One of my favorite websites to get my daily intake of nerdery/geekery is io9. If you've never been there and you make some claim to be interested in all things geek, then you are doing it wrong. Every once in a while they throw out a question for the audience to answer in the comments sections. I usually don't respond, mostly because time is at a premium for me right now, but they asked a question that I felt deserved a long form response.
Why does Godzilla continue to fascinate us?
Now, there's part of me that was actually kind of mad about this because....really?? Really? The preeminent website for nerdery on the entire Al Gore interweb actually has to ask that question? He's f**king GODZILLA?
Then I relaxed and thought about it a bit. Then I read some of the comments and almost blew a gasket at the trolls. That's when I decided I was going to write this blog entry.
A few weeks ago a writer (and ex-CNYer) Aaron Starmer started a hashtag called #99inspirations on Twitter. I totally loved this and decided to steal the idea for my blog, but I'm holding off until something happens in my writing career. But in preparation for it, I started a Word document called 99 Inspirations and started listing the things that inspired my writing. I was surprised the first few things that made it on to that list, though I shouldn't have been. The first things I typed were: Star Wars, A Song of Ice and Fire, Pro Wrestling and Godzilla. Seriously. In pretty much that order.
Now, if you didn't know I started a sports blog where I'm going to pontificate about sports in the way I know how and I'm going to post a pro wrestling long form over there. I decided to answer io9's question over here on this blog.
So why Godzilla?
The most obvious answer: Because he's GOD-f**king-zilla. He's an enormous monster that kicks everything's ass and lays waste to everything in his way. Plus, it's in his name. God implies the most powerful and that's really what Godzilla is. He's an unstoppable, nuclear powered, flame throwing, mutant T-rex (in some versions, but more on that later) that equally loves and hates the Japanese people.
I was weaned on Godzilla in the pre-cable days of the late 70s and early 80s, when WWOR in NYC would run "monster week" during the summers sometimes for their midday movies and every post Thanksgiving Friday (not to mention the King Kong marathons on Thanksgiving with fond memories of my Uncle Joe's wooden paneled rec room). It was always potluck and I can remember hoping and praying that it was going to be monster week when I would spend weeks at a time at my grandparent's three bedroom apartment in Astoria, Queens. I'm sure the countless war films and courtroom dramas had some influence too, though not as indelible as Godzilla. But I remember those memories with the fondest of memories and for that alone is enough. Even sittting here in my darkened classroom while my students are watching the final act of Romeo and Juliet, I'm seven again, staring at the television in the cramped living room as the Godzilla movie comes on the TV and the excitement I felt then is as fresh as ever. The nostalgia alone is why he matters.
If we've learned anything about our sort of pop cultural zeitgeist it's that we love the destruction of the things that our society has built up, especially the things that have come to visually represent us as a society I suppose. We are the ultimate consumers of disaster porn and, when you think about it, Godzilla is the ultimate disaster porn, unlike the standard issue natural disasters (earthquake, meteor, tidal wave, rouge ice age, sharknado). There is an undeniable appeal to watching an enormous monster with firebreath wreaking havok on a city and at the same time an undenaible relief that it is not an American city.
We are also fascinated as humans with monsters, real and imagined. Always have been, going back to when we were sitting around the fire telling stories. Monsters have changed and transformed over the centuries, especially in the last one hundred years. Think of ancient mythology, Gothic literature, pop culture and even kids entertainment like Pokemon and Digimon. We love our monsters. Think about it, right now zombies are the monster du jour. Why do you think the CDC actually has a zombie preparedness page on their website? Because even regular folk are watching The Walking Dead and zombies are now part of everyday pop culture, but really when you think about it, Godzilla is still the alpha monster even 60 years later. No one's been able to come up with something better than Godzilla since he first graced film screens in 1954.
We've tried to supplant the big guy several times and none of them stuck. We tried an Americanized Godzilla and that was a joke at best. Cloverfield was a joke, let's be honest. Yeah, we love destroying NY, but Clover isn't Godzilla, sorry JJ but Big Green would've made short work of Clover and his little ticks. The closest we've come, in my humble opinion has been Pacific Rim. It was awesome when it was robot on monster action and some of the moster brain stuff was fun, but the whole alien invasion thing kind of bored me a bit, even though it was a relatively clever take on monster origin that we've seen before. The thing I appreciated about PR was that it was giving a nod to Godzilla.
Godzilla is the king of the monsters and always will be. A thousand years from now, I firmly believe that kids will study Godzilla in school the way we studied the stories of the Grendel, the Behemoth, the Hydra or the Dragon are today.