed that he had been invited to talk on the panel. Carry on.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:53 PM on June 11, 2011


The sentence might have been easier to parse if the offending quipper was identified.
posted by lumensimus at 7:54 PM on June 11, 2011


> And very into Transformers.

ROFL. Seriously. For the first time in my life. That joke was precision-targeted directly at me.
posted by Nomyte at 8:02 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's great that there's starting to be less tolerance for homophobia in geekdom. At least in the webcomics I read.

the video game blogs leave a lot to be desired, though.
posted by smirkette at 8:12 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


So basically some guy implied that a robot is homosexual (whatever that means for robots) because of a glitch. This is extrapolated to "people are only gay because something went wrong," or something along those lines, right? Well, what's the problem with that? What if that were true? My index fingers are unusually stubby because of a genetic "mistake." It doesn't really matter. They still work, so it's not a problem. It's just a little unusual. Like being gay. Now, if the guy were saying that it was a mistake that needed to be corrected, that's something else. But I don't think that's the case.
posted by hjo3 at 8:15 PM on June 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ascribing being gay or any of the different modes of human sexuality as a "mistake" is not only offensive, othering and belittling, it's also probably wrong on the genetic level.

It's not just a random mutation like being born with an extra pair of arms or one eye - it's actually long been a part of our evolutionary fabric and progress. It's inherently part of what it means to be human. The adjectives "glitch" or "mistake" discard this notion as though gay people are simply an unfortunate anomaly. 1 in 10 or so isn't an anomaly - it's normal.

As to what this guy said? *shrug* I can't even tell what the context is or half of what he's actually saying from the video.
posted by loquacious at 8:24 PM on June 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


"mistake" means incorrect, wrong, bad, accident, undesired.... need I go on?
posted by rebent at 8:25 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


*exits hastily*
posted by UrbanEye at 8:29 PM on June 11, 2011


Yeah, that comment was totally babies. Good for Willis.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:37 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's see - Wikipedia has 276 pages in the category "Autobots", 234 in the category "Decepticons", and 25 pages in the category "Female Transformers". Ballpark 20:1 ratio of males to females? If there's a glitch in the Allspark I don't think it has to do with one of the "male" giant asexual robots being gay, unless it's a glitch that only one of them is gay.

Sure, the panelist gave a stupid and insensitive answer, but as they say, ask a stupid question...
posted by mstokes650 at 8:59 PM on June 11, 2011


HOW CAN ROBOTS BE GENDERED OR GAY? THEY ARE FUCKING *ROBOTS*.

Fuck you, homophobe robot movie makers. Your movies were awful anyway.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:20 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whatever, I'm gay and I don't see it as offensive. I think you guys are too thin-skinned.
posted by hjo3 at 10:33 PM on June 11, 2011


that person can be said to have "given you a Gobot." If you've ever wanted a Transformer and been given a Gobot, you know what I'm talking about.

I know they have the rep of being a cheap knockoff but weren't gobots around before transformers? Gobots were introduced in 1983 and transformers weren't around until 1984. Were transformers available before that in Japan?
posted by Ad hominem at 10:37 PM on June 11, 2011


The Transformers franchise has been rampantly sexist for years now. Not really any surprise that homophobia has crept in.
posted by koeselitz at 11:01 PM on June 11, 2011


Dunno, seems like it went down a little different to me after watching the video. Guy 1 on panel says something like "transformers don't have sex so none of them are gay". guy 2 then says "there was a glitch in the allspark". Which is a perhaps an explanation for why that particular robot is different,since we had just established there are no gay or straight transformers, not that he is gay due to a glitch.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:17 PM on June 11, 2011


The comic in the first really struck a chord with me. I'm derailing a bit, but that's what I love about comics so much -- much like music, they can say a great deal with few or no words.

I recognized my face in Ethan's. I could write an essay on why such a situation might make me, a gay guy, feel bad . . . but it's all there, in Ethan's expressions and the crowd's reactions. And it was just a few panels.
posted by treepour at 12:10 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


My index fingers are unusually stubby because of a genetic "mistake."

I don't think anyone thinks that God hates people with stubby fingers. If he did, he wouldn't have made short-clawed otters so wonderful.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:43 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find it hard to get fired up about a possible glitchy gay bot just on this evidence alone (I think they've got a bigger problem with the whole gender thing, personally). What really matters to me is how the homosexuality is portrayed. If he's all creepy and stares at the younger bots, then I have a problem; if he's a badass evil robot with a sharp sense of humour and a taste for musicals, then not so much.
posted by londonmark at 3:52 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


if he's a badass evil robot with a sharp sense of humour and a taste for musicals, then not so much.

Yes, heavens forfend he might be a badass gay robot with a sharp sense of humor who is also a rock-and-roller. We have to get the stereotype in there somewhere, somehow, don't we?
posted by hippybear at 4:04 AM on June 12, 2011


Oh gees, fine, he can like bluegrass and setting his farts on fire. But show me something in Transformers that isn't a stereotype.
posted by londonmark at 4:12 AM on June 12, 2011


Well, Transformers is a very broad church, covering a huge range of different cultural products. This, in particular, is Transformers: Prime, a newish animated series on The Hub, a network co-owned by The Discovery Network and Hasbro.

It's avowedly a children's program, and a children's network, so there may be unfortunate but compelling political reasons not to say outright that a particular character is gay, since this is the kind of thing that gets a particular kind of parent very upset. However, there's also this periphery demographic, which in the case of Transformers media is quite possibly larger than the core audience (if "core audience" is even a meaningful term, here). Serving both those audiences in a non-contradictory fashion is a tricky balance.

I think I see londonmark's point. It's not just about representation, but also about characterization. Knockout is a Decepticon, and also a preening narcissist and sadist - you can see how the perceived effeminacy could be seen as taken from a "bits box" of characteristics to give to bad guys, and if he is the only gay character it doesn't necessarily help a lot.

(Because everything comes back to ponies - something Lauren Faust says she liked a lot about writing Friendship is Magic was that the female cast meant nopony was the "token girl". And so, for example, you could have two tomboy characters who were tomboys in completely different ways. Their gayness or straightness is never examined, but they have been kept away from romance plots.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:47 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would develop a Transformer that turns from a "family values" politician into a flamboyant lady-boy chaser once happy hour rolls around. I'd call it "Gopicron".
posted by Renoroc at 5:55 AM on June 12, 2011


An old friend and I have agreed that when somebody gives you something deeply substandard, something cheap, plastic, unsatisfying and plain old wrong, that person can be said to have "given you a Gobot."

When I was a kid and very sensitive to brands/marketing (and watching the cartoon all the time), I was really disappointed when I got a Gobot instead of a transformer. But looking back - and double checking with my husband, who also had a Gobot - they weren't badly made. They were actually really well made and had some metal parts (the body of mine was metal) -- it was the Transformers who were cheap plastic.
posted by jb at 5:57 AM on June 12, 2011


Look, I was ready to dismiss this, but then I remembered when Dr. Laura decided that being gay was a "biological error."

If you're gay, and/or a huge Transformers fan, I can see how saying that being gay is likewise an "error" of that creature's biology.

Yeah you can call this silly in the context of real-world struggles gays are facing across the world but it would be really unfair and ignorant to just say that this wasn't a hurtful thing to say.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:51 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


- and double checking with my husband, who also had a Gobot - they weren't badly made. They were actually really well made and had some metal parts (the body of mine was metal) -- it was the Transformers who were cheap plastic.

Both Gobots and Transformers incorporated die cast and plastic parts at the beginning. Both were also imported versions of already-existing toy lines from Japan.

Transformers mostly pulled from the Diaclone toys (vehicles like cars and jets), with a few of the Microman toys (tape player, cassettes, guns) both made by Takara. There were a few other odd TFs that came from other series like Dorvack and Macross.

Gobots were based on the Machine Robo series, made by Popy/Bandai.

Both series were given Americanized back stories and cartoons. Interestingly enough, Transformers became so popular in the US, that the cartoon was exported back to Japan, where it went on to have cartoon series that didn't run in the US.

Gobots get a bad rap because they were the smaller, cheaper option that your parents would buy for you when you were begging for a Transformer, and were generally less sophisticated. I think the overall horribleness of the Gobots cartoon doesn't help. As kids, we would sometimes make fun of Gobots for being like "training wheels" for the more sophisticated Transformers, but we all owned and played with both.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:58 AM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


context is kind of a big deal
posted by LogicalDash at 7:10 AM on June 12, 2011


Yeah you can call this silly in the context of real-world struggles gays are facing across the world but it would be really unfair and ignorant to just say that this wasn't a hurtful thing to say.

What? The still-present attitude that gays are aberrations which wouldn't exist in a world where mistakes don't happen isn't part of that context? I'd say that lies at the very heart of most of the real-world struggles GLBT persons face every day, and that until that attitude dies out, the struggles won't ever be truly solved.
posted by hippybear at 7:58 AM on June 12, 2011


We have to get the stereotype in there somewhere, somehow, don't we?

I think it's ridiculous to have any of the Transformers have a sexual orientation at all, and that's a good demonstration of the reason why: if Knockout were portrayed as a badass robot with a sharp sense of humor who is also a rock-and-roller what would make anyone conclude that he was gay? It's not like the giant robots have sex. It's not going to be his romantic relationship with another male Transformer (unless there are other gay Transformers, but I doubt it). There have pretty much got to be stupid gay stereotypes being invoked for the original question ("Is Knockout gay?") to even come up.

Hence my earlier statement that this stupid answer is a direct result of a stupid question. Someone saw a robot acting effeminately, and felt the need to ask if the robot was gay. That person's a moron. I think the correct answer would've just been a long incredulous stare and "He's a Transformer, you know. A giant, asexually-reproducing robot. Think about that one for a sec. While you do - okay, next question?" But I blame the put-on-the-spot answerer for his stupid answer less than I blame the asker, basically.

But then, I'm someone who never understood why Smurfs are straight.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:05 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought the characterization of the one break-dancing jive talking Transformer was borderline racist in the first movie, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the filmmakers put a LOL GAY ROBOT! in this one.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:09 AM on June 12, 2011


There was a reincarnation of go-bots in the mid-90s as well.

I picked up several used ones for my kids as toddler versions of transformers. These ones are really well-made, and have survived both my boys' toddlerhoods. The official toddler transformers toys are crap (they just pop open no matter what) while these ones actually have transforming action/skill, but on a toddler level.
posted by wenat at 8:50 AM on June 12, 2011


> It's not like the giant robots have sex.

I'll save you a Google image search and just tell you that there's plenty of fan-created evidence to the contrary.
posted by Nomyte at 9:27 AM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every genetic trait we have originated as a glitch. Sexual reproduction originated as a glitch way back in the ancient days of primeval meiotic slime. That said, the comment seems to have been a rather tone-deaf attempt at a response to an unexpected question. Apologize, move on.

Always glad to encounter a new good webcomic, though.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:37 AM on June 12, 2011


I really like the way the comic handles this. Shows how casual slurs can hurt, and it does so without proselytizing, without even saying a word.

Ethan's just an avid fan like everyone else in the room, and then, just like that, with a few careless words he's transformed* into an outsider looking in, painfully reminded of his Otherness.

And now, probably, a bit disillusioned with his idols.

And the comic was good for me, too, for an entirely different reason.

In the second, truly horrendous Transformers movie, there's these two cars intended, I'm sure, to provide comic relief. I mostly found them annoying and a bit insulting; these 'ghetto' cars, Skids and Mudflap, were the most ineffectual and dimwitted of the Transformers, their speech peppered with grammqtical errors, curse words, slang and insults (even when talking to each other), and they never learned to read because they were "Too busy kicking ass". More importantly, as critics have noted, they appear to be thinly-veiled sterotypical representations of inter-city black kids (one even sports a gold tooth/grill). Pointing this out, though, often led to critics being accused of reverse racism for assuming they were intended to represent blacks, accused of being too sensitive and whining, etc.

A much more effective argument could have been illustrated by reworking this comic just a bit:

Fans ask Bay why so many characters in the movie are stereotypes, from Megan Fox's eye candy role ("you're hot but you aren't too bright" as one character points out) to the ghetto bots who suggest "popping a cap" in each other, why superfluous swearing and casual sexism abound in this movie, why he went for the easy laugh and dumbed-down characters:

"I purely did it for kids," the director said. "Young kids love these robots, because it makes it more accessible to them."

As I said, I was annoyed by them and found them insulting even from my privileged position, but critics speaking out against them as racial stereotypes immediately get dismissed as whining (one Transformers forum remarks that this will

*see what I did there?
posted by misha at 9:38 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ack, ignore that last fragment, I didn't preview.
posted by misha at 9:39 AM on June 12, 2011


It's not like the giant robots have sex. It's not going to be his romantic relationship with another male Transformer (unless there are other gay Transformers, but I doubt it).

Sort of embarrassed to know this, but, while I think that giant robot sex is non-canonical, giant robot romantic relationships are not. Something resembling courtship or male-female relationships exist in a number of the Transformers continuities- Hot Rod and Springer compete for Arcee in the original (awesome) movie, and Silverbolt and Blackarachnia have a romantic relationship in Beast Wars. Given that Transformers have binary gender, and Transformers are capable of feeling attraction, a gay Transformer isn't structurally impossible.

posted by running order squabble fest at 12:17 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


a gay Transformer isn't structurally impossible.

It's not theoretically impossible, no, but demonstrating said Transformer is gay without resorting to lazy stereotypes is going to require at the very least a second gay Transformer (or some kind of creepy/awkward not-entirely consensual thing going on, which I'd hope a kids show would avoid).
posted by mstokes650 at 12:38 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, there are a whole bunch of ways you can do it narratologically, without resorting to stereotypes or sex. Arcee could ask him out on a date, for example, and a hypothetical gay Autobot could say that she was a great friend, but that he was into male Transformers. He could talk about his boyfriend back on Cybertron. He could meet two gay humans in a relationship and say he thought same-sex relationships were something only Transformers had, and maybe humans and Transformers weren't so different after all...

From a storytelling perspective, it's not an insuperable problem to establish that a character is gay without picturing them having sex with someone of the same gender.

Realistically, it's extremely unlikely that Transformers: Prime is going to have an explicitly gay character, because of the deeply unhealthy idea that same-sex affection is equivalent in terms of mature content to heterosexual sex, recently discussed on the blue here. However, it can be suggested in the narrative.

So, the question wasn't necessarily intending to reinforce stereotypes by joking about how gay Knockout seemed; it might have been a periphery audience (gay adult/slash writer) viewer asking, in effect, "are you strongly suggesting that Knockout is gay in the text, even though he isn't and can't be explicitly identified as such?" In effect, looking for unofficial confirmation of Knockout's fanonical, but not canonical, homosexuality.

Incidentally, if anyone who wants to see the background for this question, there's a collection of Knockout's lines from his debut appearance here.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:20 PM on June 12, 2011


From a storytelling perspective, it's not an insuperable problem to establish that a character is gay without picturing them having sex with someone of the same gender.

Okay, pedant, you win. :P I will amend my list of possibilities to: "a second gay character (whose existence is at least implied), a creepy/awkward non-consensual relationship, or having the character explicitly say "I am gay" at some point."

Realistically, it's extremely unlikely that Transformers: Prime is going to have an explicitly gay character,

Realistically, Transformers isn't going to have very many "explicitly" straight characters, either. Most of them are just going to be giant robots for whom the issue absolutely never comes up, because it's a kids show and/or action movie about giant robots that turn into cars, not a soap opera. You can assume they're gay or straight for fanfic purposes without ever being contradicted or confirmed, at all. Which seems fine, to me.

So, the question wasn't necessarily intending to reinforce stereotypes by joking about how gay Knockout seemed


Mostly the stereotype in play from your link seems to "[overly] concerned with fashion/appearance". In order to ask the question "Is Knockout gay?" as opposed to "Is Starscream* gay?" or "Is Optimus Prime gay?" you've still got to be drawing a connection based on that stereotype.




*C'mon, don't tell me you never pondered the kind of abusive D/s relationship between Megatron and Starscream, even a little.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:57 PM on June 12, 2011


Optimus Prime isn't gay, canonically - he had a girlfriend back on Cybertron called Elita-1. At least, he doesn't identify as gay - he may be a male robot who has sex with male robots.1

Realistically, Transformers isn't going to have very many "explicitly" straight characters, either.

I'm not sure that works, exactly. Unless stated otherwise, a character in a western mass narrative with a gender and a personality - even a giant robot - is culturally assumed to be straight. That's how western popular narratives work, and not just in soap operas. It's the reason why fanfic that rewrites characters as gay is often considered subversive. Transformers isn't going to have many characters who are involved in romance subplots - not least because you only get one female regular character in a boys-toys series - but that's a different thing.

You've sort of demonstrated that by equating a male character talking about his boyfriend back home with explicitly say[ing] "I am gay". If a male character mentions his girlfriend, in most contexts in popular drama, you don't need to put in a beat for the audience to process the news that he is straight, because in most cases that is assumed - the mention of his girlfriend almost certainly fulfills a different narrative purpose than confirming his sexuality. Generalizing, of course - this tendency is parodied when somebody in a primarily gay environment "comes out" as straight, amid shocked reactions - for example, Phoebe's ice-skating husband in Friends2.

Canonically, Transformers have romantic relationships3. Also, canonically, those relationships take place between male-identified and female-identified Transformers (and may or may not also take place between same-sex identified Transformers). To say that it's a stupid question because Transformers don't have sexual orientations is unsound. There are plenty of reasons why it's not a very useful question, not least because a well-drilled production team are not going to say "yeah, we thought it would be funny to have a Decepticon who feels same-sex desire for Optimus Prime and expresses it by stabbing him with the glowing head of his mighty shaft in a program on a network for 6-10 year olds". But, you know, it's a Transformers fan convention. It's relatively unlikely that a solution for the contested Western Sahara is going to be hashed out.

I think the interesting thing here is periphery demographics, and how you deal with them. There's a punctilious, rather camp robot butler in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward, but nobody asks questions about his sexuality, because nobody cares about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward. Transformers is a lot of products covering lots of different target audiences, often simultaneously and often in different ways. The intertexts between those treatments can be quite interesting.

1 Although in another story Arcee is described as the first female Transformer, created in response to pressure from Earth feminists. However, this is in an Annual, and the annuals are always dodgy. Transformers has more levels of canon than Star Wars.

2 There's an interesting example of this in new Who, which pushes very hard to include lesbian and gay characters, but in e.g. the most recent episode takes a good ten seconds to state and confirm that two male characters are gay and married - which you could have done in about a second with a straight couple.

3 Well - there isn't a huge amount of evidence that they do in Transformers: Prime yet, which has a somewhat different continuity. Arcee seems to have something going on with Cliffjumper, but Cliffjumper's voiced by Dwayne Johnson - who wouldn't?
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:05 PM on June 12, 2011


(PS I know this is very silly - gender! Sexuality! Robots! Phallic symbols! Forgive me if my frivolity is tiresome...),
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:53 PM on June 12, 2011


Unless stated otherwise, a character in a western mass narrative with a gender and a personality - even a giant robot - is culturally assumed to be straight.

Thus my use of the word "explicitly", as opposed to "implicitly", you see.

Transformers isn't going to have many characters who are involved in romance subplots - not least because you only get one female regular character in a boys-toys series - but that's a different thing.

No, it isn't a different thing. It's very much what I'm talking about here; context is important, and questioning the sexuality of minor characters in shows with only one female regular character and hardly any romantic subplots, set in a fictitious universe where relations-between-the genders of fictitious species are pretty clearly a tacked-on afterthought and don't necessarily hang together logically already, is very different from doing it in a soap opera (or even a sitcom), in which many of the major plots can be expected to revolve around romantic entanglements, not to mention the characters are probably all human. (And by "different" I mostly mean "stupider".)

If a male character mentions his girlfriend, in most contexts in popular drama, you don't need to put in a beat for the audience to process the news that he is straight, because in most cases that is assumed - the mention of his girlfriend almost certainly fulfills a different narrative purpose than confirming his sexuality.


"in most contexts in popular drama" - let me stop you right there, because we're talking about Transformers, a "boys-toys series" as you put it...I mean, no offense, but I think we'd be stretching the definition of "drama" a tad far. ;) I would consider Optimus Prime talking about how he misses Elita-1 back home to most likely be just as odd and shoe-horned in, in this specific context, as Knockout talking about how he misses his boyfriend back home. In most popular drama, you're right, they'd probably serve very different narrative purposes, but in Transformers they'd both telegraph "I AM A ROBOT WITH A SEX LIFE" and it'd stick out like a sore thumb in both cases, at least for me.

It is not necessary, with the show being what it is, for a Transformer, any Transformer, to have an explicitly defined sexuality (or really, even an implicitly defined one, but that's a facet of western civilization, not the show's writing). The existence of a tiny handful of canon romantic relationships does not contradict that.

Although in another story Arcee is described as the first female Transformer, created in response to pressure from Earth feminists.

Wait, what? Like, in-story, Earth's human feminists were annoyed at the Transformers for not having any female Transformers, and so the Transformers were like, "Yeah, they've got a point," so they made a female Transformer? That is all kinds of wacky, although also sort of great. (Next up I want to see episodes of G.I. Joe where they consciously make an effort to be less of a boy's club, and also repeal DADT, after getting called out on this stuff by a watchdog organization...) Totally raises the level of inexplicable-gender-relations in Transformers to be right up there with the Smurfs, though.
posted by mstokes650 at 5:57 PM on June 12, 2011


in a soap opera

err, for a soap opera, rather.

And holy hell that's a long run-on sentence that came from, yikes.
posted by mstokes650 at 5:59 PM on June 12, 2011


"in most contexts in popular drama" - let me stop you right there, because we're talking about Transformers, a "boys-toys series" as you put it...I mean, no offense, but I think we'd be stretching the definition of "drama" a tad far. ;)

Well, that's an interesting argument. I'm taking drama in a dictionary-definition way - a work to be performed by actors on stage, radio, or television; play. Transformers; Prime has a script, actors, plots and a storyline. It may not be good drama - it's generally not considered as good as Transformers Animated, for example, or The Wire - but structurally it's drama - arguing that it is not is possible, but it involves redefining drama in a fairly radical way to mean "quality drama" or "high drama".

I would consider Optimus Prime talking about how he misses Elita-1 back home to most likely be just as odd and shoe-horned in, in this specific context, as Knockout talking about how he misses his boyfriend back home. In most popular drama, you're right, they'd probably serve very different narrative purposes, but in Transformers they'd both telegraph "I AM A ROBOT WITH A SEX LIFE" and it'd stick out like a sore thumb in both cases, at least for me.

Ultimately, I think this is personal preference. You're right that there's no need for Transformers to have romantic relationships - but they do in the world as conceived. There's no need for Transformers to have gender, either - but, again, they do in the world as conceived. Simply not liking this, or thinking that it is an unnecessary anthropomoprhism to apply to giant robots, does not prevent it from being the case. The writers and creators have taken that genie out of the bottle - as such, they shouldn't be shocked when periphery audiences start looking for tacit (possibly because studio-prohibited) recognition of alternative sexualities.

Wait, what? Like, in-story, Earth's human feminists were annoyed at the Transformers for not having any female Transformers, and so the Transformers were like, "Yeah, they've got a point," so they made a female Transformer? That is all kinds of wacky, although also sort of great.

Pretty much! It's non-canonical, but it has Prime and Prowl at some point between the present day (ie the 1980s) and the setting of the movie (2005) unveiling Arcee to an analog of the NOW, who complain that she is pink, and that they have not helped their case. At which point the Decepticons attack, and Arcee fights them off while complaining about the Autobots, the Decepticons and the NOW applying limiting geneder binaries. It's presumably an attempt to explain both why there are no female Autobots in 1985, but there is Arcee in 2005, and it is, indeed, demented.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:57 AM on June 13, 2011



Bonus reel: Mike Costa, Transformers comic book author, on Cybertronian gender:

Gender definitely does exist. And where I stand on the fembot issue is this: A Cybertronian robot should have the right to marry anyone he or she desires, provided that they are consensual beings.

Say no to Proposition Eightrix of Leadership.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:57 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:50 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


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