Transformers: The Unaired PSAs
In the 1980s, a lot of cartoons ran animated public service announcements to fill the final seconds of their timeslots: Jem, MASK, Heathcliff, He-Man, and of course, G.I. Joe. One cartoon which was mercifully exempt from this trend was Transformers. Yes, despite being produced by the same animation studio behind G.I. Joe and based off of an equally popular Hasbro toyline, Transformers never had any PSAs. Except they did. Sunbow Productions created a series of five PSAs that were originally intended to air during the show's second season. They never did, but they have since resurfaced as bonus features on some the Transformers DVD box sets and as unlockables in Atari's Transformers PS2 game. Stylistically, they're very similar to the the G.I. Joe PSAs: some kids are somewhere doing something stupid, then a Transformer shows up and sets them straight. Hell, they even end with the infamous "And knowing is half the battle!" line. So why didn't the Transformers PSAs ever air? Well, they're kind of stupid. The G.I. Joe PSAs gave us helpful tips designed to help us stay safe in dangerous situations, like what to do if you encounter downed power lines or how to stop a nosebleed. It seems that Sunbow used up all their good ideas on G.I. Joe, and not just because they came only managed to come up with five ideas for Transformers PSAs. Of these five ideas, only one or two them were any good. But hey, don't take MY word for it...
The first PSA starts off with two dumbass kids riding their bikes in the middle of the street. At night. Without reflectors. Then Red Alert shows up and tries to run them down. When he fails to kill them, he makes up some bullshit about he couldn't see them and they should wear light-colored clothing and put reflectors on their bikes. The kids ride off, then Red Alert repositions himself, eagerly waiting for new victims to ride by...
This was a popular cartoon PSA topic, and also a fairly pointless one. I don't think it was even possible to get a bike without built-in reflectors in the 80s. Literally every kid I knew had reflectors on their bike, and none of them had put them there by choice. When I was in elementary school, they used to have a safety day where the fire department would come to the school and lecture us about various safety procedures, then they'd show us how to properly evacuate a school bus in case of an emergency. After that, they handed out free bike reflectors to everyone and left. We always use to smash them during recess, not because we didn't care about getting run over, but because all our bikes already fucking had reflectors. Speaking of which, why the fuck doesn't Red Alert give those kids reflectors for their goddam bikes? Knowing may be "half the battle", but it won't make them any more visible to any other traffic they might encounter on their way home.
In this PSA, three kids are out on a sailboat. Two of them are wearing lifejackets, but the third one refuses to because "safety is for fags". His friends take exception to that, so one of them smacks him in the head with the sail, causing a mild concussion and knocking him into the water. Fortunately for him, the Decepticons aren't searching for Enegeron in any fjords, streams, or inlets or attacking any oil platforms, so the Autobot Seaspray is doing what he usually does: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. So Seaspray show up and saves the kid, even though he doesn't deserve it, and he learns what his friends already knew: orange maybe a hideous color, but lifejackets save lives.
Here's another situation that's highly dubious. There's no fucking way that three little kids would be out on a sailboat without adult supervision, and you can damn well bet that the adult would have made sure that dumb shit in the black shirt put on a lifejacket. And if for some reason an adult did trust those kids enough to let them sail around by themselves, they wouldn't been allowed off the dock until put on their floaty orange vests. It seems like this entire PSA was cooked up to give Seaspray some face time, which would be fine if he didn't suck ass.
The next PSA starts off on a dark and stormy afternoon. A boy is sitting out in the rain with his friend, talking about how he's going to run away from home because his parents are mean. Just as the boy is about to run away forever, Bumblebee (who unfortunately is the best Transformer featured in these PSAs) shows up and tells him that he talk to his parents about his feelings instead of running away. After hearing Bumblebee's heartfelt five second speech, the boy decides not to run away after all. Then the rain suddenly stops and the sky turns a friendly shade of blue. Bumbleebee and the two boys all walk off together holding hands, ostensibly on their way to engage in some incredibly gay, incredibly disgusting man-on-man-on-robot action.
This PSA simultaneously embodies the best and worst aspects of PSAs. On the surface, the message appears to be a good one. Many of us can recall a time in our childhood where we felt like our parents were being unfair to us, so we decided to run away. For most of us, "running away" entailed little more than hiding in a treehouse or going over to a friend's house with a backpack full of toys and Pop Tarts, but there are always kids who took it one step further. And when you go that extra step, bad things can happen. If you wander out of your neighborhood and into unfamiliar terrain, you can get lost or hurt. And if you walk around proudly telling every friendly stranger you meet that you're running away from home, you could end up getting kidnapped, raped, or killed. This is obviously the sort of thinking behind this PSA. But despite its good intentions, this is not a good PSA. This PSA was born of a sugarcoated Leave It To Beaver world where no one has real problems. We don't know why this kid was running away and neither does Bumblebee. Maybe he's not running away because his parents wouldn't let him watch Spaceballs; maybe he's running away because he was being physically or sexually abused. In the naïve, simplistic word of cartoon PSAs, that doesn't factor in. Sorry kids, this 30 second lesson is about why you shouldn't run away from home. Tune in next sometime next week and we'll tell you what to do when you wake up in the middle of the night and some guy has his dick in your ass.
In this PSA, some guys are skateboarding at the park and talking about which Transformers are cool and which ones suck. One kid likes Ultra Magnus, but his friends think Ultra Magnus sucks. Another kid likes Starscream, and his friends taunt him for backing a whiny little bitch. Then they all manage to agree that Powerglide is stupid boxy piece of shit. Then a girl shows up and tries to skateboard with them. They tell her to fuck off because A) girls are stupid and B) when she talks, she sounds like a man trying to sound like a girl. Then Powerglide suddenly appears in the sky. He lands and begins to lecture the boys about treating girls with respect even though he couldn't possibly have heard their conversation. He tells them to give her a chance, so they do, and it turns out she's a good skateboarder. The boys accept the skater girl into their group and they all skate off together.
On the surface, this PSA seems to be about chauvinism, but that's not entirely true. Powerglide's advice to the boys is this: "Don't judge people until you give 'em a chance!" This message is decidely broader than the "it's okay to have tits" scenario that's depicted, but it's no mistake that they used the gender equality to convey their message. The Transformers support racial equality, but that doesn't mean they didn't want David Duke and Robert Byrd to buy their toys. Therefore, the message had to be more subtle. But since the PSAs never aired, it ultimately didn't matter.
I've saved the best PSA for last. In this brilliant little piece of animation, two kids come across a car with not one but TWO big obvious Autobot logos. One of the kids decides they should "borrow" the car and proceeds to try and jimmy one of the doors open. But what that punkass bitch doesn't know is that the car he was trying to steal was actually Tracks, one of the lamest Transformers of all time. Tracks tranforms into his robot form and proceeds to initiate what might be the the single most stupid exchange in PSA history:
Tracks: Looks more like you're asking for trouble now!
Punkass Bitch: Tracks! I figured I wouldn't get caught.
Tracks: That still wouldn't make it right. Think how YOU'D feel if someone took YOUR car.
Punkass Bitch: Heh, pretty lousy.
Tracks: And if you get caught...
Punk's Wussy Friend: You could end up in jail!
Tracks: Remember, taking something that isn't yours just isn't right.
Punkass Bitch: It's stealing. Now I know!
Tracks: And knowing is half the battle!
You knew stealing was wrong before Tracks busted you, you fucking prick, you just didn't care. It's funny how quickly a person will reform when there's suddenly a giant laser-wielding robot standing in front of them. This PSA seems really out of place. I mean, the fucking cartoon was aimed at eight-year-olds, was this really a message that kids needed to hear? Was there a big carjacking syndicate run by third graders back in the 1985 or something? I doubt it. More likely, this PSA was the result of a brainstorm session over at the Sunbow Productions animation studio. It probably went something like this:
Studio President: All right, I need you guys to come up with some Transformers PSAs.
Suit #1: But we used up our good ideas on the G.I. Joe ones!
Studio President: Look, just come up with something. I don't care what.
Suit #2: Wear a lifejacket!
Studio President: We already did that one for G.I. Joe cartoon.
Suit #2: Wear a lifejacket!
Studio President: Fine, we'll do another goddam lifejacket PSA! Anyone got anything else?
Suit #3: I think I have something. Transformers are cars that turn into robots, right?
Studio President: Yeah...
Suit #3: How about a PSA about *not* stealing cars?
Studio President: That's brilliant! Make it happen.
It's too bad that this PSA never aired... I'd like to think it could have made a difference. In my mind, I can see a parking garage, circa 1996, where a twenty-year-old crack addict is about to steal his first car and sell it to a chop shop... for crack. He looks around nervously, making sure no one is there. Then, just as he's about to smash the window, he thinks back to when he was ten. He remembers how happy he was back then, and he remember Optimus Prime telling him that it was wrong to steal cars. He realizes that Optimus is right and starts to leave. Then he remembers it wasn't Optimus in that PSA, it was that lousy homo Tracks. He smashes the window, steals the car, and begins a long fulfilling life of crack-fueled crime. OK, so maybe it wouldn't have changed anything.
Virtually all of these PSA subjects were covered during the first season of G.I. Joe, only with better characters and better execution. Instead of Bumblebee telling you not to run away from home, you had Shipwreck telling you not to run away from home. Instead of Powerglide telling you girls can skate, you had Gung-Ho. Instead of Tracks telling you not to steal, you had Shipwreck... again. But in Shipwreck's PSA, the kid was planning to steal a bike, not a car. But why Sunbow gave up on Transformers PSAs is anyone's guess. Maybe they felt that they couldn't get away with introducing them in the show's second season, maybe they felt that it would be annoyingly redundant to put extremely similar PSAs on two shows that often aired back-to-back. Or maybe they felt that little boys would be more likely trust and obey Real American Heroes than Robots In Disguise. Honestly, I think Transformers PSAs could have worked, but only if they had picked better characters. If they had used Optimus, Ironhide, and Jazz in the segments instead of crappy Season 2 newcomers like Tracks and Seaspray, maybe I wouldn't have been so quick to notice the massive logic flaws in them.
Posted by: Syd Lexia
AND KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE...