How Do You Solve a Problem Like Knock Out?
I tend not to talk much about my love for the immortal-seeming franchise that is Transformers. This is largely because I don’t talk much here on the tumblr in general and because I rarely have much to say upon the object of my fan-adoration.
The current show, Transformers: Prime does not, in general, lend itself to much discussion for me because it has often been mediocre and every time it threatens to get interesting, the interesting thing gets derailed and we’re back to a group of noble-yet-boring robots and their annoying teenaged companions occasionally running afoul of the erstwhile bad guys’ uninspired evil plan du jour.
One of the interesting parts of the show is the character Knock Out.
Knock Out is one of the best things on the show, having a few really killer scenes.
Knock Out is also chock-full of Unfortunate Implications.
(picture source: tfw2005 forums)
Knock Out is awesome in that he seems, at least subtextually, to be whatever the equivalent of gay would be in a giant robot society. This is reinforced not only by the easy erudition of his vocal performance, but by slightly exaggerated body language and the following exchange:
"Yes, right. You’re one of those."
"Never understood why any self-respecting Decepticon would choose automobile as his vehicle mode when he could have flight."
"I like the way I look in steel-belted radials."
Talk about subtext-city. Here was a character on a male-centric adventure show who was getting dressed down for having a different lifestyle and then countering that down-dressing with a cool dismissal of his superior officer’s implied insults.
Knock Out is, textually, the bad guy robots’ most respected medic and while he is not above the odd power grab, he is never, ever made a figure of fun. He’s closer to an erudite Bond villain than Uncle Arthur from Bewitched. He’s clearly respected and portrayed as a credible threat to the good guys.
But, he’s also an embodiment of many of the negative stereotypes associated in the media with regards to members of the gay community. After all, many villains from the Lion King's Scar to Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill have used the tactic of making the villain seem a little gay to make them extra-scary to straights and his espoused preference for tearing his fellow robots apart seems a least a little reminiscent of the odious and ridiculously false claims of the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer that Hitler used gay soldiers because “homosexual solders basically had no limits and the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after." (source)
So I run up against a problem:
Which is worse? A bad portrayal of a minority or no portrayal at all?
I’m not saying those are the only options, naturally. I’d love to have someone on the good guys’ side with an analogous problem so the good guys could model some proper effin’ acceptance. Even just one of them having no idea what Bumblebee, a character who has a hefty speech impediment, getting isolated with him and having the two learn to communicate using sign language or something which might be a bit Very Special Episode, but it could open up whole new subplots that would be awesome.
But that’s not our situation.
The situation is that there is an awesome character who makes it possible for me to enjoy even some of the less enjoyable episodes of a cartoon I want to love while being what I think we are supposed to take as some kind of open, proud sexual minority who is super-competent and who gets some of the best lines.
But that character is also an evil, murdering sadist with no value for human life nor sense of loyalty who was described as “defective” by one of the show’s writers (wiki link here: see “notes”).
So I’m left with a problem I probably wouldn’t be wrestling with if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a nerd for giant robots and also want desperately for there to be a positively-portrayed homosexual character on a kid’s cartoon show before I die.
Is it better to have an out-and-proud member of an apparent minority (which seems to be at least analogous to some kind of minority sexual orientation) who is also an evil sadist?
Or is it better to not have that member of a minority which is analogous to sexuality at all?
I don’t really know.
I just want to watch one of the best characters in this version of a franchise I adore without feeling like there’s a chance I’m an asshole.