Throughout the long history of fiction, androids and gynoids – artificial men and women – have been a common element. When included as tertiary characters they are often symbols for “the other.” When treated as protagonists, they fill the tale with themes of the roles and definitions of humanity. Thus, this series is taking a close look at these artificial people. Today we’re looking at Bender.
Bender is the mechanical man on the animated situation comedy series Futurama. He’s a “bending robot,” originally only designed for difficult manual labor involving the shaping of large metal beams.
Bender Bending Rodriguez was originally assembled in Mexico at one of the Mom’s Friendly Robot Company’s factories.
Unlike other robots in the show, Bending units must be raised and educated like humans, being assembled in a small infantile body, then later transferred into progressively larger bodies while being educated in robot schools. Their final body then goes to work in another factory, bending things – girders in Bender’s case.
Before that, though, it’s shown that he was raised by an apparently adoptive mother and father, also robots, positioning him within a large extended family. What purpose this artificial family structure serves the robots is unexplained in the canon.
Bender only works for a short time as a laborer before the robot rebellion and subsequent Robot Emancipation Proclamation freed him from servitude. Later, he discovered that the assembly line he was working on was crafting controversial “suicide booths.” Upon this revelation, Bender tried to use one of the booths himself, seemingly depressed despite an inability to feel emotion.
This emotional contradiction becomes a running gag through the series, with Bender frequently showing obvious emotion immediately before or after reminding everyone that he is incapable of such displays.
Occasionally, he even expresses emotions about his inability to feel them, such as being happy that he cannot feel sadness or sad that he cannot feel happiness.
During the timeline of the show Bender is, like the other major characters, a crew member for the Planet Express delivery company’s ship, the U.S.S. Planet Express Ship. Comedicaly, Bender was not hired as a laborer or security officer, but as the cook.
At first he’s terrible in this role. Since he does not eat himself – requiring only regular intake of alcohol as fuel – he has no concept of human flavor or even basic edibility, thinking, for example, that salt-water is an acceptable beverage or that rocks make a good side-dish.
Throughout the series, he does get better at creating things that the crew can at least tolerate, but still never really develops a good idea of how to flavor food properly, or even what some of the most basic ingredients are meant to be used for.
Of course, like all elements of Futurama, Bender is used as a flexible farce, so much of his impact as a literary device is lost, but he does have some persistent traits, like his well-disguised compassion for humans, and his very close friendship with the show’s protagonist, Fry.
In addition, he portrays the classic narcissist. His role in the plot usually centers on this core trait. He believes himself superior to all humans, including Fry, and has no problem letting them all know.
When he fails to overcome obstacles in his sub-plots it is almost always this character flaw which causes the failure, usually resulting in a false epiphany for the character, in which he realizes the error of his ways and vows to change – only to be reset to his default state in the next episode in typical situation comedy fashion.
Check back tomorrow, when our featured artificial person will be R. Daneel Olivaw If you have an idea for an android or gynoid we could feature, let us know in the comments.