“More than meets the eye” is line from the theme song for the Transformers that informs you that more lies beneath the surface than what might be originally seen by the naked eye. The phrase also refers to the transformation that occurs when the Transformers spring into action. Transformation is not something that only happens for robots in cartoons; it has been attributed to humans as well. This article deals with two examples from the 1980’s and 1990’s Turbo Teen and Ranma ½. The goal is to look beneath the surface of these cartoons at the underlying sexual and gender implications for their protagonists.
Fans of anime are familiar with Ranma ½. In this series, cold water changes Ranma into a girl while hot water changes him back into a boy. This anime was based on a manga series that was serialized from 1987-1996. The sex changing main character is cursed due to an accident that occurred during his training. During training, Ranma fell into a spring in which a girl drowned. His father Genma is cursed because he fell into a spring in which a panda drowned. While Ranma becomes a girl his father becomes a Panda. We won't go into the implications of that in this article.
The second cartoon under consideration is the 1980’S cartoon Turbo Teen. Turbo Teen is the story of teenager Brett Matthews who accidentally crashes into a lab while driving his red sports car. An experiment is occurring when he crashes into the lab and he gets hit by a molecular beam becoming fused with his car. The scientist conducting the experiment was Dr. Chase (as in car chase I guess) along with a government agent named Mr. Cardwell. Because Brett is fused with his car he has the ability to transform into the car when he is hot and transform back into Brett when he is cold. He and his friends use his new found abilities as Turbo Teen to go on crime fighting adventures. Although the series only ran for twelve episodes, the zeitgeist of its images still remain.
Running Hot and Cold
To run hot and cold is run back and forth between two extremes. In the case of these cartoons we have a boy changing to a girl and a boy changing into a car. Ranma’s change is a common change for transsexual individuals. For transsexual individuals their assigned sex does not align with their psychological gender. The difference is that Ranma never stays one sex or the other. (S)he changes based on the temperature of the water that (s)he is presented with. (S)he literally runs hot and cold.
Psychologically this is something where gender becomes an important issue. The term intersex has be coined to describe those individuals who have sexual characteristics of both males and females. However, this has been defined as a disorder rather than a way of being. The Intersex Society of North America sought to abolish this term in order to validate the status of intersex individuals. The argument is that just because an individual has the sexual characteristics of both male and female does not mean that they have the gender identification “issues” that go along with that. For some individuals they may feel more male than female or vice versa. However, the goal of the Intersex Society of North America was to give validity to the status of intersexuality as a way of being rather than a disorder. It brings new meaning to the They Might Be Giants song SEXXY.
So, if Ranma is an intersex individual, both male and female, what ramification does this have for our good friend Turbo Teen, aka Brett Matthews. My argument is that there is something else going on here psychologically beyond a simple transformation into a car. The change that occurs is much deeper because instead of a sexual shift, we have a fusion of two objects. There is a more sexual undertone to this transformation. Why do I say this? For one thing Ranma changes when he gets cold water splashed on him…Brett changes when he gets hot and I would add bothered.
There is a group of individuals who have a special affinity for their cars. This group is known as mechanophiles is attracted to cars, emotionally and physically. Like Brett they become fused with their cars; however, in this case it is in the biblical sense. One man Edward Smith claims that he has had sex with over a thousand cars.
"I appreciate beauty and I go a little bit beyond appreciating the beauty of a car only to the point of what I feel is an expression of love," he said. "Maybe I'm a little bit off the wall but when I see movies like Herbie and Knight Rider, where cars become loveable, huggable characters it's just wonderful. "I'm a romantic. I write poetry about cars, I sing to them and talk to them just like a girlfriend. I know what's in my heart and I have no desire to change." He added: "I'm not sick and I don't want to hurt anyone, cars are just my preference."
Edward first had sex with a car at the age of 15. Since that time, he has had sex with over a thousand cars. Oil changes become real sexual innuendo here. Apparently his sexual appetite does not stop with cars. He states that his most intense sexual experience was with the helicopter from Airwolf.
So what does this have to do with Turbo Teen? I would argue that psychologically Brett wanted to be with his car and therefore became "fused" with it. When he gets hot (and bothered) the two become one. He is able to talk through the speakers of the car. Instead of simply being the car he is both the car and Brett simultaneously.
The other part of this equation is that people get inside Brett. Not only does Brett desire to have sex with his car he can make it a threesome, foursome, etc. You be the judge. Take a look at this animated gif using clips from the show.
Man admits to "having sex" with 1,000 cars http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2000899/Man-admits-having-sex-with-1000-cars.html