Saturday, August 25, 2007

American War Ideology: Transformers

If we define 'totalitarian regimes' as those which exercise propagandistic control over the values and interests of the ruled, then by this definition most Americans are living under a totalitarian regime. The 2007 film Transformers does not fall short of a militaristic call-to-arms. The conjuring up of post-911 imagery and the clearly modernist plot-purity of good vs. evil aligns this film with the goals of American military generals and Republican politicians. I watched the film in the Netherlands, and it seemed everyone in the audience noticed the film was radiating American military fantasies from the screen into the cineplex. The exhilaration of obscenity, the obscenity of obviousness, the obviousness of power, the power of simulation. It even included a clear recruitment message (which seemed ironic while watching it in a foriegn country)--near the end the glorified American soldier, Josh Duhamel, turns to the main character, a sloppy teenager played by Shia LaBeouf, and says, "You're a soldier now...." A sappy orchestral chord fills the theater, as we apparently are to feel included in the act of 'becoming a US soldier' and compelled to join the Army Rangers to help the Autobots destroy the Decepticons in a galactic showdown with American accomplishment at the centerpiece.

America is the only country which gives you the opportunity to be so brutally naive about films like this. In fact, some of us know films like these are simply part of the militaristic education in America: of learning obedience to our patriarchal authorities, of developing a taste for military 'action', and the constant reassertment and justification of the American military mission on the geopolitical scene. But back in the States, no other American seems to notice the film's pungent ideological consequences. The users on IMDB who dislike the film can only point to plot flaws or technical mistakes, or a general distaste for CGI graphics. Others point out that it simply wasn't violent enough. When our culture is as inundated as it is, there really is no desire to adopt a critical stance on films that represent our own ideology. And in fact most don't notice. It may be that the truth of America can only be seen from outside the fishbowl, since only there will you discover the perfect immanence and simulation of these values. Americans, for our part, have no sense of simulation. We are simulation in its most immanent state, and have no language to describe it, since we are an isolated model that communicates mostly with itself.

As a result, just as Optimus Prime observed that humans were violent creatures, Americans are also the ideal material for an analysis of culturally-encouraged violence against other cultures. No more and no less than primitive societies were analyzed in their day. The same mythical and analytical excitement that made us look toward those societies today impels outsiders to look in the direction of America. With the same interest and the same prejudices.

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