I'm ExVee; my name is Chris. If you read Gizmodo, or know people that do, you probably heard about a photo of a small piece of deco work on the brand new Power of The Primes Jazz, which says in a Cybertronic font "MAGA". It's a font whose development is credited to longtime super-fan Jim Sorenson, and which has been used on Transformers toys here and there for a while now. One notable use was on Titans Return Seaspray where it was used to inscribe the name Alana inside the forearms, referencing Seaspray's love interest from an episode of the G1 cartoon. What you may not know is, I'm the one who took that original photo, with only the best of intentions. But, we all know where that can lead you. Keep reading...
Regular readers of the site here will know I do toy reviews and galleries, so it was in the act of examining the new Jazz for an upcoming review that I noticed on a tiny bit of tampograph work (just a few millimeters across) that there was some little squiggles. Hard to really make out, but I was pretty sure they were one of the Cybertronic font types that sometimes appear on the toys as easter egg kind of content. I took a photo as close up as I could with my phone and set out to try to decode it. The thing is, so tiny was this rendered that the finer details of all the characters blended together and became harder to distinguish blobs. I thought I was able to pick out a couple of them, but I hit a wall. So since I am friends with many sharper eyes and more knowledgeable fans in my social media circle, I took to Twitter for some help in figuring out the message. That's where the avalanche started. One of my mutuals, @TheLastGherkin
was the first to make the leap as to the part I couldn't work out. The letter M. And then a lot of thoughts went through my mind.
Foremost among them being, "I don't want to call more attention to this." Sadly this is the internet and we rarely actually get to make those decisions. I saw this come up on some of the communities I frequent, and the response ranged as one might expect, with even some extreme points of view considering boycotting further Hasbro Transformers releases on the belief that this was sanctioned. I acknowledged on at least one platform that I was the origin point of the photo, but mostly chose not to really engage with it. Stuff blows over. I went about my day. That is, until I got an e-mail. And then a Twitter notoification. And another, and another. That was around when Gizmodo had somehow picked up the story, and it was clear this was not going away nearly as soon as I'd hoped.
It's probably easy for a lot of people to look at where this is right now and assume that I shared that originally (and Gherkin finished the translation) in order to make some kind of political statement, or stir up trouble "for the lols" or whatever. That's just not so. I try my hardest to keep politics away from my toy nerd hobbies. This is the thing I do to help me get away and stop thinking about the realities of today's world, so the very last thing I want is to pull any of that in here with me. I wanted help figuring out what kind of message or reference got added to Jazz for just the hardcores with too much time on their hands (like me! :D) to catch. Like I said, there's been a lot of critical response to this since it came out not even a full day ago yet. But the whole time, I had felt like this must have been someone's joke. An inappropriate one given the setting, but still. Someone somewhere along the way probably thought it would be hilarious to sneak something inflammatory under the radar in a form where most people would never catch it. It's something they could point to later and say "I made this toy say this and nobody ever found out." Except we did.
[Hasbro response to Gizmodo] It was brought to our attention that a graphic appears on one of our Transformers figures that, when translated from Cybertonian letters to English, spells out MAGA. We investigated the issue, and discovered that one of our vendors inserted this as part of the design without authorization. We are addressing this with the vendor.
We do not intend for our products to carry political messages, and apologize to anyone who was offended by this message.
Hasbro sent a response to Gizmodo about this issue, and essentially they say that the message was unauthorized and added by a "vendor" which in this context probably means a deco artist working under contract and not someone in-house with Hasbro. I've seen it theorized that it may have even been something that was done at the factory level, though I feel like that might be a little more suspect of a conclusion. So what does it mean going forward? Well, the reship of Jazz we expect to see as part of Deluxe wave 4 will almost certainly feature a modified deco. If I were to guess, it'll be modified to just be the black square with the Autobot logo inside and no text at all. Unfortunately what it may also mean is a crackdown on using these alternate fonts to add messages to the toy, now that it's been brought to Hasbro's attention how easy it can be for someone to do something not in line with the company's policies. Whether it means tighter controls on what kind of printed easter egg content the toys have, or a suspension of this altogether so they don't need to have someone inspect every bit of special printing, only time will tell.
In the past, other inside jokes and messages have been hidden in more plain sight on the toys using normal fonts and number sequences to reference specific things. Occasionally things they can't explain to us until after a statute of limitations has probably expired. (true story) This isn't something I want to see go away. I hope it doesn't have to. I hate that the poor judgement of one individual might lead to that. And I regret that I helped bring attention to it to begin with. Not because of the political buzzword carried in that deformed font of squiggles, but because of what we might lose as a result. But I just have to remind myself, if it wasn't me, someone else would have found it instead soon enough. After all, this is the Transformers fandom.
We won't stop until we've discovered all the secrets.