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Professor fights for right to erect large Transformer statues in his front yard

Newton Howard asks, ‘One should not be told what to do in his own house, right?’

A Georgetown University research professor is facing off against the Old Georgetown Board, and the fate of the whole world may be at stake.

The whole world as represented by Michael Bay movies and 1980s cartoons, that is.

Newton Howard is a professor of neuroscience and artificial intelligence at Georgetown. He placed two statues made of repurposed machine parts outside of his Georgetown home. They are likenesses of the Transformers characters Bumblebee and Optimus Prime.

Bumblebee and Optimus are Autobots, the pro-humans of this morphing machine species from outer space on the cartoon that was spun out into a successful live action summer movie franchise.

Many people have enjoyed the 10- and 6-foot-tall statues, respectively, but some neighbors see them as an eyesore, reports the Georgetown Voice.

The Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission denied Howard’s permit request because he did not first seek the approval of the Old Georgetown Board panel, which “advises the federally-appointed U.S. Commission of Fine Arts on project designs to ensure that they fit the historical nature of the Georgetown neighborhood,” the Voice reports.

Howard was a little bit taken aback by this.

“One should not be told what to do in his own house, right?” he told the Voice.

Lisa Palmer, who sits on the Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission that denied Howard’s permit, and who some critics might suspect of being in league with the Autobots’ hated foes the Decepticons, argues that the way Georgetown is zoned, the area in front of one’s house is “actually public space” and thus subject to bureaucratic veto.

After some public pressure in the professor’s favor, the Old Georgetown Board sent him an email expressing “regret that work commenced without permit” but nevertheless giving him the right to keep the statues posted for roughly the next five months.

The Voice reports that “Whether Howard continues the fight for permanent approval remains to be seen,” but that would seem almost a foregone conclusion given what else the paper divulges.

“Howard is currently working alongside the [U.S. Commission of Fine Arts] to place 16 additional Transformers around the District, funded by the Howard Brain Sciences Foundation which was established by the professor in 2011,” the Voice reports.

The professor has a serious reason for doing this.

“Howard hopes to de-stigmatize seeking help for mental health by raising awareness about the technology-based therapies that exist,” the Voice reports.

But other people support the statues for less high-minded reasons.

One eight-year-old wrote Howard a letter asking him to keep fighting for the Autobots at his front door.

Howard also observes that the statues have provided momentary “relief” to many parents looking for something to entertain their children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MORE: Here are cartoons and kids’ movies the left has denounced as problematic, so far

IMAGE:Faiz Zaki / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Jeremy founded three of the Real Clear Politics family of websites and has covered subjects ranging from religious trends to space travel to an armed standoff, for hundreds of publications. His books and comic books include The Warm Bucket Brigade: A History of the Vice Presidency, William F. Buckley, and Movie Men. Jeremy graduated from Trinity Western University, where he served as an editor for the Mars Hill newspaper.