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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Marxism! | The Whole Plate: Episode 9

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Lindsay VO: In Ronald Reagan's first speech as president in 1981, he famously said,

"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem.

Government is the problem."

Before 1984, American television stations were closely regulated,

and the promotion of any product within the body of a TV show

was forbidden by the Federal Communications Commission.

All that changed under the Reagan administration in 1984, when children's television was deregulated

as part of a wider bid to boost the American economy.

Around this time, a Japanese toy company called Takara Tomy was enjoying success in Japan

with several lines of transforming robot toys, including Diaclone and Microman.

Spying opportunity with this new deregulation,

effectively allowing childrens television shows to act as commercials for toys,

American toy giant Hasbro licensed both of these toylines

into a new, American brand known as The Transformers,

and sped into production a cartoon to promote the new toyline,

which premiered in September of 1984.

Although the quality of childrens television of this era is notoriously low

if not extremely high on camp,

SKELETOR: You tin-tongued dolt I'm talking about my patience not my body

OPTIMUS PRIME: Amazing - a booby trap that actually captures boobies

HE-MAN: Ah just what everybody needs - a magical island holiday

SKELETOR: I could write a book about what you don't know

MEGATRON: You disgust me.

TEELA: He-Man, are you alright?

HE-MAN: Just mussed my hair.

Lindsay VO: The effects of this change in regulation laws in media targeting children

reverberates to this day.

Childrens programming is only put into production

with a mind to how well it will sell merchandise.

And Yes, we can consider a toy, a cartoon, a comic, a whatever a piece of art

--The Transformers was most definitely art--

MEGATRON: You are either LYING, or you're STUPID!


Lindsay VO: But that piece of art is still used primarily

for the calculated push towards profit maximisation.

The trend since that de-regulation in the mid-1980's

has seen the profits of these giant corporations

go more and more to the top one percent of earners.

Income inequality was a reality in the mid-1980's, it is a much bigger reality now.

And if we live in a capitalist society where wealth = power,

and the way wealth is distributed, and who controls the means of production,

then what gets made and consumed,

especially media that targets children who are not yet old enough to question power structures,

is an important question:

Who controls the means of production?

Who benefits from that control?

Some might even say it is in the best interest of the masses to

seize the means of production.

Oh boy!


Today were talking about Transformers, Marxism, and film theory,

the least-complicated topic Ive ever decided to tackle.

--sweet fuck why did I choose this--


That topic you think you know about because, ah, certain YouTube intellectuals

screaming about how Marxism is directly opposed to western values is so Hot right now!

(beleaguered sigh)

So at the risk of pissing everyone off--both on the Right and on the Left--

(beleaguered sigh)

Ill preface by admitting that I am not an expert in Marxist critical theory--

I have an MFA in film and television,

not a PhD in Derrida


But I know enough about Marxism to know its really too complex a theoretical framework

to satisfactorily scratch the surface in a 15-20 minute youtube video about theory.

But this is a survey, not a comprehensive lecture so... where do we start?

The barest bones reduction of classical Marxism is that capitalism is bad because its exploitative

because a portion of the value that the worker creates goes to the owner--

In America, a HUGE portion--

Therefore, the worker is not paid the full value of her work.

But Marxism is also highly concerned with the masses--

how information is disseminated, how values are shaped, who shapes them,

who has power, and ultimately how groups of people are controlled and coerced into buying into this unjust system.

This makes Marxist theoretical frameworks particularly of interest to film theorists,

and especially relevant to the Transformers movies.

Well get into that.

One popular misconception is conflating Marxism with communism--

TABBY: Well, technically communism is the inevitable outcome of Marxism,

so it's sort of a distinction without a difference.

Well, I get that, but what I mean is

in American when people hear the word "Communism"

they usually think of the Totalitarian brand exemplified by Stalin.

Well, like I said, I'm no expert! So go ahead, school me.

Well, it's true that there's a Western tradition of Marxist theory

that's more academic than revolutionary

You've got your Hegelian Marxists--

Your Freudo-Marxists--

Tabby VO: Your critical theorists, your Situationists, your Marxist-Humanists--

Your Analytics Marxist, your postmodern Neo-Marxists--

You know, you've got to read Kojeve--

Benjamin, Marcuse, Alrhusser, Lukacs, Gramsci, Rancière--

You have read Rancière, haven't you? under grad

So moving on Marxism and Stalinism

are not the same thing, but this is a useful opportunity to delve into the

difference between theory and praxis.

Marxism is a form of theory.

Theory is thought framework, a means of interpretation, and in this context, a means of predicting

sociological trends and interpreting them.

Praxis is the real world execution of that theory--

In this case usually it would be activism.

For instance, enacting the ideology of Stalinism

in the real world is a form of praxis!

Not a good one.

There are those who defend it--


So givingA Marxist Readingon any given text

is de facto incomplete as there are many Marxist schools of thought,

just as there are many feminist schools of thought.

Marxists disagree with each other constantly

Believe it or not.

So to keep this simple we are going to pick a framework

of a Marxist theoretical theorist who is very important and just GO with that--

Lets spin the wheel of Marxist discourse.

Whos it going to be? Who is going to tell us how to interpret the Transformies--

Okay, Adorno, good enough.

Max Horkheimer and Theador Adorno were members of the Frankfurt School,

which was associated in part with the Institute of Social Research

at the University of Frankfurt

And ultimately we today might consider them the 'daddies' of critical theory

they were far ahead of their time in that they saw media

as a potential lens to culture--

how cultures develop, self-reflect, and propagate values -

ideas that wouldnt take hold in mainstream academia and critical studies

until the 1960s and 70s,

largely in thanks to the work of these guys.

Adorno was the most pessimistic, so its a good thing we chose him.


GLEN: I ate the whole plate.

CARLY: Sam, I got to run.

SAM: Yea.

JERRY: Deep. Wang.

Deep Wang.

You're not getting it. Deep--



AGENT SIMMONS: You want those new teeth you saw on Skymall?


GLEN: The Whole Plate.

For Adorno, film was too close to mass culture

and its spectators were in turn too close to it,

too integrated into its effects and manipulations.

With Horkheimer, Adorno produced the blistering Dialectic of Enlightenment in 1944 after they fled to the U.S.

penning a devastating indictment on the integration of film

into capitalist industrial production and consumption

into what Adorno and Horkheimer describe asThe Culture industry”.

According to Adorno and Horkheimer,

Wait a minute, why does this guy hate jazz so much--

Anyway, moving on.

Adorno saw film as almost analogous to the way Marx saw religion, what he famously called the

- Adorno saw the film industry as a mass, organized machine designed to salve the masses

and to keep them obedient.

According to Adorno and Horkheimer



In effect, late stage capitalism is sad,

and a part of the media industrial complexs function

is to provide a distraction from the fact that you are fundamentally being exploited.

So, you watch Transformers; movies which nobody likes but pings the nostalgia centers of your brain

just enough that it distracts you from the void for approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes.

depending on which one you are watching.

And that is the culture industry.

An important aspect of the escapism provided by the culture industry is of the representation

of the self, the ur-audience member both elevated and denigrated

in the form of the leading man.

i.e. Sam Witwicky.

SAM: I've been talking to you for 10 seconds you have 30 seconds left --

MIKAELA: You know what you can give me the silent treatment all you want--

Lindsay VO: And Cade Yeager:

YEAGER: Go, go--

KID: You know, there's a reward for turning you in.

[VO] YEAGER: Really?

KID: Yea

YEAGER: Cool you want to be punched in the face, like, really hard?

OK, we're done here--

thats enough theoretical framework from Theador Adorno, hater-of-jazz.


Im gonna do my own damn Marxist reading -

first, lets ignorethe culture industry”, i.e. the forces that went into the creation

of the text, and talk about whats in the text itself.

Interpreting text is the most basic form of film studies and mostly ignores other influences i.e. real world

markets that may have lead to the thing existing in the first place,

this is simply the study of the text.

LINDSAY VO: Bumblebee peeing on John Turturro is a part of the text.

It is a thing that happens in the story.

Independent of all things that went into the creation of the text.

The character of Bumblebee hears what Agent Turturro says:

AGENT SIMMONS: Brave now all of a sudden with his big alien friends standing over there

SAM: Where's Sector 7?

SIMMONS: Wouldn't you like to know?

Lindsay VO: Decides he needs to be put in his place, and pees on him.

OPTIMUS PRIME: Bumblebee, stop lubricating the man.

Lindsay VO:Im sorry, lubricates him -

and swivels his little robot hips as he does so.

This is all text.

So what does the text have to say aboutcapitalism?

While on the whole the series remains uninterested in a critique of capitalism:

SAM'S DAD:Oh so, your car has a job?

SAM'S MOM: What does it change into?

There are parts of the text that are strangely anti-capitalist, and this is actually a major trend in Hollywood movies

where the villains are capitalists, in spite of the fact that Hollywood as a system

is a monopoly capitalist wet dream.


Transformers 4 frames Cade Yaeger as a down on his luck inventor,

YAEGER: I'm an inventor!

He is an entrepreneur, but appears to work off a barter system?

Contrast him with Stanley Tuccis character Joshua Joyce in Transformers 4;

SCIENCEPERSON: Transformium, that's what we've calling it

JOYCE: Focus group. Catchy.Trademarked.

Lindsay VO: Not of course to be confused with Stanley Tuccis portrayal of Merlin in Transformers 5...

MERLIN: Oooh. God. I'm swozzled. One last nip.

Lindsay VO: --Joyce is a thinly veiled Steve Jobs-a-like whose methods are inherently exploitative.

SCIENTIST: Programmable matter. And now we've mapped it's genome--


SCIENTIST: You've mapped it's genome.

BRAINS, TRAPPED IN A GLASS CAGE: And I was in charge of the autopsy duty.

No union. No benefits. no nothing.

Lindsay VO: He steals technology that is not his, and more over, he steals technology

from the dead bodies of Transformers.

BRAINS: This is not legal. This is illegal experimentation.

Lindsay VO: And not just Decepticons, either.

The movie goes out of its way to show that the medic Ratchet from the first movie--

you know, the guy that said this -

RATCHET: The boy's pheromone levels suggests he wants to mate with the female.

--is having his corpse vandalized.

YEAGER: They're melting Ratchet.

And that Optimus is really mad about this.

OPTIMUS: They slaughtered Ratchet!

I'm going to tear them apart!

Lindsay VO: In the very same scene where we are getting to learn of Steve Jobss exploitative villainy

BOOM product placement!

And the ironic thing about Age of Extinction--

the one text of the five movies that is most critical of capitalism--

is also the most explicit in its product placement.

YAEGER: Insurance? It's a freakin' spaceship.

This your car? [pops bottle open on door frame] Huh?

But there is another form of product placement in these films that would also be of interest to the attentive Marxist.

See, the attentive Marxist is less interested in the text itself than the function of the text

- what values is it encouraging, what is it trying to sell you.

And the answer to that is, of course, much more than Meets The Eye--



The answer is much more complex than a series of films designed to sell toys and place products.

And that is where the aesthetics of advertising come in.

If the primary intent of these films was to sell product and elevate brand name recognition,

namely, of the Transformers toy line, then Michael Bay was the perfect choice to direct

these five movies for a variety of reasons.

The first being his history as a director of commercials and music videos.

Commercials as advertisements for products,

AD: Y'know this is pretty good beer'--

and music videos being advertisements for albums.

Both are pieces of art unto themselves--

Bays iconicGot Milkcommercial from the 90s is remembered for a reason.

HAS NO MILK MAN: *trying to say Aaron Burr*

RADIO CONTEST: I'm sorry maybe next time--

But these are pieces of art whose mere existence is dependent on their function as advertising.

So to bring it back around to professor Jazz-hater:

But Bay is advertising far more than just toys with these films.

Hollywood has long held a mutually beneficial relationship with the Pentagon

in which the Department of Defense provides information and equipment to certain productions,

provided that they effectively function as a taxpayer-subsidized military recruitment ad.

Not all Hollywood films make the cut.

THE AVENGERS was famously denied these subsidies when the text was not deemed by the Pentagon as--

shall we say--

Helpful to their recruitment efforts.

According to academic Toby Miller:

As for propaganda, the state and the film industry have often worked together.

In the embarrassingly macho language of the US political science, the media representsoft power

to match thehard powerof the military and the economy.”

The military offering their equipment, time and manpower is nothing new; what is new is

the type of movie they lend their resources to.

No longer are the biggest projects real life stories about soldiers and heroism; now they

just as often involve an alien invasion, with a military subplot thrown in as an afterthought,

an advertisement, even,

which are then later tied-in with a literal recruitment campaign.

Recent high profile examples include The Transformers movies, Man of Steel, and

Independence Day: Resurgence.

That went well.

The Transformers movies use the cinematic language of capitalism both to safely critique

a fictionalized brand of capitalism - the girly, effite, non-manly Steve Jobs kind -

JOYCE: Tactical nuke [laughs] LOL



Lindsay VO: While using that same language to actually promote the state's agenda

And one more important note about Tucci character

He exploits dead Autobots innocently, but only with encouragement from corrupt government agencies.

In fact, Tucci is redeemed at the end, despite his misdeeds,

where the REAL bad guy, a government agent played by

Kelsey-yep-hes-here-too-Grammer and founder of CIA factionCemetery Wind”--

KELSEY GRAMMER: Cemetery Wind.

Lindsay VO:--is shot in the back by Optimus Prime, our hero.

In the end, in the words of Ronald Reagan….

REAGAN: Government is the not the solution to our problem.

Lindsay VO: Sometimes it is in the interest of the State to push this ideology.

And the Transformers movies have been all too eager to oblige.

So I want to bring it back to Professor Jazz-Hater for a minute--

BEE MOVIE: you like jazz?

Normally I wouldnt feel the need to explain this

but this is a series for YouTube, not for the classroom --

When one explains a theoretical framework and applies it to a text

that isn't necessarily the same thing as agreeing with that framework.

It's just showing that you understand it.

I say this because I don't want my interpreting Adorno's position for Transformers

to mean that I think all products of the Culture Industry are meaningless

exist to cram some fleeting complacence in your life so you dont get utterly sucked into the void.

If that was true how could I possible justify all these Starscreams I seem to own.


But there is a big problem in nerd communities

with coming to terms with the fact that a product they love kind of only exists for

gross hypercapitalistic Reagany reasons.

Personally, I do not care.

I buy my Starscreams, I read my comics,

and I can still talk about the fact that this series only exists due to deregulation designed to target children

and benefit big businesses.

I personally do not ascribe to Adornos black and white world view--

that the culture industry produces only trash, and you only stuff your face with it because you

are trying to fill a bottomless emptiness with no name.

To concede to this viewpoint is to posit that Hollywood is incapable of producing art

with any sort of meaning, and thats just not a position I can get behind.

Plus I just dont think I can trust the taste of a guy who hates jazz that much.

BUT--and this is if you ignore Bay's movies which do,

I think, fit into Adorno's definition of trash--

it is also not fair to say that nothing good or artistic has come from this franchise

Despite it's origins as a marketing tool to sell toys.


The products of the culture industry are hollow and meaningless!


Hey Tabbydo you like jazz?

Yea. That's what I thought.

The Description of Marxism! | The Whole Plate: Episode 9