Unless you were alive and paying attention in the 1980s, you probably didn’t know that Transformers weren’t the first toys in America that changed into vehicles. “GoBots” were.
Transformers came from Rhode Island’s Hasbro, in 1984. GoBots came from Tonka, makers of fine metal toy trucks, in 1983. That may be why Hasbro did everything right, from the start- they saw what Tonka had already done wrong. And oh boy… Tonka did just about everything wrong.
Mad medicine was everywhere in the 80s and 90s. There were toys and playsets endorsed by mad doctors, for use by kids. Every time you watched cartoons, you saw a skinny dude with crazy hair in a white lab coat, maniacally mixing chemicals and potions for some nefarious purpose. Under the influence of this, I created my own mad medicine man; Dr. Kill-Everybody.
Dr. K (no hair), with Fronkin Steen and Psuto Moto.
Either the trope became shopworn around 2001, or something happened that discouraged children from playing with chemicals. You don’t see mad doctors and scientists like you used to. Maybe this is a good thing; maybe the concept was subconsciously driving impressionable kids away from lucrative STEM-field careers. I don’t know.
What I do know is this. Mad doctors once flourished in our society, even though they were annoying, and generally sucked.
Long ago, in the Before Times, I was dating a woman with a very young daughter. I had not yet gelled as an artistic entity, and was in the process of learning that I’m really not cut out to be a father, even a surrogate one. This became apparent on two occasions. Both were attempts on my part to make a connection with a kid. Both failed hilariously.
The first was the purchase of a “children’s book”. I spent hours at Books-A-Million (down the block from Media Play) hunting for just the right one. It had to be colorful, clever, and not condescending. I refused to buy anything “kiddie”, on principle. It had to be something that enticed, thrilled, and sparked the imagination, like the books I read in my grade school library.
Look, choking sucks. I don’t have to point that out, do I? And truthfully, most toys have small parts these days, and there’s a warning about them on the package. But those clickers are long gone. They blocked a toddler’s airway better than a spoonful of shellac.
DIY stands for “do-it-yourself”. You knew that, right? It was once a point of pride in music production. People love DIY, because it lights that little bulb in the mind that signals “I can do that”.
Ideally, you should feel that way about anything people do, aside from brain surgery or bomb disposal (and you can learn how to do those). Shoot, you could change your gender if you set your mind and wallet to it, but that’s a personal matter, and not something you want to capitalize upon. Still, there’s a lot to be said for taking a grass-roots shot at an admittedly lofty goal. For example, producing a homemade movie.
Like the lawn dart, a true line of demarcation between Then and Now is the Thumbsucking Baby. In cartoons and comic strips of the 20th century, if there was a baby, it was depicted with a thumb in its mouth. Maggie Simpson delivered the combo breaker, in the form of a pacifier, doing infants the world over a huge favor.
A pacifier has the advantage of being unattached to a heavy arm, which slowly pulls at the front teeth and palate, resulting in buck teeth. Buck teeth tell the world you suck dick like a champion. Depending on who you are, that can be inconvenient. Most people correct it with braces, to prevent this assumption. Continue reading →
Previously, I remarked upon how those of us who were children in the 1980s “knew disappointment by name”, thanks to the deluge of new toy lines leaping at us from store shelves, most of them doomed to two-year lifespans and discount-bin futures. Companies were just beginning to learn how the lack of a Saturday morning cartoon could put an ugly dent in their profits. The hunt was on for the next best gimmick, the hook that would bring in the kids and establish the next He-Man or GI Joe. Not coincidentally, those lines were also infusing gimmicks circa 1987 in a losing battle to stay on top.
Transformers, arguably the decade’s most popular toys, were expensive to produce. The supply of repainted robots that comprised the line’s first few years had run dry, leaving Hasbro no choice but to design the toys themselves, an extra step that was not only also very expensive, but resulted in the far simpler Pretenders and Firecons. Few, if any, will argue that either was a high point in quality. For the uninitiated: Firecons used the same sparking mechanism as Doc’s DeLorean from Back To The Future, and that was a Happy Meal toy. (It was recalled because “kids” could chew off a rear tire and choke on it, not because of the sparks as you might assume. I have two of the worthless things.)
So it was that in 1987 Hasbro began to try some new tricks. Here is but one example of something they threw at the wall with the greatest effort, and try as it might, it just didn’t stick. Ladies and gentlemen of the Internet, I give you Air Raiders.
I don’t know why people are sad about the Great Deathwave of 2016. It’s a remarkable opportunity to make a stranger’s life all about yourself.
Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, 1942-2016. A multifarious and complex personality that’s tough to categorize (especially for a pugilist), not a prop for your opinions.
When a celebrity dies, you now own them. You can take the life’s work of someone you never encountered and reduce it to a personal inspiration. You can interpret their efforts as empowerment for your own agendas. Oh, and you can cherry-pick the qualities of their persona that you agree with, and ignore everything else. A corpse will never call your bluff. Continue reading →
(This article originally appeared in a less edited form on Mike The Pod, 7/11/11. Please note that since then, there has been a fourth Transformers, which grossed over a billion dollars, and there’s a fifth on the way in 2017. There is a schedule of yearly releases stretching a decade into the future, the same as Marvel, and Disney’s Star Wars.)
SPOILERS covers all three movies in the Michael Bay Transformers trilogy (until it becomes a quadrilogy, or quintology, which I wouldn’t complain about).
If this article becomes too insular for you, dear reader, may I heartily recommend you to tfwiki.com. Mostly because I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to link every whatsit on this page. If you’re a repeat visitor that doesn’t like it when I go off about robots, this is going to make you hate my guts. Continue reading →