there's nothin special here, but you might like what you see.
I remember being 13 when Armageddon came out, and feeling like I was taking crazy pills because I was the only person in the whole school who realized that Armageddon was the worst thing that had ever happened in the history of things happening. I distinctly remember being on one of those charter busses for a field trip up to DC, and someone wanted to put Armageddon in the VCR to watch on the bus televisions. My vehement (read: loud, annoying) insistence that we watch something, anything else was overruled. I was forced to endure Armageddon for a second, agonizing time.
I only took notice of Bay’s actual body of work in 2004 when he was the subject of ridicule in Team America: World Police, specifically hack job he did with Pearl Harbor. It was only then that I put two and two together that the same person responsible for Armageddon was responsible for Pearl Harbor. Up to that point, there had been Jerry Bruckheimer and only Jerry Bruckheimer in my mind. But the funny thing about Michael Bay in the mid-aughts is he was kind of fizzling out. At that point he stood only on the shoulders of his partnership with Bruckheimer, and although Bad Boys II (perhaps the Bay-iest of all of them) did pretty well, The Island came out the following year, and without Bruckheimer, Bay was well on his way to to hack studio director obscurity.
Then came Transformers.
This is where the shift came, from “Michael Bay, director of shitty movies” to “Michael Bay, living embodiment of everything that is wrong with American society.” Funny, to think there was a time not-so-long-ago when Michael Bay wasn’t considered a cultural force, huh? But my utter fascination with Bay started then, when Bay was no longer a person, but had, well, transformed into a concept.
People’s perceptions of Michael Bay changed around that point as well. No longer was it the antipathy of a shitty director, but the personal vendetta of a director who takes something that people like, something that he doesn’t even seem to like, and makes it unequivocally his. He forces the audience to see the world through his eyes. This makes people uncomfortable. I kind of love that.
Michael Bay was now a part of a narrative about the downward slope of the film industry (which is by no means wrong) and society in general. Everyone felt like they knew him, which isn’t completely unfair, either. H e grabs you by the skull and forces you to see the world through his eyes. The man is, after all, arguably the most influential auteur of his generation.
No, I am not exaggerating, but the “why” on that front is a post for another day.
This, I think, owes my fascination. We have plenty of auteurs in this day and age, but no big budget, studio auteurs that are so influential on the industry as a hole, so distinct. And by this point, so successful.
To me, the wonderful thing about Michael Bay is that he doesn’t try to hide the grit and awful of our culture; he revels in it. The things you see in any Michael Bay movie are the same you see in basically any big budget movie. The framing of women. The casual sexism. The framing and objectification of All Of The Things. But where in most movies (for instance, Guardians of the Galaxy), its presented in a more muted, socially-acceptable manner, such to the point that it’s easy to ignore because it’s so normalized, Michael Bay makes you notice it. This is in part where the idea of “Michael Bay hates you” and “Michael Bay thinks you’re stupid” come from. On some level, I think that is true. All of that awfulness that he sees as the embodiment of our culture? You best know that that’s how he sees you, and he is going to make you see it, too. So you watch that camera linger on Megan Fox. You behold that product placement. You enjoy those sexist jokes rubbed uncomfortably in your face. Embrace racism that is no longer casual, but in your goddamn face Wallow in the unfunny fart jokes. Live life as though it was shot like a commercial. Michael Bay!
And that is why he is so, so threatening to people, and yet so, so irresistible.
Michael Bay: the societal heroin that is stamped with “I will ruin your life and kill you” but that you have to take anyway.