The mighty Transformers franchise has finally gone the way of the Nazis.
In what appears to be the newest addition to the current and ineradicable mission to vulgarize our entire world—which, at the moment, seems to be increasingly headed towards an endgame of insanity, self-destruction, and internal combustion—Michael Bay, the director of big-budget, money-spinning art crimes like Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, and Transformers 1, 2, 3, and 4, has chosen to bedeck Winston Churchill’s former home of Blenheim Palace with swastika flags and other decorative SS paraphernalia. Why? The magnificent 18th century seat of the Dukes of Marlborough has been chosen as the exterior set location for Hitler’s headquarters in Bay’s upcoming film The Last Knight, otherwise known as Transformers 5.
Churchill’s grandson seems cool with this, calling this Nazi movie fallout is a “completely manufactured row,” and Bay believes Churchill would be “smiling right now” if he knew the ending, which is audience-wide tinitus. Naturally, some patriotic Britons—and World War II vets—have found seeing an archetypal British landmark most strongly associated with the lionhearted anti-fascist who saved the world from the evil forces of totalitarianism and tyranny swathed in the symbols of same a little disturbing, to say the least. “I know it’s a film,” Col. Richard Kemp, ex-commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told The Guardian. “But it’s symbolically disrespectful to Churchill. He will be turning in his grave.” (If he ever stopped turning from the Brexit vote, that is; I’m sorry, but I’m feeling a little curmudgeonly this morning because the news cycle is pissing me off and I hate these new expensive pillows my husband made me buy.)
Hitler, both famously paranoid and consistently middlebrow at his height of his architectural tastes, preferred a more subterranean, inconspicuous kind of architecture for his personal habitats—your Wolf’s Lair, your Berlin bunker. The ostentatious grandeur of Blenheim seems more like the design aesthetic of Hermann Göring—so not only has Michael Bay and his locations team offended an entire country, they’ve also been historically inaccurate, which to my mind is a far greater sin.
Of course, as Col. Kemp pointed out, it is just a movie, and therefore, we can be relatively sure that as soon as the shot list is finished, banners will be cleared away, the Nazi tank removed from the lawn. But the images will remain, and as we’ve learned so painfully over the last several months in our own country, the line between image and reality, between substance and optics, has grown frighteningly unclear.
We now live in a strange, riddle-like universe where vast numbers of people, despite already (and hopefully) knowing this much about him, are willingly, knowingly, voting for a would-be president who is an easily provable liar, a con man, and demagogue. Of course, at the end of the day, Transformers 5 will be just a film whose director is just a rich and eccentric director with weird surfer hair and (I’ve heard) a shrine to the Transformer Bumblebee in one wing of his mansion. And those swastikas on Churchill’s home? Just a prop. But the symbols of hate—literal or figurative—will be draped on the White House this January if Trump is sworn in. And those flags, or what even their specter has meant for this country, won’t by nearly as easy for a set crew to clear.