Why I Still Like
the Bad Guys
By Sharon "Tut" LaBorde
Because the realm of Transformers is split into two factions, its fans in turn tend to divide themselves; declaring themselves to be not just fans of all Robots in Disguise, but specifically Autobot- or Decepticon- fans. For my own part, while I personally claim favorite characters on both sides and would not go so far as to favor one group exclusively, my most loved Decepticons certainly have more colorful personalities with which I identify. I never hesitate when asked to explain why Starscream, Galvatron and Cyclonus are my favorite bad guys. However, I have also noticed that over the years, my reasons for holding them dear have grown and changed as I have. Not only did I gain new reasons for enjoying those three Decepticons most of all, but I also gained a new favorite over the years. All of these characters have one thing in common, though: they each reflect a part of my life and have given me insight into living it.
Among my favorite Decepticons, Starscream has held unquestionable seniority. The finer details of being seven years old and watching The Transformers on Saturday mornings, or later on weekday afternoons, may have faded with time; but Starscream always stood out as a memorable personality. His most readily obvious talent was for snappy comic relief, such as when he made the cutting remark to Megatron in Cosmic Rust, "Perhaps you were made of shoddy materials". (I had to ask my mother what 'shoddy materials' meant, but once I understood it the comment was etched into my mind.) I enjoyed it just as much when Starscream became the butt of a joke, as he did in one of my favorite episodes, Starscream's Brigade: bemoaning his exile while walking along the beach and then tripping over an airplane wing in the sand during mid-sentence. As a kid I loved things that made me laugh, and Starscream never failed me. But while his humor made me smile, it was his fiesty, independent spirit that secured him an eternal place in my heart. In many ways I felt he was a kindred soul. His dream of overthrowing Megatron as Decepticon leader was both painfully obvious and monumentally impossible, but I admired the fact that Starscream never stopped trying. In him I saw perserverance despite discouragement, and determination to never give up--qualities I needed as a shy, elementary school aged kid with low self-esteem. I cheered for Starscream when he finally got the better of his leader in Transformers: the Movie, but at the same time I also had a funny feeling that something would go wrong at the last minute, just as things always seemed to for me. I had no idea that Galvatron would kill him, though, especially not in the brutally graphic manner he did. The movie trailers blatantly suggested that Optimus Prime would die, but they never said anything about Starscream. I felt shocked and heartbroken to see him killed. But because he died for succeeding in his dream, to me he also became a martyr.
Had Galvatron stayed the same being in the cartoon that he had in the movie, I might never have begged for the action figure of him that I got the Christmas following the Movie--or as I sometimes like to think, have been on Galvatron's Christmas list. In the Movie he had potential for me because he replaced Megatron, whom I didn't like; and also because, being one of the last characters named in the opening credits to be revealed in the story, I was kept in suspense waiting to see where he would finally appear. By killing Starscream he damaged that potential, but as it turned out, not permanently. His cartoon voice was less deep and not quite so threatening as his more famous Movie voice, and his manic tendencies gave him a new dimension. Galvatron redeemed himself for taking away Starscream's comic element by more than adequately replacing it. I came to love watching him bat his troops around and scream at them; besides, the behavior was already all-too-familiar. My mother screamed and swatted at my two brothers and I all the time, but she wasn't nearly as funny as Galvatron--and when he screamed, it was never because I was the one in trouble! When Webworld aired Mom only added to the situation by commenting that the psychiatrists on Torkulon used some of the same methods she had seen in therapy that she was getting at the time. So Galvatron became an immediately familiar person that had lovable quirks, even more so than those of a mother I loved despite her difficulties as a parent.
He also had a less humorous, though equally profound appeal, but it was very different from Starscream's. While Starscream had taught me never to let self-doubt keep me from trying, through Galvatron I learned that getting angry is part of human nature. I often got treated unfairly as a kid, by a variety of different people, and I didn't always recieve the dignity of an explanation. Even Galvatron, the leader of the Decepticons, sometimes had the very same problem when the Quintessons lied to him or when one of his troops would fail him; in such case, he never made any secret of the fact that he was angry. Many times I wished that I had the physical strength to do what Galvatron could whenever I felt slighted. He had the ability to make others regret their transgressions, an ability I longed to have myself. But, by the same token, I knew what it felt like on the receiving end when someone was acting out their aggression. I could tell through watching Galvatron that people like my mother were taking out their anger by screaming or hitting, and I certainly did not enjoy being involved. The Decepticon leader, however, had his own favorite target who caught my attention as well: Cyclonus.
Right from the first post-movie episode, Five Faces of Darkness, Cyclonus became a convenient focus point for his leader's frustration. I felt sympathy for him, but paradoxically I also had to respect the fact that he never hit back or even seemed angry about being mistreated. Galvatron represented what I wished I could do, but Cyclonus did the more sensible (not to mention socially acceptable) thing and refused to tangle with somebody he knew was bigger and stronger. Throughout most of grade school I was a bony, small-statured little girl with just enough strength to throw around two much-younger brothers; and as if schoolyard bullies weren't enough, I also had two parents who were quite unafraid to wield their absolute authority. As a result, I was painfully aware of the virtue of knowing when to be meek. Ironically enough, that was something even Starscream had to do from time to time--though he displayed a much more obviously defiant streak than Cyclonus. Still, Cyclonus had a talent for gracefully acquiescing while still holding his head high. Somewhere he had to respect himself, and that made him very special to me.
The Transformers ended their heyday as I began junior high, and as I started to make a turbulent transition out of childhood I let them slip into the background. My handful of action figures stayed on the shelf, watching quietly as I went from being a sad-eyed little kid to being a persistent, angst-ridden teenager. At the end of my freshman year in high school, though, I realized that I must have gotten something out of being a Transformers fan that I could not find in anything current in my life. Starscream, Galvatron and the rest of the gang had qualities I enjoyed once, which was more than I found in acquaintances at school or things from pop culture (Heaven forbid the Ninja Turtles have any profound bearing on somebody's life...). So I pulled out the handful of episodes still remaining on tape, started watching the Movie more frequently than I had in years, and realized that nothing would ever be the same.
As had always been the case in the past, surrounding events and circumstances in my life affected how I viewed the Transformers' mythos. When I was fifteen, I became painfully aware of my parents' growing marital problems because I often got dragged into their conflict, whether I wanted to be or not. Eventually pressures became too great for me to suffer with the same resignation I had as a child--but I had no way to rebel openly and vent my frustrations. That is where Starscream came in, with the wonderful gift of catharsis. While as a kid I loved Starscream for continuing to perservere in spite of failure, my attention shifted as a teenager to the fact that his unending defiance let him succeed the impossible twice. Not only did he become leader for a brief few moments, but he also managed to defy death itself (for Ghost in the Machine really did leave the ending up to viewers' imagination, and I always believed that he finally escaped Galvatron alive.) Even as I slowly started to become more self-confident myself, Starscream was still the perfect hero to me, able to repeatedly succeed with a vengeance.
At first I had almost no post-Movie episodes on videotape, so my new impressions of Galvatron were based mostly on the Movie itself. What particularly caught my attention was his struggle with Unicron. I actually became sympathetic to Galvatron, at least at the points where he was tortured by his master. I saw someone forced to carry out a task that would ultimately be his undoing for a creator whose interests lay only with himself. Furthermore, since I always thought that Unicron's torture was what made Galvatron go insane, I felt sure that he hated his creator for good reason. Needless to say, with two parents constantly arguing and one of them forcing me to listen to her side, I could relate to Galvatron's position. His anger and rebelliousness were feelings I sympathized with. Ironically enough, Cylonus lost ground somewhat until roughly when I turned eighteen. I saw him as being who was dependent upon Galvatron, so while I still loved his character I empathized with him less during my high school years.
My transition out of high school was in some ways even more turbulent than the transition into it, as my relationship with my parents, especially my mother, grew even worse. During rough times, Starscream and Galvatron continued to provide the same moral support they always had, and Cyclonus' dignified manner finally regained my favor. They and their Autobot counterparts were there when I needed them most. As a plus, though, in college I got the chance to interact with more people and I came to learn about the male point of view, which has helped me understand my favorite characters better. While in earlier years I wondered how jealous Starscream or Galvatron would be if I had a romantic relationship, the person that I could finally be happy with bears some resemblance in personality to Starscream. So, just as that favorite Decepticon could revel in my writing with a companion I created for him, I could also have my own companion to be his human equivalent.
But even with a significant other, recent times have not been entirely blissful. Although my trio of Most Favored Decepticons encouraged me as much as they could through the trials of college life and eventually my parents' divorce, they needed an unlikely reinforcement: Megatron. Despite his unfavorable status during my childhood, I started to appreciate his value as a character once I got back into the Transformers. After finally getting his action figure and writing about him frequently in my stories and essays, I couldn't help but grow to like him. I noticed his incredible talent for improvising strategies, manipulating others to get what he wanted, and making an answer to a problem even when no answer was to be had. While I don't endorse the coercement of other people, especially considering how often it has been done to me, I can understand its brutal efficiency thanks to Megatron. Just as Galvatron's examples onscreen helped me to recognize physical abuse, Megatron helped me to see manipulation and the abuse of power for what they were. He has also been a source of encouragement to think strategically about a problem, and to protect my possible advantages. My Autobot friends urge me not to be totally ruthless, but a certain Decepticon leader is just as quick to remind me that others can be--so I should always be prepared.
This is not to say that Megatron is a hero in my eyes; I love him as a character who has traits and abilities I can understand, just like his comrades. Of them all, Starscream is the biggest personal hero to me, even though he did things onscreen that I would disagree with had I actually been there. But that in itself is what makes the Decepticon faction so appealing to me as a whole: they are all imperfect beings, just as myself and every other human being on this planet is also imperfect. I view the Decepticons as a sort of odd family, organized in a volatile military chain of command reminiscent of my own background. Their family has internal power struggles, just as my own has; weaker or lower-ranking Decepticons often face intimidation from their superiors, just as I have experienced; and in order to survive in their ranks, they must be highly self-reliant in some way or another; just as I have had to rely on myself in so many ways throughout my life. The Decepticon cause is not a just one in my heart, and neither are many of the Decepticons' actions. Still, their flawed characteristics, and the ways in which they struggle to adapt and serve under equally fallible leaders, have made them like brothers to me. Through embracing Decepticon characters, I embrace the fact that nobody is perfect, and that we are all mortal.
I love Starscream, Galvatron, Cyclonus and Megatron, because I can identify with or at least appreciate the ways in which they strive to live and succeed in an imperfect world. That does not mean that I think the Autobots are flawless themselves--far from it. But they represent a much more peaceful situation which I either have yet to find, or in some instances know that I can never have. My family, and some of the other people around me, will never adamently defend or even be sensitive to the weak or victimized like Optimus Prime does. They will never be as affable or energetic as Hot Rod, remain loyal to the end like Ironhide or take Grimlock's simple approach to life. But I know that in the absence of those qualities, I can call on the help of a fiesty, determined Decepticon named Starscream; a manic leader named Galvatron, with his ever stoic second-in-command Cyclonus; and Megatron, who knows how to manipulate a situation to his advantage. With their inspirations and their valuable lessons, I can rise above the iniquities of this world and seek a better day.
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