The Casualties of Competition

Many proponents of modern capitalist society will pipe up very quickly and tell you that competition is a wonderful thing. In theory, it is. It encourages companies to be more efficient and effective, lower their prices to compete for customers, and so on. However, in the vicious world of corporate competition, we often forget the victims; those that fade into obscurity as the merciless corporate giants walk all over them.

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In the 1980s, a number of robot cartoons sprung up. Macross held the attention of the Asian market, while Transformers dominated the Western market. As usual, there was competition, but only one proved a significant challenge to the Transformers’ rule of the robot cartoon world. It was called Challenge of the Gobots - a show which actually existed before Transformers. Last week, I travelled out to the remnants of Gobot HQ and interviewed Leader-1, one of the few remaining Gobots. At his prime, Leader-1 was the leader (funny how that works), mentor and best backgammon player of the Gobots. He could also transform into a jet, which opened up his job opportunities significantly.

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Leader-1 in his youth.

I arrived at Gobot HQ shortly prior to our arranged meeting, and took some time to survey the remnants of the base. Years of overuse by the Gobots had seen tires, oil and jet fumes kill off most of the plant life. I’d hazard a guess that they were probably using PFAS as well. The sheds and bunkers of these noble guardians that had once stood as symbols of honour in the fight against Cy-Kill and the evil Renegades were now decrepit skeletons of what they once were. Stepping into the main compound of Gobot HQ, I made my way through the ghostly metallic halls and into the control room. Immediately, I was struck with the stench of old cigarettes, petrol and exhaust fumes. Scattered around the room were machine parts, spare tires and jerry cans. It looked like Leader-1 had hired Ghengis Khan as his maid. Slumped in a chair by the filthy, grease-stained windows was Leader-1 himself. Looking upon him, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with pity. I had been one of those kids who had abandoned the Gobots for Transformers, and before me was the ruin I had helped to create.

In one hand, Leader-1 held a cigarette, of which he would occasionally take a disinterested drag. In the other hand was a large jerry can he took a long swig from. He reeked of petrol, and not the unleaded kind. Since leaded petrol had been banned, many of the older generation of transforming robot vehicles had been forced onto leaded-replacement petrol (LRP) to manage their addiction. The uncomfortable silence was finally broken by violent coughing.

“Grab a seat,” slurred Leader-1 as he recovered from his coughing spell. He lazily shoved a chair in my direction. His robotic eyes emitted a dim, red glow.

“Thank you,” I quietly replied.

“You want some?” Leader-1 gently thrust the jerry can in my direction. “It’s only LRP. Not as good as the ol’ leaded stuff, but it does the trick,” he added, drunkenly chuckling to himself.

“No, thank you,” I replied, my eyes watering from the stinging fumes. “I don’t drink.”

“So,” began Leader-1. “You wanna know about the Gobots. Whaddya wanna know?”

“Well, tell me about yourself. How did you come to be leader of the Gobots?”

Leader-1 laughed a sad laugh. “The rise and fall of Leader-1, eh?” His words echoed in the uneasy silence of the control room. After a brief coughing fit and a swig of his LRP, he began his tale.

“I used to be a bright young Gobot with a promising future. My mother and father became famous working on the Japanese series Machine Robo. They were my role-models. You know — fighting evil, transforming, red carpet appearances. It was my goal since I was a kid to have a robot TV series of my own. Maybe even have a joint human protagonist, probably played by David Hasselhoff.

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Turning down a role with Leader-1: Hasselhoff’s biggest mistake?

In my early years, while I was trying to get a contract for a TV series, I did a bit of work at the local airport. I can transform into a jet plane you see. Or at least I could. Sold one of my jet engines for three cartons of cigarettes and a couple hundred litres of leaded petrol a few years back. Anyway, I did a bit of courier work, joyflights, that sort of thing. Then one of the scouts from Hanna-Barbera thought that a transforming Jet/Robot was kind of cool. We had a chat and before long, I was secured as the lead for Challenge of the Gobots. I sat in on a few auditions for the other characters, but we couldn’t get David Hasselhoff — he took a gig with some stupid talking car that couldn’t even transform. For a while we were actually going to get Bumblebee of Transformers fame instead of Scooter. God I hated Scooter. He was such an annoying little jerk. Who the hell transforms into a Vespa? But, apparently Scooter’s dad was some bigshot at Ferrari, and production didn’t want to piss off the wrong guy, so Scooter got the gig.”

That face when you realise you transform into a Vespa Scooter

Leader-1 took a long drag from his cigarette and sculled the rest of his LRP. With a spiteful scowl, he hurled the empty jerry can across the control room, hitting a poster of Scooter that he had turned into a makeshift dartboard. I shuffled in my seat, eager to continue the interview. “So what happened with the series?” I asked, to break the silence.

“Well,” said Leader-1 finally. The word was long and exasperated, like he was crawling out of bed after a hard night. “We went well, for a while. Regular morning cartoon spot, endorsements. I think McDonald’s jumped in on the franchise for a while as well. Then Tonka came in and started making action figures. For a few years, I was at the top of the world. Nothing could stop me. I was wrong.”

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Family!

When Hasbro’s Transformers came onto the scene, we got along pretty well; back in those days, the cameraderie in the robot cartoon genre was great. I started dating Arcee for a while. However, it soon became apparent that the Transformers had the goal of dominating the scene. My love for Arcee had blinded me. Turbo and Smallfoot tried to make me see the light, but to no avail. We really fucked up with the Rock Lords line of toys. I mean, come on! They transformed into rocks. Fucking rocks. Tonka bailed shortly after that. Our action figure line was discontinued in 1987, the same year I found out that Arcee had been sleeping with a fellow Transformer, Hot Rod. I tried to save the Gobots, but it was too late. By 1990, Hasbro had bought us out, and the Gobots were no more.”

A droplet of oil formed at the corner of Leader-1’s faintly glowing eye. Wiping it from his eye, he stood up and went to retrieve another jerry can of LRP. He sat back down and fired up his remaining jet engine to light another cigarette.

“So,” I tenderly continued, “where are they all now?”

“The other Gobots?” asked Leader-1 rhetorically. “Well, Turbo pursued a career with Porsche. He was doing pretty well. Then he skidded off the road while racing the Nürburgring and was killed. Smallfoot started working for Linfox, pulling road trains. Last I heard he was in rehab for his speed addiction. My old enemy Cy-Kill doesn’t do much. He started working in a local supermarket, and spends most of his time playing World of Warcraft. I hear he’s a Twitch partner or something, whatever the hell that means. As for his two buddies Crasher and Cop-tur…they were implicated in the MH-17 tragedy in Ukraine. Putin is protecting them. And that asshole, Scooter — he had his fifteen minutes of fame with some crappy techno song, before all the raves and ecstasy fucked him up. He ended up in hospital and passed away last year after trying to transform on ketamine. Paralysed mid-transformation, the doctors couldn’t work out how to untangle his vitals.”

Leader-1 began coughing violently again. He took a long swig of his LRP to calm his throat. We chatted idly for a few minutes, but I realised that this was as far as the interview was going to get. I couldn’t torment him with memories any longer. It was painful to watch his anguish. I thanked him and bid him farewell.

“Hey,” said Leader-1. “You wouldn’t happen to have a few dollars for some more cigarettes and LRP, would you?”

“Sure,” I replied, tossing him the change I was carrying with pity in my eyes. With those final words, I began to walk out the door.

“Hey,” Leader-1 called out again. I glanced back over my shoulder. Leader-1 looked straight at me with his sad, robotic eyes.

“Thanks…” he finally mumbled, “…It’s…good to talk.”

I nodded and gave him a sympathetic smile before leaving the remnants of his shattered life behind me.

Originally posted in 2005 on The Discombobulatorium, my stunted 2005 attempt at blogging. Minor edits and revisions have been made.

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At some point in about 1989 I played my first videogames on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. This was the beginning of a lifetime obsession with games...

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