Transformers: Autobotic Asphyxiation

I had the good fortune back in the late ’90s to attend San Francisco’s Alternative Press Expo, a smaller, edgier, decidedly less nerdy version of the annual comic book convention in San Diego. Alongside booths housing such indie comics stalwarts as Larry Young and Trina Robbins was a double-wide grouping of tables piled high with precarious stacks of Anime videos. One table boasted a small television, upon which was playing 1986’s Transformers the Movie. Bemused, and secretly excited in spite of myself, I stopped for a moment to watch; I hadn’t seen that movie in probably 10 years.

Happily, I had happened by the table just in time for the pivotal scene wherein Autobot leader Optimus Prime squares off in a fatal battle with his arch nemesis Megatron, commander of the evil Decepticons. I’d long maintained that the death of Optimus Prime was my generation’s Kennedy assassination, and here was our Zapruder footage. Here was the defining mythology of my late-’80s childhood, the most stirring and resonant narrative epic of my formative years. And as Stan Bush’s synth-heavy “The Touch” cheered Prime onward, I pulled my eyes from the screen for a moment to take in the considerable audience that had gathered around me, a mournful but respectful mass eager to pay silent tribute to their fallen childhood icon. Struck silent, I thought to myself, “Wow. This movie really sucks, and these people are friggin’ geeks.”

Transformers the Movie was of course an animated film; it wasn’t until this month, after 20-plus years of anticipation and speculation on the part of fans, that a live action adaptation of the toy aisle mainstay hit theaters. That ringing you’ve been hearing in your ears ever since is the result of the deafening roar, ringing out from geek circles across the nation: “You raped my childhood!” In fact, fans have been screaming this unlikely phrase for months now, ever since the first still images from Transformers were released online. Aghast at Michael Bay’s bold decision to redesign their beloved Autobots and Decepticons, aging Transformers fans everywhere are succumbing to a painful and embarrassing condition: Autobotic Asphyxiation.

Autobotic Asphyxiation occurs when someone crosses that thin, tremulous line separating a passionate hobby from an unhealthy obsession. Are you concerned that you might be suffering from Autobotic Asphyxiation? Beware these warning signs:

 Do you maintain that the toys, cartoons, comic books and other pop cultural relics of your youth represent the creative peak of western civilization, despite the fact that an objective look back reveals them to be painfully idiotic?

 Do you forego creativity and spending time with loved ones in favor of marathon bouts of masturbatory nostalgia in the form of collecting vintage toys, watching vintage television programs on DVD or visiting (or even creating) web sites devoted to such properties as Micronauts, Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider or, yes, Transformers?

 Do you wear T-shirts emblazoned with the visages of Ninja Turtles, Care Bears or Speed Racer?

 Do you greedily lunge at any opportunity to cram your backpack with G.I. Joe Sigma 6 dolls and photograph them at the creek near your house in Yorkville, California and post them on your sickeningly self-indulgent and heroically geeky weblog?

 Do you feel a desperate longing for the simple days of your youth, when reality was defined by cheap plastic action figures and their accompanying 30-minute commercials? Is this desperation you feel starting to suffocate you, choking off all possibility of social and professional fulfillment?

Then you, too, may be falling victim to Autobotic Asphyxiation.

Symptoms include a distinct and puzzling breed of tunnel vision which prohibits the victim from noticing any TV show broadcast before 1983 or after ’90, and inexplicable and uncompromising bouts of elitist snobbery which stand in sharp contrast to the victim’s meager intellectual prowess, cultural insight, and hygiene.

Transformers has sparked a stunning spike in cases of Autobotic Asphyxiation, but it is hardly a new phenomenon. Practically every superhero movie of the past 20 years has seen its fair share of cases. Back in 1989, fanboys cried out in horror at Tim Burton’s uninspired casting (“Michael Keaton as Batman?!?”), only to later concede that Keaton was brilliant in the role. In 2000, the same group dismissed Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film before its release; how dare Singer replace the team’s famous yellow spandex with black leather?!? Clearly, a few of them got over it; the film grossed nearly $300 million.

Curiously, no matter how often they are forced to concede their foolishness, victims of Autobotic Asphyxiation never seem to learn their lesson. Indeed, it could be that you have noticed your ears ringing again, as impetuous geeks everywhere are already cursing Christopher Nolan for daring to cast Heath Ledger as the Joker in next year’s The Dark Knight; they are equally horror-struck at the Joker’s new look, more Marilyn Manson than Jack Nicholson.

Having embarrassed myself too often in the past by criticizing a fantastic film before its release based only on my stubborn, desperate loyalty to its most superficial and irrelevant minutiae (“The treads on Batman’s boots have always had a distinct grid pattern!”), I would like to close this essay by going on record in predicting that Heath Ledger will be an inspired Joker, and that The Dark Knight will be the slickest, sickest, sexiest, and most brilliant Batman movie yet. (After Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, of course.)

Finally, I feel that I have earned a moment to admire my own restraint; not once did I complain about Michael Bay’s creative decisions in his live action Transformers. Truly, I am a calmer, more dignified, more intelligent and more pragmatic individual than my nerdy brethren. My intellectual superiority has helped me to soar above such petty concerns as the proper handling of a property as hopelessly childish as Transformers.

And if you’d like to sign my We Want Orko! petition demanding that “producer” Joel Silver abandon his blasphemous Lord of the Rings approach to the upcoming Masters of the Universe movie, you can contact me via my weblog, Geek Creek.