BEYOND THE FOUR WALLS: Another look at ʾBumbleBeeʾ

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows John Cena as Agent Burns, left, and John Ortiz as Dr. Powell in a scene from “Bumblebee.” (Jaime Trueblood/Paramount Pictures via AP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BY WALTER I. BALANE 

MALAYBALAY CITY ( BukidnonNews.Net/10 February) — ʺWow, it was fun. I can watch it again?ʺ said a male teenager to a companion after watching the $455-million box office hit ʾBumbleBeeʾ in a cinema in Bukidnonʾs recently opened mall.

ʺIt was fantastic. I wish Bumblebee scans a dulog (monicker for Tuktuk-styled motorcab) and meets us here,ʺ another companion responded, to his groupʾs laughter.

Indeed, watching it was a relaxing experience with family last month. However, ʾBeeʾ creators missed out on some aspects – stuff that escaped many of us.

No question about the entertainment value. The more humane treatment of the Transformer franchise was enjoyable. There was more realistic intertwining of robotic and human drama, too. There was space for respect between the two worlds. Alarmist intrusion or invasion was not wholesale.

The 80s setting was also remarkable – at least for the Batang 80s in me.  The soundtrack – including A haʾs Take on Me and Tears for Fearsʾ Everybody Wants to Rule the World – brought me back to memory lane, to the Transformers of my childhood.

BumbleBee was a blockbuster movie with positive reviews. Millions of young people cashed in on the movie, and the count continues.

But popularity also meant that the makers carried heavy social responsibility.   There were reasons why I could not sit comfortably all throughout the feature.  In a time when movies render more than just entertainment role, the makers of Bumblebee chose to spin.

Notable is the choice of geographic setting.  As Autobots escape from the now Decepticon-dominated Cybertron, B-127 was sent to Earth and landed in California. This is where Hollywood is – the center of gravity of American cultural invasion through media.

Creators might have thought of some reasons why they direct the robot to such location. I can only imagine the likes of Godzilla being attracted to concentration of radiation.  The character Charlie found her Bumblebee in a junkyard – it is telling.

It could have been in Myanmar or a Pacific island to offer a wider horizon. The choice supports the parochial-imperial mindset – America is Earth, Earth is America.  This is the same America that Donald Trump wanted to build a super wall around. Of course, let the Americans debate.

The choice has something to do with the design of the movie.  If it was to narrow down and keep the plot simple, they succeeded. It is easier to manage a story line on familiar grounds and context.

Because the intrusion happened in a US state, they can continue minimalizing the plot: the response to an alien intrusion is countered only by the US government’s military ops Sector 7.  This minimalism is in contrast with the expansion in animation and characterization.

Fast forward to 2019, nations have been doing joint space explorations. Perhaps, there is already a protocol of coordination and response in case of inter-galactic attacks. The United Nations mechanism, set up in post-World War II was totally ignored.

The movie missed the message of the need for global partnerships to address development issues such as threats to peace and justice. The entry of the Decepticons pretending to be peacemakers in ʾBumblebeeʾ was a global threat. There was no semblance of coordination with other countries to respond to the attack. I can hear a voice saying, it was the time of the Cold War – there were two superpowers – they needed no assistance.

Of course a narrow story line is an exercise of artistic license – and we cannot impose on the artists and financiers how they do art.

A broader fiction is also a budget issue. Audience analysis might also find injecting the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (still non-existent by 1987) a formula for it to flop.

In fairness, one of the many redeeming values of the movie was promotion of family values. Oneʾs need and love for family was not lost in its sci-fi genre. Charlie was initially portrayed to have disdain towards her widowed mom for remarrying early. She was still grieving the loss of her father. In the end, she embraced her new family. This is such a beautiful and relatable message.

But the case still holds. Its popularity is precisely the point. The movie was great, so only a few mind the flaw.

The movie did a disservice by failing to educate the young viewers about history – assuming a lot that it can be read between the lines. Choosing to situate it in a Cold War setting excludes realities that are already incumbent.  More importantly, it reneged on the need for collaboration to counter global threats.

Of course, fiction can be fiction and presumably be excused. But fiction should also help fill the gaps, especially if it is dished out to the younger generation.

In mass media, several theories explain about constructions of reality as pointed out by agenda-setting, priming, framing and the hypodermic needle theories. The constructs, however, are not accurate. Cultivation theory demonstrates that steady exposure of citizens to mass media like television influences their views and ideas of what the everyday world is like.

I am not Anti-America. The issue here is the missing cue on collaboration. Beyond the movie, collaboration is useful in approaching other development issues such as pursuing peace processes within or between states.

The danger is in influencing what the audience will think about. Think of mental frames like ʺUS supremacy,ʺ ʺUS controlled governance,ʺ ʺother nations depend on the USʺ among other spins. It was not helpful in promoting equality and ending disparities among nations and among peoples in 1987. Not helpful then, not helpful now.

I pass no judgment to those who think this is just paranoia or overthinking. It pays to mind the sublime – the undercurrents of perceived reality. As we marvel in the scenes of entertainment, some information hits our brain cells and cuts like a knife.

How we viewers make sense of it is our lookout.  How we digest and use the feed is up to us.

(Walter I. Balane is former Davao City and Bukidnon reporter of MindaNews. He chairs BukidnonNews.Net, an online publication pursuing community journalism. He now teaches Peace and Development, economics and communication subjects in Bukidnon State University.)