Columns

Transformers: Autobotic Asphyxiation

Autobotic Asphyxiation occurs when someone crosses that thin, tremulous line separating a passionate hobby from an unhealthy obsession. Watch for these symptoms . . .

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.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image