There is an embarrassing, unfortunate moment in Transformers: Dark of the Moon that reveals what is perhaps the most troubling aspect of this critically reviled, audience-beloved franchise.
As a few characters are getting a tour of a collection of vintage automobiles, the collector (Patrick Dempsey) points out, in a drooling tone, the seductive curves and lines of the vehicles. Meanwhile, the camera ignores the cars completely and instead slowly pans up the body of the series’ new, designated babe (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley).
Herein lies the real problem with the Transformers movies. It’s not the idiocy of the plots. It’s not the incompetence of the action sequences. It’s not the increasingly brutal violence.
It’s the sexism.
As that scene makes all too clear, series director Michael Bay can barely distinguish between a woman and a vehicle. This has been the case for all of the movies (in the second installment, a villainous robot even took the form of a sexy coed before it was obliterated). But it wasn’t until “Dark of the Moon” that I began to think about how damaging this is – especially for the franchise’s younger fans.
Relax, you might say, what action movie doesn’t objectify its female characters a little bit? Boys will be boys in this genre, the thinking goes, and women will be boy toys.
First and foremost, however, such thinking runs counter to biblical teaching. There’s a lot of debate about how Ephesians 5:21-22 should be interpreted, but I’m sure we can all agree that it doesn’t mean women should be equated with machines. Bay may be in awe of the female form, but his line of thinking is about as far away from the understanding of imago dei as one can get.
This is about as far away from the understanding of imago dei as one can get.
What’s especially distressing about the unbiblical objectification of Transformers isn’t so much that it exists (when it comes to movies, that’s a battle that will never be won as long as there is sin). Rather, the real concern is who this distorted worldview most influences.
The Transformers franchise began its pop-cultural life as a 1980s toy (comic books and a cartoon would quickly follow). In other words, kids’ stuff. The new, PG-13 movies are pitched to an older demographic, but blockbusters don’t make this much money by appealing only to one segment. Little kids are going too, often brought by parents who remember the toys from their own childhood and see the movies as a nostalgia-tinged bonding experience.
Watching “Dark of the Moon” surrounded by male teens and some younger boys, I began to understand the insidious way sexism gets its hooks into us. This isn’t one of those bad habits we pick up later in life. It’s an attitude that’s instilled very early on - by the adult examples we witness and the media to which we’re exposed.
So make no mistake, Transformers isn’t escapist entertainment. I’ve heard parents who feel better about the movies because they feature very little actual sex. True, but that’s an insidious bait and switch: one distasteful element is swapped out for another that is actually sneakier and more dangerous. If you ask me, Transformers: Dark of the Moon would be better for everyone if it had more sex and less sexism.