Animated television shows in the 1980s often followed a few basic formulae. Some were genuinely intended to entertain viewers and – through advertising or re-runs – make money for the studios that produced them such as the various Marvel shows of the time. Others wereintended to inform and educate in a way that would entertain young children so they would absorb the messages presented to them in a more digestible form. Then there were shows like Masters Of The Universe and Thundercats that were little more than 25 minuteadvertisements for the latest toys being released by their respective companies. While we were too naive to realise it back then, Transformers fell into the latter category. The show needed to make the toys and characters look as “cool” as possible while remaining kid-friendly at all times…
That being the case, it was quite shocking to find out what the subject matter was of the 31st episode of Season Two and the title is pretty explanatory. The Gambler followed on immediately after the previous story Child’s Play where the Autobots had visited a planet populated by giants and where Optimus Prime and his fellow ‘bots had been regarded as little more than toys. They eventually manage to evade their captors, leaving the planet in what was effectively a toy rocket.
Their escape and return home is halted when they’re captured by an alien – Bosch. Holding the Autobots hostage for valuable Energon supplies, the alien reveals that he is a gambler with an uncanny ability to win at slot machines by manipulating them. While trying to gain his much needed Energon, he takes his Autobot prisoners to a casino planet. Here ensues a challenge from the escaped Smokescreen as he tries to “win” the release of his comrades before the arrival of the Decepticons…
It’s odd to see such a controversial topic crop up in a show aimed at such a young – and easily influenced – audience. Especially having in mind that gambling is illegal in most of US. Even established global brands like William Hill and Betway are not allowed to operate there. Throughout the series, episodes were intended to introduce new characters and ideas to encourage viewers to want new toys and characters and for those that didn’t have enough pocket money at the time to buy them, that often involved adding them to Christmas and Birthday present lists or turning to parents and hoping that “pester power” worked. I’m sure that we’ve all done it – seen toys on television and begged repeatedly until our parents have given up just to keep us quiet and I do wonder just how many other ways we have been influenced or inspired by the show (and other shows for that matter) over the years.
I know people have been quick to judge violent video games and other virtual games over the years and blame them for “all things evil” in the world today, but is there any truth in the real impact of what our children are watching and reading and how it really shapes their lives in the future? Maybe we’re being desensitised to violence, horror, and the darker side of human nature because of its inclusion in popular culture and entertainment.
More than ever our children need positive role models on television, in movies and video games where it’s clear that actions always have consequences and risks attached to them. If a heroic character like Optimus Prime can watch as innocent people die next to him as he did in the first live action movie, and throughout the movies have little regard for the Decepticons that are killed throughout then the lines between good and evil become blurred. Kids see that not only do the “bad guys” kill who they see fit, but that it’s okay for the good guys to kill as well.
I’m not saying that someone needs to stand up and take a moral stance against everything that we see and play anymore and that everything should be censored, but perhaps a bit more understanding that we have a responsibility to our children to help them – and future generations – see that the world doesn’t have to be as dark as the media would like to portray it.