Whatever your feelings are about the original G1 television show, there’s no denying the fact that the main purpose behind it was to sell toys. Directives came down from Hasbro to the creative team to make sure that certain characters were featured prominently to help push the latest products, even more so when new toys were unveileved. But it didn’t stop us lapping it all up when we were kids every time a new episode hit our screens.
There was one character that stood out to many though. He wasn’t an Autobot or Decepticon, just a regular human but viewers across the globe felt an instant connection with him in ways that hadn’t been done in a mainstream animated show before. His name was Chip Chase. On the surface Chip was just like any other human character in a show like Transformers – the best friend of one of the show’s main protagonists. The intelligent geek who was often turned to for help in times of a crisis (or when the episode called for it!). What made Chip so special, at least at the time, was the fact that he had a physical disability.
No real mention was made in the series about his health other than the fact that he was a wheelchair user, but it didn’t matter. Chip was treated just like any other character and was – in character terms at least – a true equal to his best friend Spike. The fact that he was a valued ally to the Autobots was all the more significant.
The reality is that such a prominent character with a disability, not treated as a focus of pity or regarded as a “victim” in 1984 was truly groundbreaking. Children growing up watching Chip could see themselves and be inspired knowing that their medical conditions weren’t something that would hold them back – a situation society has forced upon generations of people with disabilities (and still does to this day). To disregard that part of Chip wasn’t disrespecting him – he was being treated equally, the way all people with disabilities want to be and it set a wonderful example for fans. An example I hope stuck with many fans throughout their lives.
Chip certainly wasn’t the first significant character with a disability we’ve seen. Marvel Comics brought us Daredevil and Professor X to name but two. Star Trek: The Next Generation brought us Geordi LaForge (named after disabled Star Trek fan George LaForge). Many more have appeared over time and even the Beano has a prominent character in the form of Rubidium von Screwtop. Rubi debuted in her own mini strip and is now a mainstream character both in the comic, current TV series and has even featured in a selection of free online Beano games, including several of her own! The pint-sized tech wizard seems to have won Beano readers over!
Things have definitely come along way for representation since the days of G1. We’re not quite where we need to be, but it’s a step in the right direction.