Memobot Lane

The purpose of this in-class writing assignment (and more to follow) is to travel back in time, literally, spiritually, and metaphysically, to revisit, pay our respects, and to remember how popular robots, droids, cyborgs, and the like, have strengthened, scarred, and solidified us as individuals.

When I was six, my father gave me my first robot kit. I can't remember all the product details, which is unusual. Instead, I remember the process of putting it together. It was not easy.

It was 1980. I couldn't get enough of sci-fi and all the trappings of early nerd programming. I was old enough to have my first hearty meal of Star Wars. It was a delicious, nutritious, and a well-balanced feast full of healthy servings of FX and hardware. It was my first and last supper. Even now, I can remember all the small things, where I was, the time of day, my mother telling me not to stay too close to the TV. Stay on target.

Back to my robot. I remember being downstairs and taking apart the box with feverish delight, much like Ralphie with his Red Ryder BB Gun on Christmas morning. I layed out all the parts in a systematic manner. I do remember the instruction manual being more complicated, a bit too complicated. I asked my father to give me a hand and in his cool way he said, 'You'll figure it out.' Well, it did take a long time, much too long for the patience of a kindergartner. It worked. That's all that mattered.

When I think about the childhood awe and robots two come to mind: Maximillian from Disney's The Black Hole and Robocop. The Black Hole was a 1979 science fiction film that cost Disney $20M, their most expensive project todate. Some thought the movie was in response to Star Wars. The plot was inspired by Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and starred Anthony Perkins whose character, Dr. Alex Durant, was drilled to death. The crew on the Palamino finds a suspicious, lost ship on the edge of a black hole and finds that the ship is 'manned' by a crew of robots and one human, Dr. Hans Reinhardt. Dr. Reinhardt's army is led by the silent and ominous Maximillian. In a sea of Stormtrooper, Cylons, and Daleks, Maximillian stands alone. Maximillian's build was simple, sleek, and imposing perhaps because of his size, his red optical sensor , or the multiple arm accessories like lasers and hi-speed rotary claws.

Robocop stands tall as another marshal of machinery. Officer Alex Murphy, 'Murphy,' played by actor Peter Weller, gets mortally wounded and brought back to life reengineered as cyborg in near-future Detroit. Plot aside, Murphy as man and machine is what makes the movie. Like Maximillian, there is a silencing complexity to their simple exterior design. They both possess sizable, authoritative frames, but the story is in their legs, their swagger so to speak. Can you swagger if you don't us your legs? Maximillian propels through air and does not touch the ground rendering his legs useless, but it's the stillness of his legs combined with the gliding movement of a large machine tricked out with weapons that gives him the swagger of a modern desert cowboy. Murphy, on the other hand, uses his thick muscular-metal thighs to move with heavy steps. The limits of a mechanized, articulated hip joint gave Murphy a measured gait with the formality of a sure hero going into the chaos of a cloud of bullets.