Chapter 8: I'll Buy That For A Dollar!

When you think of cyborgs, you probably think of one man. Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator. But if you think of a second cyborg, it's undoubtedly Peter Weller's portrayal of Officer Alex Murphy, aka Robocop.

Robocop has a strange history, in that it refuses to die. Not only did it spawn two sequels (one good, one awful), but it also spat out a television show, a video game, a series of comic books and, most recently, a Saturday Morning cartoon. Considering that the film was originally chided by critics and politicians for its extreme hyperviolence, and that the original cut almost received an X-Rating, it's quite strange to find it, some 15 years later, popping up on TV screens before an audience of kids who weren't even born yet when the original film came out. It's a testament to the film's great storyline, amazing special effects, and wonderful direction (courtesy of Paul Verhoeven), but it's also something much more than that; certainly, 10-year-old children have no idea who Paul Verhoeven is, and if they do it's because Daddy's left his video collection out again (Basic Instinct and Showgirls ring any bells?

Perhaps an exploration of the film itself will shed some light on why this, of all Verhoeven's films, has maintained the level of interest that it has. Perhaps not. But let's take a peek anyway, shall we?

Alex Murphy is just another cop on the streets of futuristic Detroit, patrolling the streets with partner Anne Lewis (played by Nancy Allen). A call comes in, and the pair pursue a gang of bank robbers to an abandoned steel mill, where they split up to track down the bandits. In one of the most gruesome sequences ever seen in sci-fi film to that date, Alex is cut down, tortured and murdered in cold blood. Brains spatter, blood flies, and you'll cringe. It's wonderful.

Luckily (?) for Alex, a corporation called Omni Consumer Products has been chosen to outfit the police with new officers, and Alex is chosen to be turned into a cyborg named Robocop. As the police go on strike, Robocop fights crime all on his own... and wins, as it turns out. His no-holds-barred, letter-of-the-law tactics are as brutal as they need to be, and no more, and his armor shell, Colt Scamp Machine Pistol and advanced computer targeting systems give him a decided edge on the streets.

But beneath the shell, the man starts to remember his past life, and it doesn't help that his ex-partner Lewis also seems to recognize him. Regaining his knowledge in fits and starts, Robocop starts recognizing the criminals who killed him, and begins tracking them down and killing them, one by one (Crow-like). And this is where the fun begins.

It seems that the organization running the crime spree in the city is (tah-dah) the very same corporation that's running the cops... and Robocop himself--OCP. When the Senior President of Omni Consumer Products, Richard Jones (Ronny Cox) finds out that Robocop is onto him, he's calm and collected. Because he's made sure that there's a directive built into Robocop's programming that forbids him from ever harming an officer of OCP. Uh-oh.

As Robocop battles shutdown, the ED-209 Urban Pacification Droid and the entire police force are basically sent after Robocop, who manages to escape with the help of his partner. Returning later with a handy rocket launcher, Robocop makes his way into a board meeting and once again confronts Jones, who takes a hostage. Robocop coolly informs the CEO of the company that he cannot arrest an employee of the company; Jones is, predictably, fired on the spot, and Robocop blows him away. Roll credits.

If it doesn't sound like much, that's because it isn't. At least, not on the surface. It takes a little more in-depth exploration and a little conjecture to see what's really going on, and why the "Robocop myth" has survived for as long as it has. Let's take a look at the standout elements and themes--cybernetics is NOT one of them:

1. The details: Following in the tradition of Cyberpunk films before it, Robocop rounds out its world with background details that wind up giving us more of a picture about the world than the main storyline. The most popular car is called the 6000 SUX, a gas-guzzler that only truly makes sense when you look at the SUV's of today. And then there's the Benny Hill guy with the "I'd buy that for a dollar" tag line, which really and truly makes no sense, and in being nonsensical winds up poking fun at the entire entertainment industry.

2. The dark humor: An ED-209 confronts a corporate executive who has been ordered to pull a gun on it. He is given 10 seconds to comply. He drops the gun. The countdown continues. He is blown away. The other executives barely flinch. At the film's end, one executive calmly fires another in order to let Robocop blow him away. You'd think that this sort of thing went on every day in corporate boardrooms. And I guess in a sense, it does, which is ultimately the point.

3. The symbolism: Murphy is gunned down, brought back to life, hounded by disbelievers, gathers followers, claws his way back up to the top and finally achieves victory. He's a cross between Christ and anti-hero that comes dangerously close to anti-Christ, a powerful savior of futuristic Detroit who preaches the law of violence and vengeance. There's no turning the other cheek here--it's all eye for an eye, brain for a brain. Violence becomes religion, in a sense. And Robocop is its God.

But, alas, none of that helps explain why in hell there's a Robocop cartoon out now. Didn't anyone watch the original movie? Where the guy's brain gets blown out? Where the corporate boardroom turns into a bloodbath? Where the violence is not only acceptable, but necessary?

And the answer to that question is, yes. They did.

Granted, the new cartoon Robocop doesn't kill anyone; but then, neither does the cartoon Batman or Superman, and in their respective comic books the bodies fall left and right (particularly Dark Knight Batman). In a sense, then, these cartoons are the flipside versions of their violent counterparts, the yin to the yang that children aren't allowed to see, an acknowledgement that there are heroes and villains, and sometimes people get beat up, but nobody has to die. At least, not until you're 13 years old and can go to a movie with swears in it, or 17 and can go see nudie pics.

What we are dealing with in the Robocop cartoon is a culture of children raised on violent media. These 10 and 11 and 12 year olds were born in the late 1980s, after Robocop, and Terminator, and Predator, and the Nightmare on Elm Streets and Friday the 13ths and their kin. They didn't see CHiPS or Starsky and Hutch or the Dukes of Hazzard; they watched LA Law turn into Law and Order and the X-Files. They watched the LA riots on TV, and asked mommy why that one man threw a brick at the other man. They've evolved from Mortal Kombat to Doom to Quake to Half-Life. They know violence. They're used to it.

And television executives know this. They know what kids want. Or rather, they know what kids will accept. And what their parents will accept. Certainly, Robocop symbolizes violent justice, but what are a few bullets and brain spatters when your child probably knows someone who carries a gun to school? Yes, Alex Murphy is shot in cold blood, but then, there are schoolyard and lunchroom shootings every other day. Or so they'd have you believe in the media.

The truth of it is, everything that Robocop and its Cyberpunk kin predicted years ago has come true. It's no longer a thriller. It's no longer science-fiction. It's all just for kicks. It's a laugh. A cartoon. The megacorporations do run everything. The world has become desensitized to violence. Criminals do carry more firepower than the cops nowadays. Allegiances are flimsy, alliances bend and break on a moment's notice. There are dirty cops, there are dirty executives. The streets are unsafe, the offices are unsafe, and everyone's just out for money and power. You don't need to rent Robocop to see it. Just look out the window.

The only sad part is that there's one thing lacking from the picture. And that's Robocop himself.

The cartoon is a poor substitute.

As usual, I'd love it if you'd let me know what you think, about Robocop, about violence, about Cyberpunk, about all of it put together. And while you're at it, you can let me know what you think about the next installment of C-4. 1988 offers pretty slim pickings, but there are a few in there that you may not have even heard of, much less seen. We've got Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Dead Ringers and Cherry 2000 at the very least, and undoubtedly someone will remember something I forgot.

Which reminds me--a few people have disputed the dates I've given for some of the films I've covered thus far. To use an example of an upcoming film, you may find reference to Cherry 2000 as coming out in either 1987 or 1988. In some cases, this has to do with where it was released [some films are released sooner overseas, later in the United States (where I live)]; a good example of this is Max Headroom, which made a big impact in Great Britain before anyone in America had even heard of it. In some cases I'm using the dates given by official movie sites; in others, I'm giving the dates when I first encountered the film. In all cases, it's usually only a year or two difference, and I won't tell if you won't.

And on that note, sayo.