In Michael Bay’s 2007 film Transformers, product and person are a shared entity – consumer machines are not tied to any producer, no labor, and no market value. The Autobots and Decepticons instead act as dueling gods. The role of humans, in this late-Capitalist scenario, is completely detached from manufacturing, production, or the assembly of the machines they are in dialogue with – humans are merely third party bystanders of their own fetish interests. Even the tagline of the film, “Their War. Our World”, references a kind of out-of-control relationship with the technology we use, the objects we create, and the products we consume.
A man being attacked by his X-Box 360 (Transformers, 2007).
Michael Bay’s film places society outside of its own consumerist agenda. By separating these manufactured products from their producers and their consumers, he exonerates society of its connection to the dubious issues relating to their production. In Transformers, people are not destroyed by their own fetishization and consumption of these products, but rather, they are destroyed by some external force that acts on these consumer goods. In Michael Bay’s universe, we are never faced with circumstances that we have created ourselves. Instead, we are faced with two options, a benevolent overlord in the form of a sleek, American-made car and an aggressive tyrant in the form of militaristic weapon-clad vehicles. Berlin-based artist Timur Si-Qin’s 2011 exhibition Mainstream approaches this inherent aesthetic difference.
Mainstream, Timur Si-Qin 2011
Mainstream defines the visual economy created in this commercial franchise. The movie offers an easy choice; the clean design that we as consumers have been conditioned to enjoy, or the ominous, function-only build of military jets, tanks, and helicopters. In the accompanying text forMainstream, Si-Qin defines the viewers/consumers options:
“Transformers is currently one of the largest narrative franchises in hollywood cinema, with vast amounts of capital at stake, the elements of the story are carefully crafted to communicate clearly and effectively to the broadest possible audience. The ‘good’ robot’s industrial-design features clean mechanistic cuts and bright colors whereas the evil robot’s design is organic, scaly and insect-like, reflecting an evolutionary predisposition to associate these features with snakes and bugs and by extension danger, death and disease.”
Si-Qin describes the polarizing design techniques adopted in order to conjure immediate reactions of right and wrong in the viewer. In an era of technological proliferation, sleek and mechanical design becomes a comforting attribute of consumerism and clunky, specialized engineering becomes threatening. But as the United States carries out drone-strikes in Pakistan, and releases malware targeting uranium enrichment infrastructures in Iran, the imagery utilized in Transformers becomes less about a battle between good and evil and instead, a document of our understanding of technology in an era of constant war.