My dad and I went to see the third Transformers movie the first day it came out. When posed with the possibility of choosing a film that tells a good story versus a pure popcorn flick of no redeemable intellectual value, we went with the latter because it is, after all, summer blockbuster season. We simply wanted to be entertained. And entertained we were. But there was one part of the movie that made my pulse rate jump a bit, and not in a testosteronal sense. And it was just a small blip of the entire movie—beginning with a mere graphic title and ending with fire and explosions.
A far-off shot shows cars advancing towards a compound in the desert. In the bottom left corner a title scrolls in, saying the following: The Middle East – Illegal Nuclear Site. Most American audiences will think nothing of this.
Let’s pause for a moment before going further into this scene. There’s one word that makes this horribly offensive, and that is “illegal.” Not so much the word itself, but the reasoning behind the word is puzzling. We could at first surmise this site is illegal because of two things, but really it just comes down to one. We can’t say—though we might like to—this place is illegal because it houses nuclear weapons. That would make all nuclear storage facilities illegal, and that’s not possible because America has nuclear weapons facilities, and it’s always accepted that America is allowed to have those bombs. They’re safe with us. And so we have to throw out that qualification. Then we’re left with the illegal aspect being solely connected to location: the Middle East.
If nuclear weapons are there, they can not be legal. It is not possible. If there’s going to be a nuclear weapon site and it’s illegal, it won’t be in America, it will be out in the Middle East. We all know this. It is a well-known fact.
Little things like this, whether we realize it or not, will continue to subliminally perpetuate the belief that only America can be trusted with nuclear weapons. Obviously, if anyone in the Middle East has nuclear weapons, they only have one purpose behind those bombs, and that is to kill people. (It should now be asked, what other purpose could a bomb possibly have? I suppose America’s bombs are emissaries of aid?)
America trusts herself with her nuclear bombs because clearly we wouldn’t actually use them another nation’s troops, much less their actual innocent citizens. I mean, come on. We’ve never done that. We’d never stoop so—
Let’s return to the scene in the movie.
The good Transformers (I’m not nerd enough to remember or care what they’re called) converge on this compound and just blast the hell out of it. Kill soldiers, blow up stuff, and I have no idea why. Even when I started writing this post the very day after I saw the movie, I had no recollection of what the point was, no idea why exactly the Transformers were going there. Was there a point? The Transformers did their just deed and leave the place smoldering.
Here’s the next thing we have to keep in mind, and to do so we must take off the shroud of fictitiousness. If such an attack took place on an American nuclear site, we would label it as terrorism. Instantly. Without haste. However, if such an ambush takes place on a Middle Eastern nuclear site, we label it justice, salvation, preservation of freedom, et cetera. Or we don’t even label it and just silently accept it. And the majority of the American populace viewing the latest Transformers franchise installment will not think twice about this. Most will unconsciously nod and think, “Yep, that’s right.” (And there are many people watching it because this film’s made a killing so far at the box office—no pun intended).
It should be noted I’m not angry at Michael Bay, the director of this film. He’s never shown delicacy, subtlety, or sensitivity in his films, and this is why they can be so entertaining and make so much money. I’m not about to expect anything different from him and his crew.
But had the same scene in the movie been located in America, would the word “illegal” have been used to label the nuclear facility on U.S. soil? Are we saying the determiner of what is or is not illegal becomes solely based on something as unrelated as a locale, a region, a plot of land? Shouldn’t nuclear sites be deemed illegal because bombs are being made there? Shouldn’t all nuclear bomb facilities be thought of as illegal?
You can try and convince me this was what Michael Bay and his film crew were trying to say, but given the myriad shots of American flags in the movie, I’d be difficult to sway.
Bombs are not safer in one person’s hands than in someone else’s. It’s still a bomb. It has one purpose.
This goes beyond title graphics in movies. This gets into foreign policy, which nations we deem to be right and which ones we believe to be wrong, which governments we perceive to be benevolent and which ones we view as evil, and what our honest belief and answer is to the question, “Is a bomb ever legal?”
You may think I make too much of a little portion from a summer blockbuster. I’m not saying I became livid. I wasn’t shaking my middle finger at the projector or chunking my popcorn at the screen. I didn’t do my own little protest by snapping my 3D glasses in half, rather than recycling them. My jaw set a little bit, I shook my head a tad, and I made a mental note to jot some thoughts down later, but beyond that I enjoyed the movie. After all, it’s not like Transformers is to be taken too seriously, if at all.
But I wonder what Middle Easterners think when they watch the movie this summer. Or is the same title graphic in their cut of the film? If it’s the same one we see, do they shake their heads as well? Or do they not even flinch because it no longer surprises them? Oh, to be a fly on a wall in a Baghdad theatre.