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Thread: The Random Transformers Thoughts Thread

  1. #1841
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    Can of Worms: gender representation in the Transformers

    mild EarthsPark spoilers ahead
    (i.e. if you don't know who Nightshade is)

    Transformers EarthsPark spoiler space
    Transformers EarthspArk spoiler space
    Transformers EarThspark spoiler space

    Firstly, let me just say that gender has always been a weird concept for the Transformers, as a species of sexless and genderless alien robots. The fact is that Transformers have genders because:
    a/ the human audience that it's intended for has genders
    b/ the human performers who voice these characters have genders
    c/ the English language cannot function without gendered pronouns (other languages like Japanese can, but not English); it's even more serious in other languages like French etc.

    But we suspend disbelief. Transformers having genders is like Transformers having humanoid bodies with faces, noses, mouths etc., speaking English before modern Earth-contact, having Earth-based names that should be impossible to exist on Cybertron (e.g. Bumblebee, Hound etc.) etc. - but these things all exist in the Transformers for the sake of the audience. Simple. Being a gender neutral Transformer is no better or worse than being a male or female Transformer... they're all equally nonsense in the context of alien robots. But it's just a thing that's existed since the beginning of the Transformers, and it's not gonna go away.



    But Transformers has kinda always sucked at representing Cybertronian non-male genders.

    Part 1: Female Cybertronians

    I'm not gonna go into the history of female Transformers; we all know how they came about ... you don't need a history lesson.
    But something I'd like to point out is that G1 canon often had to rub the female TFs' genders in our faces. From the oddly effeminate body designs of characters like Arcee, Elita-1, Chromia, Moonracer etc. that are so impractical that it's hard to make G1-accurate toys of these characters without making them backpackformers, even at an MP level; to episodes like "The Search for Alpha Trion" where the male characters have to act surprised that female Autobots exist, and how they're treated as a separate caste from the male Autobots... Cybertron is clearly a gender segregated society! The word "female Autobots" gets thrown around a lot, Starscream making jokes about the Autobots' "girlfriends" blah blah blah. The female Transformers aren't allowed to just exist incidentally; the audience needs regular reminders about their gender.

    Nowadays it's no longer a big deal if a Cybertronian is male or female. In the Bumblebee movie Shatter is a female Decepticon while Dropkick is male... no biggie, it's just incidental. Both Shatter and Dropkick are equal threats to Bumblebee and Sector Seven; you could change their genders and the story would remain the same. We also saw this happen in Beast Wars and the Unicron Trilogy, where Airazor's gender was changed in Japan, and Nitro Convoy's (Override's) gender was changed outside of Japan. No biggie. The Seekers in Cyberverse are a mix of males and females; doesn't matter, they still work the same either way.

    Part 2: Gender Neutral Cybertronian

    We have had non-binary TFs before, namely in the IDW comics where we saw characters as being gender fluid. But Nightshade is gender-neutral; Nightshade has no gender and the show constantly reminds us that Nightshade's pronouns are 'they' and 'them.' I don't have an issue with having a gender neutral Transformer per se; as I said before, it's no better or worse than having gendered TFs. Fine. But does the show really need to constantly remind us of this? IMO it's about as cringeworthy as "The Search of Alpha Trion" having to constantly remind us that the female Autobots are female. About as subtle as Michael Bay with an exploding sledgehammer.

    IMO if you want to have male, female or genderless TFs, fine... but just make their gender incidental. I think that Challenge of the Machine Men did a better of job of gender inclusiveness; characters like Crasher, Small Foot, Pathfinder etc. were female, but no special attention was ever drawn to their gender. Crasher never declared that the Guardians would be facing the menacing might of a female Renegade... she just attacked them and they would fight back, same as any other Renegade. Characters like Crasher was given lipstick, sure, but others like Pathfinder who had a faceplate never had any typical female cosmetic markers in her design. The only way you could tell that she was female was through the use of female pronouns and hearing her voice actress' female voice... that was it. It was all incidental, never rubbing it in your face.

    It's like the "seeds of the future are buried in the past" line from Beast Machines, or the "with great power comes great responsibility" line from Spider-Man. "My pronouns are they and them." Yeah, no crap. We got it after the first ten times that you've said it. No need to keep drilling it into our skulls! I would much rather they just play it cool and have Nightshade's gender be revealed more naturally... just by having characters refer to Nightshade with gender-neutral pronouns and let the audience work it out. Nobody ever points out that Twitch, Elita-1, Hashtag and Frenzy are female... we just know that they are. And people would know that Nightshade is gender neutral too without the show having to point it out to our faces. Children aren't idiots. We were able to work out who the male and female Machine Men were as kids in the 80s without that show explicitly telling us who was what. The irony here is that the Machine Men are alien cyborgs who do have actual genders (they have organic brains in robot bodies). Crasher is as female as Kusanagi Motoko is from Ghost in the Shell etc.


    Note that the Enemy (Renegade) Spoiler is arguably gender fluid, as Spoiler's gender alternates between female and male in different canonical sources; and this was all in the 1980s!

  2. #1842
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    Did you watch the last two episodes? Representation matters both in universe and in our real world (where non-binary people are under full blown attack at the moment).

  3. #1843
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    I think it's good they're introducing the 'concept' to children and explaining it to them, as sadly it does need to be said. I feel like you may have blown this out of proportion, and that any repetition on the subject is needed at this stage. Now, if we were talking in 20 years time things would (hopefully) be very different, but we're not.

    Never forget the true target audience of these shows. It's not us.
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    Constantly reminds us?

    Perhaps you should go back and count. It is far from constant. I go so far as to say a mere handful of times. Sounds like confirmation bias - you notice it because it, for whatever reason, stands out to you, but you aren't noticing all the other pronoun use (because that doesn't stand out to you). "Nobody ever points out that Twitch, Elita-1, Hashtag and Frenzy are female... we just know that they are" - except that it is being pointed out all the time - by the use of she and her. But because that's entirely commonplace for you, you don't even realise that you are being constantly reminded of it.

    Why was the 80s cartoon like that? Because it was made for 8-year-old boys, and that's how 8-year-old boys (at least those enculturated in the west, especially the US) behave toward girls. I certainly recall being like that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cat View Post
    I think it's good they're introducing the 'concept' to children and explaining it to them, as sadly it does need to be said. I feel like you may have blown this out of proportion, and that any repetition on the subject is needed at this stage. Now, if we were talking in 20 years time things would (hopefully) be very different, but we're not.

    Never forget the true target audience of these shows. It's not us.
    That's what perplexes me. Kids today know all about gender/orientation diversity. They are growing up in a time where marriage equality exists and LGBTIQ+ inclusiveness is taught in schools.

    We don't need to wait 20 years in the future, it's already here.

    Quote Originally Posted by JJJ View Post
    Sounds like confirmation bias - you notice it because it, for whatever reason, stands out to you, but you aren't noticing all the other pronoun use (because that doesn't stand out to you). "Nobody ever points out that Twitch, Elita-1, Hashtag and Frenzy are female... we just know that they are" - except that it is being pointed out all the time - by the use of she and her. But because that's entirely commonplace for you, you don't even realise that you are being constantly reminded of it.
    I think you've hit the nail on the head there for me. Nightshade's gender-neutral pronouns stand out more to me because the show takes the time to explicitly point it out instead of just using it naturally and allowing the audience to notice it organically. I would prefer the latter because that's how it works in real life. Every transgender and gender neutral person that I know doesn't go around telling people what their preferred pronouns are. We just know and recognise it as we would for anyone else. It just happens.

    Quote Originally Posted by JJJ View Post
    Why was the 80s cartoon like that? Because it was made for 8-year-old boys, and that's how 8-year-old boys (at least those enculturated in the west, especially the US) behave toward girls. I certainly recall being like that.
    But Challenge of the Machine Men was not like that, and that was in the 80s too.

    I understand that representation matters, which is why female Transformers also exist. It's just that having the show explicitly tell/remind the audience that Nightshade is gender neutral felt a bit too on the nose. There's a saying that we have in teaching, "show, don't tell." Children aren't idiots, and kids these days are very acutely aware of the LGBTIQ+ community.

    FWIW I thought the scene where Nightshade connects with that non-binary human was pretty awesome amid an episode that explicitly dealt with bigotry. I also really liked how Robby's friend Stevie was shown changing the graffiti from "Transformers Go Home" to "Transformers Are Home." Having an episode that highlights prejudice is not a new thing, but I think this is the first time that I've seen a kids cartoon where a character who was bigoted changing his views and becoming an ally. Also, bear in mind that non-cis/binary characters in TFs isn't a new thing. Beast Wars Metals gave us the first same-sex couple in 1999, and IDW started giving us transgender Cybertronian characters 6 years ago.

    ^Shouldn't she be referred to as la capitana?

    Allow me to make it Crystal City clear that I have zero issue with greater representation in Transformers canon. I just find that way that the EarthSpark show feels the need to explicitly tell the audience what Nightshade's preferred pronouns are to be a bit too on the nose. I would prefer for it to be just done more naturally is all.

    Just my 2c. This is by NO means a criticism of the show or character.

    P.S.: I do like how the show has also given the Decepticons a more diverse range of eye colours; they're not all red-eyed. Even Starscream sports blue eyes*! We've yet to see a red-eyed Autobot though, but here's hoping. I like how Twitch and Nightshade are the two Terrans who don't have blue-eyes.

    (*except for his first appearance when he had red eyes... whoops ).
    Last edited by GoktimusPrime; 27th March 2023 at 08:54 PM.

  6. #1846
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    Quote Originally Posted by GoktimusPrime View Post
    That's what perplexes me. Kids today know all about gender/orientation diversity. They are growing up in a time where marriage equality exists and LGBTIQ+ inclusiveness is taught in schools.
    Yes, some schools teach this. Not all, and certainly not the majority. And if you haven't noticed, even here in Australia there is serious push-back against it. I'll not even get into the USian situation (and this is made for a USian audience, after all).

    Quote Originally Posted by GoktimusPrime View Post
    I think you've hit the nail on the head there for me. Nightshade's gender-neutral pronouns stand out more to me because the show takes the time to explicitly point it out instead of just using it naturally and allowing the audience to notice it organically. I would prefer the latter because that's how it works in real life. Every transgender and gender neutral person that I know doesn't go around telling people what their preferred pronouns are. We just know and recognise it as we would for anyone else. It just happens.
    Sorry, but that is not my experience. My experience is that transgender and gender-neutral people have to make quite the effort to be recognised, to be accepted (and also receive quite a lot of ridicule and scorn). For a start, there's nothing that automatically tells me that someone is gender-neutral - from acculturation, I (wrongly, I freely admit - but I am a product of my society) presume them to be male or female based on their presentation. It is only when someone tells me that they are non-binary that I know; and how else would I know?

    And from memory, that's exactly when Nightshade mentioned their pronouns - when meeting new people who don't already know them.

  7. #1847
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    Quote Originally Posted by JJJ View Post
    Yes, some schools teach this. Not all, and certainly not the majority. And if you haven't noticed, even here in Australia there is serious push-back against it. I'll not even get into the USian situation (and this is made for a USian audience, after all).
    All public schools in Australia (which are the majority of schools), and many non-government schools teach this. This was initiated by the Safe Schools programme which began in Victoria in 2010, then it became national in 2013 and the programme was dissolved in 2017 because it's not needed anymore. LGBTIQ+ is fully integrated and embedded across schools now, nationwide. It's also part of the law, namely the Anti-Discrimination Act. So yeah, for at least a decade now this has been the norm in schools across the country, meaning that our current Year 12 students have also been fully educated about this since they were in early primary school. homophobia etc.

    This isn't to say that homophobia doesn't exist in schools anymore, it does. But it's like racism now. Saying or doing something homophobic these days is equivalent to saying or doing something racist. Schools are also legally required to have a staff member act as the anti-discrimination officer. That staff member is given special training to deal with things like racism, sexism, homophobia etc., and schools have explicit policies in dealing with such behaviour, should it occur.

    Quote Originally Posted by JJJ View Post
    For a start, there's nothing that automatically tells me that someone is gender-neutral - from acculturation, I (wrongly, I freely admit - but I am a product of my society) presume them to be male or female based on their presentation. It is only when someone tells me that they are non-binary that I know; and how else would I know?
    As you said, you are a product of your society/upbringing. Perhaps I'm fortunate that via my workplace, I've been educated about these things, and I practise it too because we have had and continue to have openly gender-neutral and transgender students. Safe Schools has, as its name states, made it safe for LGBTIQ+ people to openly be themselves at school. We also have kids who come from households with openly LGBTIQ+ parents; this is nothing new, of course, but now families no longer feel the need to hide it.

    Given that, as you said, the target audience for this cartoon is children, it just feels excessive to have to point out what is, for their generation, something that is bleedingly obvious. When Safe Schools first started, a lot of people criticised it as a conspiracy to "indoctrinate" or "convert" kids to being gay (hahaha), but of course it was a programme to educate children. And it's worked incredibly well.

  8. #1848
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    Can we please drop this very polarising societal issue before the moderators have to start deleting comments and banning users?
    I have a list of all G1 characters that have been released in CHUG form. You can find it here. Please feel free to let me know if I got anything wrong so I can fix it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DELTAprime View Post
    Can we please drop this very polarising societal issue before the moderators have to start deleting comments and banning users?
    As long as the discussion stays civil (which it appears to have done so), then there is no problem in discussing it. Just ignoring things because the might go awry limits progress.

    I've not watched the show, but from reading Gok's comments, it seems that the writers are being a bit lazy/heavy handed with how the character in question is being written. Which could be justified, since the show is probably aimed more at Americans over Australians and they may not have the benefit of a programme like Safe Schools in their educational institutions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tetsuwan Convoy View Post
    Just ignoring things because the might go awry limits progress.
    Glad I wasn't the only person thinking this.

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