Tuesday, June 19, 2007

3 Tammuz 5767: Juneteenth


Today’s news and commentary:Another man wearing a trench coat, fedora, and robot mask brought the Weird thing of the day today. I am beginning to think he might not actually be human. He has spent most of his time here at my window shooting pigeons with some kind of plasma weapon, so I am just going to post this and sneak out.

Transformers: Identity Crisis

Week 5: Generation Two

Greetings, people of Earth.

As you undoubtedly have heard, an anonymous source has informed the media that Optimus Prime in his recent spying incident could not have acted under authorization. As supported by several memoranda, Optimus had been absent from his assigned facility without authorization for several weeks before the incident. One memorandum states that “Prime needs to blow off steam” and instructs soldiers to not interfere with his activities. Optimus is now claiming he was trying to “defend innocent humans from the Decepticons,” and particularly claims Thundercracker and Skywarp were in the area. This is impossible, as on the same day this occurred there were no “Decepticons” nearby; had we known where he would be, we would have attempted an arrest. Rather, our operations that day were concentrated near the Nevada-California border, where we arrested Bluestreak. In witness to this fact are the published photographs showing Deputies Skywarp and Astrotrain after they intervened in a hostage situation, exposing themselves to gunfire to save innocent humans. Whatever Optimus did, his motivations had nothing to do with us.

Anyone who has watched the Transformers cartoons has been shown that the Autobots fight the “Decepticons,” but the fight is empty. Aside that from that the Autobots are shown treating the humans better than the “Decepticons” do, there is little mention of what their respective beliefs are, nor what they are fighting for. Except when the writers are trying to make the “Decepticons” look bad by giving them poor manners, the groups are interchangeable. However, there is much to raise serious questions about the Autobots’ behavior. Unlike the United States of America, there is no pretense of democracy. The Autobots are depicted as ruled by a dictator, Optimus Prime, and all the other Autobots follow his word with little question. (Contrary to the belief that the word refers to automobiles, the term “Autobot” is actually a rendition of one meaning “autocratic robot.”) In making the Autobot cause palatable, the cartoons present dictatorship as benevolent, never allowing the viewer to question its wisdom.

The more recent generation of Autobots, derisively called “minibots” or “Generation Two” by their elders, has had plenty of opportunities to do this questioning. After their bad experience with Nazi Germany, those who settled on James McMullen, XXIII’s estate—especially Bumblebee, Jazz, Ironhide, Elita One, and Optimus Prime—were not eager to put themselves in such a precarious position so soon. They still had much to learn about the humans and their power base was shattered. Working for McMullen’s MARS corporation, primarily in industrial and military espionage, seemed a wiser choice.

Maintaining the current situation was never the plan, and the Autobots reproduced. As new Autobots matured on McMullen’s estate, they did not fully match their parents. Although their bodies were robot, they absorbed a great deal of human culture; while this made their interactions with humans less awkward, they also adopted many human problems. Whereas the older Autobots followed traditions of working cooperatively for the benefit of the group, the newer ones were more individualistic, creating identities that were very much in human terms. These newer Autobots were also frequently restless and lacked the discipline of their parents, and by the 1960s there were many occasions when they left the estate in search of adventure, only to narrowly avoid (or sometimes to fail to avoid) disasters. The elder McMullen apparently verged on expelling many of the worst offenders when his son “Jimmy” McMullen, now an adult, related a suggestion from Elita One. Noting the “cold war” between the two great superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, there was a market for services they could offer.

By that time, the United States was already an important customer of weapons from MARS. Through this connection, Jimmy offered them an additional service, use of the Autobots as warriors. Improved experience with reformatting and upgrades provided many Autobots, especially the Generation Twos, with flexible, athletic bodies that were very effective in close combat; combined with the potential for deception and ambushes, many Autobots had considerable value as soldiers. The United States already had evidence (classified top-secret) of Autobots in Nazi Germany and an agreement was soon reached. The first military action the Autobots participated in on behalf of the United States was during the United States-Vietnam War, where Jazz lead a team in counteracting the Tet Offensive. (During this time Jimmy became involved with a volunteer nurse who would later be known as Mrs. Anastasia McMullen.) The army commanders were impressed with the Autobots and the arrangement was extended indefinitely.

With the arrangement came changes. Approximately thirty Autobots originally settled on McMullen’s estate, but with reproduction the number swelled until the large underground garage on the estate could no longer hold them all. Most Autobots relocated to the Groom Lake military facility in Nevada, where they continued to reproduce without restriction. Current estimates of the Autobot population range between two and three hundred, the problems of managing them only increasing over time.

Housing, of course, was no longer a problem, but activities were. A common initial problem was Autobots leaving the base without authorization. Often this just involved them exploring while in vehicular mode or racing. With the public exposure of the Autobots, the pretenses of disguise largely dropped and the Autobots began leaving and returning to Groom Lake without restrictions. Following the lead of a few prominent “publicity” Autobots who wore the “Autobot symbol” (actually a religious faction symbol, similar to humans wearing Latin crosses) as part of publicity, many Autobots not otherwise engaged in espionage began openly wearing it also. (In contrast, the “Decepticon symbol” actually identifies public servants; on Cybertron, some public servants of Autobot ancestry wear both symbols simultaneously.) Transformations began to occur publicly, especially in Las Vegas, Nevada, the nearest large city to the Groom Lake facility. Within a year, as the Autobots became less of a novelty, many of less disciplined Generation Twos became more extreme in appearance, as did their behavior, a trend which has continued up to the present. The body modifications were usually not done by “legitimate” Autobot medics, but our sources indicate there are several talented amateurs who take pride in their work; four in particular are named Hack, Kitbash, McVroomy, and Slog. The deviant, humanized Generation Twos cannot all be fully accounted for here (we have not managed to identify them all ourselves), but a few examples may be mentioned:

The “Bashobots”: This is the name given to a number of Autobots cliques of automobile and motorcycle enthusiasts who show their interests by being reformatted into their favorite vehicles. While the espionage corps does include many sports cars which may plausibly occur in wealthy neighborhoods (and thus not be conspicuous), the Bashobots often take forms sufficiently expensive , rare, or redecoed to be so obvious that these “disguises” are worthless as they specifically attract attention. They suffer from that uniquely human vice, vanity, and the Bashobots are among the mildest in this regard. Unlike the depictions in the propaganda cartoon series, Generation One Autobots generally have avoided close contacts with humans except as a means of spying on or manipulating them. (I am sorry to report that “Spike Witwicky” and related characters are complete fiction.) Generation Twos like the Bashobots, however, often seek out attention and approval from humans. A few important Bashobots:
  • Tracks, who is formatted as a Chevrolet Corvette. (The rumors that he can turn into a flying car are false.) Tracks is exceedingly vain and insists on car-washes at least once a day, often at the hands of admirers. Driven to getting attention, he has become something of a “B” celebrity, exhibiting himself through game shows, talk shows, fashion magazines, and almost any other outlet, regardless of how degrading it may be. Although he is generally regarded as “male,” he is indecisive about gender and much of the time is “female,” and on occasion he claims to be both simultaneously. It should be noted that Autobots have often not fully understood gender as being a relatively permanent attribute in humans; one early gaffe involved Jazz telling a woman to change her clothes so she could become a man and join the German army.

  • Topper, who is formatted as a Rolls Royce limousine. His humanoid form is carefully designed to be well proportioned and elegant, with a glossy paint job in black and white, his head crowned by what looks like a top hat. He has an ample passenger compartment which includes stereo speakers, climate control, access to all major electronic media, and a miniature refrigerator that typically holds several bottles of Dom Perignon. He also has very acute senses and has done extensive espionage in the Autobot espionage corps, posing as a private or rental limousine. He carries a collapsible “walking stick” which is actually a disguised dart gun he has used for assassinations.

  • Steelskin, who is formatted as a De Lorean DMC-12. Like a number of Autobots formatted as rare or unusual cars such as Torpedo (Tucker Sedan), Lux (Chrysler 300C, later a defector to the “Decepticons”), Retro (Ford Model A hot rod), Suicycle (Dodge Tomahawk), Gothtron (Phantom Corsair), Mack Daddy (“pimpmobile”), and Sideswipe and Sunstreaker (Lamborghini Countach), he actively courts attention by his vehicular form, commonly attending automotive shows and events and appearing in car magazines. Among Generation Twos, having an action figure based on oneself is considered a mark of status; after Hot Shot (Audi TT), who is generally considered to be an annoying fool, got his own figure, Steelskin was so incensed that he hired a private model-maker to build one instead (“Project Steelskin”).

Bashobots Gothtron, Mack Daddy and Steelskin

The “Dinobots”: Instead of vehicles, the alternate modes for Grimlock, Slag, Sludge, Snarl, and Swoop are robotic versions of certain extinct organisms. They generally remain on the Groom Lake facility, where they often accompany government agents in camouflage in patrolling the area and scaring off interlopers. Despite appearances, they can actually move quickly, and travelers up to several kilometers outside of the facility have been surprised by the sudden appearance of Dinobots running towards them. The Dinobots are very serious about guarding the facility and have been known to detain humans for several hours. Rumors that Grimlock has a grudge against Optimus Prime appear to be true. An attempt to arrest Sludge at the edge of the facility was aborted when human soldiers fired missiles at Deputy Thundercracker.

The Dinobots patrolling the Groom Lake facility

The “Autobrats”: These famous (or infamous) Generation Two Autobots not only have vehicular forms which are not even remotely credible disguises, but are often regarded as among the most obnoxious persons ever known:
  • Hot Rod, who has the vehicular form of a customized car with a large Autobot symbol surrounded by flames, is the descendant of Optimus Prime, a fact of which he reminds others frequently. Identifying himself as “male,” he takes the stereotypes to extremes, often boasting of his abilities, being cruel and disdainful of “weakness” or showing emotion, using violence as his first means of solving any conflict, and claiming to have triggered the incentive tap of every “female” Autobot including (improbably) Elita One and the gender-confused Tracks. (The incentive system of Transformers can be manually activated, much as many drugs affect the incentive system of humans in pleasurable or addictive ways. Interpersonal use of incentive taps in Autobots often occurs in relationships between Generation Twos.) He often refers to himself as “Rodimus Prime,” which most other Autobots consider ludicrous. (Ironhide, once hearing this, reportedly claimed he must be “Hideous Prime” and then continued to use the name for a week.)

  • Arcee, a “female” Autobot, transforms into a concept car but is more infamous for her humanoid form, which is among the most advanced and humanlike created, considered very attractive by many male humans. Called by her detractors “the drag queen,” she is extremely vain, often posing to emphasize where female humans have secondary (and sometimes primary) sex organs to arouse male humans; this has often caused trouble among the soldiers at Groom Lake, who may neglect their duty to look at her. She claims multiple relationships with Autobots and (improbably) humans and frequently speaks of pleasure. She even became the first Autobot to pose in a “men’s magazine” to be admired solely for her appearance. (Shots from her appearance in Maxim can be seen on the Cyberfembot site dedicated to selling action figures of her.) Her advanced body design makes her very flexible and one of the most dangerous Autobots in hand-to-hand combat.

    Arcee entices male humans in Maxim
  • Springer, another “male” Autobot, transforms into a “car” and a “helicopter” unlike any humans actually use. Equipped with powerful legs, he often leaps from long distances into groups of humans, being very amused by how this scares them. He is also prone to other pranks, such as rearranging parked cars, dancing in the middle of bridges, putting graffiti in places inaccessible to humans, and other acts generally considered infantile. Casino owners hate that he drives away customers with his pranks.

The threesome claims that Hot Rod and Springer are Arcee’s “boyfriends,” though given their frequent mutual incentive-tappings with numerous Autobots, the concept of fidelity seems to have eluded them. A fourth Generation Two, Wheelie, who transforms into a concept car, is sometimes considered an Autobrat, though he is frequently a target of the others’ verbal and physical abuse for his excessively annoying mode of speech. The Autobrats are frequently seen on the Las Vegas Strip and have become tourist attractions. A Generation One Autobot, Ultra Magnus, who transforms into a car carrier, effectively has permanent duty containing the Autobrats and other disruptive Generation Twos found in Las Vegas and returning them to Groom Lake; to his displeasure, this has earned him the unofficial title of “Autobot City Commander.”

The “Scramblebots”, “Cubobots”, or “Yuckatrons”: Although Transformers are complex machines, a number have found that ordinary bodies and transformations are too “simple” or “retro.” They have adopted what is known as “cinematic styling,” which means by the standards of any other culture or age, they are unnecessarily complex, grotesque, and ugly. All of the Autobots signed by Michael Bay to portray ordinary Transformers in the Transformers live-action movie belong to this clique. While they are aesthetically correct, the unnecessary complexity makes them costly to maintain and repair; relatively trivial damage can jam parts and make it impossible for them to transform. A few of these Autobot actors are particularly noteworthy (pictures courtesy of Yahoo! Movies):
  • Omni Imperator, who portrays Ambassador Megatron. Not only is he so shocking to look at that he has caused car crashes, but his vehicular form is nonfunctional, forcing him to travel by walking or hitching rides on Ultra Magnus. He is known to get stuck between buildings and trip on the curbs of sidewalks.

  • Omni Imperator in an official movie poster

  • Buttmonkey, who portrays Constable Starscream. Being relatively new to his latest reformatting (Bluestreak claims he was previously a dump truck), as of this writing he is still learning to control his body. He is prone to being “puzzled,” in which he has difficulty remembering how to move his parts in the proper sequence, resulting in him being unable to transform. Filming at one point was held up for nearly two hours as he attempted to put his head, limbs, and body in all the right places and orientations. One shot where he transforms as he ascends, flips, and lands was filmed thirty-two times and resulted in twenty-four crashes before he succeeded.
    A publicity picture of Buttmonkey in a rare moment of self-organization

  • Camaro Karen, who portrays Bumblebee. One reason Bumblebee does not talk in the movie is Karen’s voice, which is generally considered unpleasant once she says more than three or four words. (An attempt to have her promote the movie by appearing on American Idol was aborted as her singing was considered unsuitable for broadcast.) She was picked for her looks, particularly the big “doe-eyes” to make the audience feel sympathetic. She once caused havoc on the set when she became entangled in the branches of a tree and pulled the whole plant down onto the trailer of human actor Megan Fox, allegedly “accidentally.”

    Camaro Karen has pretty, big eyes to manipulate the emotions of the audience

  • Heebeejeebee, who portrays Ironhide. Considered nearly as ugly as Omni Imperator, he has made children cry and has been implicated in causing large animals at a zoo to stampede. Being just as ungainly, his body was built up at the expense of his sensory abilities. He has been banned from going to Las Vegas as he has a tendency to step on cars, with the frequent result of them being stuck to his feet.

  • Publicity picture of Heebeejeebee, allegedly made up to look good

  • Skaterboy, who portrays Deputy Bonecrusher. While he believes in the superiority of Autobots over everyone else, he tries to see everything as beautiful and meaningful no matter how awful or pointless it may be. On the set he caused several brawls when he became patronizing, telling humans they must be proud of being such wonderfully inferior creatures and that there was great dignity in their menial labor that helped other people get rich. Buttmonkey was forced to step in several times to “explain” that Skaterboy was just staying in-character. This did not stop several humans from rigging large items on the set to fall on him.

Skaterboy (center) fights with Roadkill (right) while Sandbagger (left) makes a vanity cameo

Even among “normal” Generation Twos, there is often a serious adoption of human beliefs, particularly regarding gender and relationships. For example, Glyph and Tap-Out (descendants of Bumblebee and Cliffjumper respectively) both remain very much Autobot in action and loyal to the group, but they identify themselves as “female” and “male” respectively and maintain a romantic relationship.

In a few cases there have serious incursions of human ethics into their Autobot beliefs. Although the older Autobots are very careful in instilling a belief in their superiority to all others, inevitably some have contracted ideas of equality, respect, and nonviolence. In these cases the relevant Autobots have sometimes tried to live independently, though the prospect of being effectively alone on an alien planet is enough to force them back into remaining with the group. A few have surrendered themselves to us and in turn have been granted immunity from prosecution. Instead of remaining idle, this last group has often chosen to be deputized to arrest and remove the Autobots illegally settled on your planet. Among these include the “Constructicon” group, Treads, Bad Boy, Bug Bite, the “Stunticons,” and Lux. Others have been dealt with by the Autobots in far more serious ways.

Our next communication will concern Ironhide, one of the most important Autobots in their hierarchy. Until then, we wish you well.

Soundwave, Cybertonian Communicator
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