I found this at Love Joy Feminism a while ago: Horror is Good For You (and Even Better for Your Kids). When I thought about it, Transformers fit that billing.
As a kid, I grew up watching something that had the same tenets as horror. And I loved it. I still do, to this day.
First of all, I will admit: yes, Transformers is science fiction. But some science fiction can incorporate horror very well. (Aliens, anyone?) Transformers has some of these same elements; just follow past the jump and we’ll get into them. Let’s go, shall we?
Reason #1: CHILDHOOD IS SCARY
Let’s be blunt: as a child, you feel a bit like an alien, dropped on this planet and it just so happens to be the wrong damn planet. Nothing is the proper size for you. It takes you two years to learn how to communicate your basic needs. Even then, you don’t have a complete grasp of the language, you don’t understand basic rules and etiquette and things are still way too damn big! Don’t even get me started on having to go to school and trying to fit in with your peers. That’s an entirely different sort of nightmare altogether. Being a kid kind of sucks and that’s putting it nicely.
Now look at this same situation through an Autobot’s eyes.
Sure, everything is smaller than you are but the damned residents of your new home planet squish way too easily, so you have to be really careful where you step. What you thought were the actual residents of this weird world are really just objects, not sentient in the least, so you might inadvertently make a fool out of yourself by talking to a lamp post. No instead, the actual sapient beings on this rock are these squooshy little carbon based life forms that think they run everything and get mouthy if you say otherwise. They don’t just ask for respect, they demand it! Talk about weird but familiar.
For obvious reasons, the franchise appeals to kids, from the Autobots’ awkwardness to the fact that few adults can tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. But kids know the difference. In that way, kids have some small knowledge, some little bit of power, over their parents. It’s rather thrilling, to say the least.
Reason #2: POWER TO THE POWERLESS
You probably know the basic story: the Autobots are fighting to free their planet from the Decepticons. It sounds simple enough but if you sit down and re-watch More Than Meets the Eye, you’ll notice just how outmatched the Autobots truly are.
They were on the verge of extinction. The Autobots are dying out and most of Cybertron belongs to the Decepticons. The odds are not Optimus Prime’s favor at all. Now think back to when you were young and how your parents had all the power and all of the say and what did you have?
That’s right. You had nothing. At a certain age, you weren’t even allowed to pick out your own tee shirt. Your parents did that for you.
To a degree, the Autobots’ struggles became a bit like your own; you were fighting against things that you thought were unfair, fighting for your own voice and for the right to be heard. When the Autobots won, there was a sense of catharsis there. You couldn’t help feeling victorious as well.
Reason #3: HORROR IS ANCIENT AND REAL AND CAN TEACH US MUCH
A good number of the tropes used in Transformers are timeless, whether they deal with good versus evil, loyalty to one’s friends, or speaking the truth. For all of its space drama and good versus evil, there are truths within the franchise, which keeps it timeless.
For example: Stand by those who have earned your trust. It’s easier–and smarter–to rule with a yielding touch than an iron fist. A true leader stays levelheaded but listens to their comrades. Family is not defined by blood. I could go on, but I think you get the point. The lessons within the stories weren’t always obvious but you could see them if you looked.
Reason #4: HORROR CONFIRMS SECRET TRUTHS
In Transformers, you had to be careful just who you could trust. There were adults who were more than happy to help aid the Decepticons, those who were willing to betray the human race because Megatron promised them a little bit of power. Adding to this was the fact that sometimes, the ranks were changed; both Optimus and Megatron added troops to their respective forces. If you weren’t careful, that semi you ran into might be an enemy but the jet might actually be on your side. Things weren’t always so straightforward in that universe, even with the sigils.
We learn that a lot when we grow up. Kids whom we thought were friends? They really weren’t. Adults we thought were trustworthy? Not so much. Things that our parents said were real, like Santa or the Tooth Fairy? No, they weren’t. We could see that to a degree while watching Transformers; sometimes the Cybertronian who was welcomed by the Decepticons wasn’t actually evil, just mislead. Sometimes the Autobots trusted a little too much and it cost them. We, like they, had to learn these lessons. Sometimes learning that lesson stung, but we were the better for it. That was because, to a degree, we learned it together.
Reason #5: SHARING SCARY STORIES BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER
Being a member of a fandom, whether you are an adult or a child, can help you make friends. I’ve had more conversations than I can count in the autograph lines at BotCon, swapping stories of favorite characters and episodes, of things that made me a fan. There’s a common thread that runs here, one that binds us; we’re fans.
We might not have grown up together but we shared something in common. In that way, we become family. I’ve made more friends through this fandom than elsewhere. Our shared experiences make that possible.
Reason #6: HIDDEN INSIDE HORROR ARE THE FACTS OF LIFE
Sometimes, the odds are stacked against us, way against us. Sometimes, it seems we are fighting a losing battle. But then again, so were the Autobots. But sometimes, we can turn the tide of the battle. Good can win the day. But you can’t do it alone. You need help, you need friends. Sound familiar?
It should. This is how things are changed, how things have always changed. It’s a struggle but with help, things can get done.
That’s a basic rule of life but it’s one that Transformers helped me learn.
As I said, this isn’t really horror. Far from it. But some of the tropes used in the genre of horror are also present in the stories told of the Autobots and Decepticons. Is it any wonder I enjoyed the series so much, why it resonated with me? It has and it always will, because in those stories of alien robots, we can see something familiar, namely ourselves.