Autobots & Decepticons: Transforming Boundaries

In light of Cowboy Caleb’s post about Transformers (2007) , and also being the topic for many of my conversations with other friends, I decided to take a look at their trailers at their official website. Notwithstanding their insipid robots (which Cowboy has noted that they looked like Lego’s Bionicle sets), I found that the release date of the movie was chilling, to say the least. At this stage, let me state that this is not a critique of the film’s content or whatsoever. Rather, I am more concerned with the performative element of the film as media.

Back to the trailer: the words faded in during some part of the trailer, big neon words that proclaimed its opening date, July the 4th. For our American-inclined consumers, one may be familiar with the date since it is their Independence Day no less. Let us also not forget Independence Day (1996), the sci-fi thriller that plays up the message of American independence as well, albeit via warfare against extra-terrestrials.

But this is not my point.

What strikes me as chilling was simply the fact that upon some thought, I could easily figure out a reason for Transformers’ release date. Could this be another hegemonic attempt using the communications apparatus? To put it simply, I choose to see Transformers as another film that reinforces American identity. A corollary effect is that the limits of such a system (in this case, the identity in question) need to be clearly stated. What’s better at creating boundaries than some element that can be demonised and negated? Almost every film we see plays at this hegemonic effect of maintaining power and solidarity. And this is not new either. Perhaps you may have thought out it too (but brushed it aside with nary a though).

At this point, it is useful to recall Althusser’s essay on “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses” (ISAs). He proposes an empirical list of ISAs – the religious ISA , the educational ISA, the family ISA, the legal ISA, the political ISA, the trade-union ISA, the communications ISA, and the cultural ISA – of which, the communications ISA consist of the press, radio, television, et cetera. Hence, it is quite easy to see that Transformers as a whole, is constitutive of this communications ISA. And in fact, one might even extrapolate this point and say that the whole Hollywood film industry is in fact, a hegemonic apparatus that never escapes from validating the dominant ideology that is present in power.

It makes me uneasy when I think of the fact that the availability of films is getting all-pervasive, whether we like it or not. We have Bittorrent downloads, video home-rentals, online streaming such as Youtube or Dailymotion. What’s next?

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5 thoughts on “Autobots & Decepticons: Transforming Boundaries

  1. I had similar feelings when I learned the movie’s release date was on July 4th. The date alone will color the movie for me. I just hope the storyline isn’t too patriotic. Coincidentally, new stories by TF writer Simon Furman promise to blur the lines between good and evil in the Transformers universe. However, this does nothing to help the current situation. That’s for providing us with your incisive observation.

  2. In order for something to be pervasive, the receiving target, in this case, the audience has to be receptive to it before it can be considered as a sort of “propaganda”, if you will.

    Hence, for something, or someone to exert a dominance over a group of people, the group itself has to be receptive, and be willing to be dominated.

    If we do not allow Hollywood to exert its dominance over us, how do we get dominated?

  3. Brian – Ah the blurring of the traditional lines of good and evil. Heroes is quite good at doing that, at least until the part where I stopped watching which was Episode 19.

    Skye – No I won’t, in response to “if you will” hahah. Ok I’m kidding. Seriously, do we need them to be receptive? Propaganda as such is already concealed in forms of media et cetera, as ideology. Moreover this is a comic adaptation, which means there is at least a guaranteed audience from the fanboy base, for instance Cowboy Caleb. Not to say that he’s being brain-washed also. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that most of us don’t recognise the influence Hollywood has vis-a-vis politics.

    Ok shit, I’m sounding pseudo-intellectual here. Just to clear things up, I’m actually a non-intellectual (read dumb).

  4. Hahaha…I respect anyone who can quote Althusser and the likes. In any case, I think the whole audience agency thing is very much the crux of communication studies today, at least where I see it. There is this camp which believes that audiences are generally “dumb”, ie: they react according to how makers of media, like ads & film want them to react, AKA the “magic bullet”/hypodermic needle theory.

    The opposite camp obviously believes that audiences have the ability to take what they see on screen and create their own interpretations.

    I suppose at the end of the day, it all depends on where you come from, isn’t it? Although this does make me sound like I’m giving up the entire argument altogether. Hurhur.

  5. Ah yes, different sides of the camp. Something about reception theory if I’m not wrong. Frankfurt School on one side and something on the other.

    Well, I still may be a pseudo-intellectual who only knows how to quote. Haha..

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