The Trivial Role Model: A Prime Example of A Broken Generation

James LynchThe following Gutenberg student post was written as an assignment for Tim McIntosh’s sophomore writing class. The assignment is intended to help prepare students for writing to a public readership. The views within do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Gutenberg College.


Excited kids tug their parents’ hands, pleading their parents to hurry; the parents can barely contain their children as they dash into the movie theater. The young kids finally sit in the shadowy room with their large popcorn and soda, twitching with eagerness. About fifteen minutes later, the kids are ensnared; minutes later, they are shocked and some start crying. Some kids leave the theater before the movie ends. Angry mothers write letters to producers for what they did in that movie. One dismayed kid locks himself in his room for two weeks. You may be thinking, “Why am I talking about the reaction to Bambi?” But this is the way people reacted to 1986’s The Transformers: the Movie.

The reaction to Transformers: the Movie was surprising to say the least. What happened that elicited such extreme reactions from the audiences? In a shocking death scene, shocking especially for a kids’ movie, the Autobots’ (the good Transformers’) leader, Optimus Prime, died.

I sympathize with the belief that this reaction was ridiculous. However, I have read several articles that explain why this dramatic event so affected the children who witnessed it. They did not just react to a movie character dying but to the demise of a beloved substitute-father role model. Most of the writers agreed that the movie affected their generation, the latchkey kids.

The latchkey kids were a generation from broken homes. A writer of this generation claims that all generations have a defining question; her generation’s question is “When did your parents get divorced?” Since their parents were absent, particularly the fathers, kids lacked a role model to imitate and learn from. A parent-shaped vacuum developed in these children. They searched for other role-models, and since they were home alone most of the time, this source was cartoons. Kids scrutinized Saturday morning cartoons for more stable and heroic examples to follow instead of their parents. For those who watched Transformers, Optimus was a prime choice for a role model.

Three attributes of Optimus’s character provided an appealing role model: stability, virtue, and humanity. In a chaotic household resulting from poor familial relationships, Optimus Prime delivered an opportunity for kids to feel secure once a day; kids knew that Optimus always overcame any obstacle or situation. Furthermore, Optimus was a simple character who embodied virtue; he protected the weak and never tolerated evil. Finally, Optimus Prime acted like a human in the series: he criticized himself when he failed; he played games with his human friends; and he expressed anger when evil won. Optimus demonstrated to kids that anyone could be a masculine hero and still display emotions.

The reaction of children to the seemingly trivial movie scene in The Transformers: the Movie revealed the non-trivial brokenness of the latchkey-kid generation. The latchkey kids had no parents to model themselves after. Optimus Prime filled that parent-shaped vacuum.


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