How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Godzilla

By: Arthur Anders

How I
learned to stop worrying and love Godzilla

“History shows again and again
how nature points out the folly of man; Go, Go, Godzilla.”

Oyster Cult

Part 1: A defense of speculative

Part 2: Monster movies and
masculo-militaristic drive

Part 3: A specter haunts Tokyo

Part 4: killing what the bomb

A Defense of Speculative Fiction

Jameson writing in The Political Unconscious develops a thesis on
media analysis. Jameson argues for a
distinction between “empirical texts” — the very works of fiction under discussion,
such as specific films or novels — and the “master narrative” underlying them.
Individual “empirical” texts ought to be utilized to construct
“master narratives of the political unconscious.” The literary
theorist must “detect and to reveal . . . the outlines of some deeper and
vaster narrative movement” which corresponds to the broader social
structures from which the “empirical text” derives its meaning. Whatever the
artist’s intent in producing such a text, there is underlying it a social knowledge
and perspective on the artist’s social context. Thus, all texts
are inherently political, and contain at least some degree of social critique.
We must dispel the false notion of “pure entertainment,” as even the simplest
works contain within them a master narrative. The contemporary distaste for
such art stems from two sources, one legitimate and one illegitimate:
legitimately we may detest the simplicity with which didactic productions
communicate their message to audiences, on the other hand, it is illegitimate
to argue that texts ought not to attempt to say anything at
all. Cries from internet right wing “art critics” detest what they see as the
injection of master narrative into bodies of work. Yet the fundamental fallacy
at play is that regardless of the forms of entertainment they either love or
hate both contain the master narrative. The so-called theme-park rides of modern movies as described by auteur
directors like Scorsese are an impossibility, it is possible to extract meaning
and the master narrative from any body of work. 

            Having established the inherent
capacity of works to reveal the political unconscious at the heart of the works
construction, we must now categorize Godzilla within the broader category of
speculative fiction. Speculative fiction (SF) acts a broad category for
genre-based fiction, mainly including both fantasy and science fiction. SF
emerged out of a desire to separate realist fiction from more fantastical
works. Often SF is seen as more pulp-y, distinct from the high fiction of
academia. Within certain circles genre is often dismissed as belong to the
invalid category of “pure entertainment.” SF however does contain an inherent
potential for perspective on social context, however this is not always fully
realized. SF in particular exposes the clearest “master narrative.” We can only
derive a fictional world from the rearrangement of elements of our own, and
thus creating SF involves extracting the elements from the Real and projecting
them outwards in a new form. When done correctly, this results in a subtle
shifting of our perspective on our
own world
, rather than a mere clever production of a new one. SF based
revolutionary movements like Afrofuturism propel their subjects forward into
new spaces of shared imagination. Speculative fiction can allow marginalized
bodies to reclaim their collective futures. Contemporary Marxist author China
Mieville argues that SF contains a unique power. This weight lies, once again,
outside itself as it is a consequence of the mediation of our everyday lives by
numerous fantasies. “The very economic system upon which our societies are
predicated, capitalism, is grounded in the mysterious process by which human
labor and nature are combined to produce commodities. These
commodities seem to be simple things for use, until we realize that the system
is predicated upon a concealed, insubstantial value rather than their actual
use, the kind of thing that makes a bushel of wheat and a Blu-Ray of equivalent
value. As a consequence of the labor put into the commodity and its relation to
other commodities, it takes on another kind of value that determines the way in
which the global economy functions. This is what makes bizarre situations like
the 2008-09 global financial crisis possible, whereas even imagining this
happening from the perspective of people in the distant past seems to be an
exercise in SF itself. “Our political economy is thus based on speculation,
and SF can be utilized as a tool to explore capital. Human society is
distinctly governed by specific fantasies, fixed binary gender, the invisible
hand of the market, biological race, notions of authentic self, commodity, etc.
These sustaining fantasies can be challenged with the creation of new fictions
which deconstruct the master narrative. “The act of deliberately
imagining a fantastic scenario
 contains within it the inherent
capacity to shed light on the actual fantasies which govern our
lives. Thus, for England in 1897, H.G. Wells imagined that Martians could
engage in the same kind of colonial assault on London as the British Empire
itself had launched on much of the globe, which is simply to say that we never
would have had an alien invasion sub-genre without the social practice of
colonialism. “[1] 

Monster movies and
masculo-militaristic drive

emerged out of the burgeoning genre of the monster movie. Its most
notable predecessors were King Kong (1933), The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953).
However, Godzilla is distinct from these American Monster movies, which focuses
on what is basically a hyper-masculine large animal in the contemporary
setting, usually unleashed by some act of hubris on the part of humanity
pushing into realms which it was meant to remain separate from.
Generally, the same primal masculinity of the monster is used by the masculine
protagonist to slay it. Kong is shot off the Empire State Building by the most
modern of weaponry (airplanes) and the Rhedosaurus shot with a bazooka and then
killed with a radioactive isotope similar to its own radioactivity. Jase Short,
writing for Red Wedge, traces the development of the American monster narrative
as an overt response to the nuclear paranoia of the Cold War. These films gave
catharsis to the paranoid, a conclusion to the constant threat of nuclear
annihilation. The vastness of this new world of global wars, could be projected
onto the image something more immediately understandable, and killable than
the social reality of the Cold War. Ironically the socio-cultural response to
an immediate crisis rooted in militarism is to pursue fictions in which
militarism and weapons of war act are the only form of human salvation. 

            Japanese Kaiju films emerge out of a
different cultural context. Japan experienced the cultural change and tensions
that underpinned both capitalism and the Cold War in an incredibly condensed
form. Up until the 1850’s Japan had maintained a self-imposed isolation from
the rest of the world, avoiding the worse end of colonialism that would root
itself in “Indochina.” During the Meji Restoration, Japan’s elite classes began
a revolutionary project to shift Japan towards an industrial capitalist
superpower. Farmers were compelled to move to urban areas and pursue industry
and wage-work. Japanese society and culture shifted dramatically to become more
like Western powers. Much like Lenin’s seminal work on imperialism, the rapid
development of capitalism created an imperial power. This unstable
socio-economic dynamic was held together by the cultural cult around the
Emperor of Japan, however following Japan’s defeat in WW2 this stabilizer fell,
the fiction surrounding the God-King collapsed. The extreme bombing campaign
which did lead to the use of H-bombs eroded any notions of divinity. Japan was
rapidly thrust into late-stage capitalism, occupied by America and disarmed.
Post-war Japan saw the deflation of Japanese militarism. However, around the
time Godzilla was created, the US facilitated the creation of the Japanese Self-Defense Force in order to
redeploy troops in Korea and use Japan as a staging ground in the Korean War.
Japan once again had a standing military, and with it came new questions and a
new wave of militarism.

Specter Haunts Japan

Often Godzilla is interpreted in two overly simplistic
ways; One: Godzilla represents natures response to human hubris, that the
creation of nuclear weapons has disturbed the natural order and Godzilla
represents some sort of divine punishment; Two: Godzilla is a metaphor for the
United States and its nuclear attack on Japan. Each interpretation is overly
simplistic and simply boring. The first definition falls in line with the
American popular imagination of the monster movie, a convention that Godzilla
breaks and does not belong to. This is of course most likely a result of the
American release cut of the movie, one that denuclearizes the movie and removes
the troublesome bits in which America’s nuclear tests are at least in some way
responsible for Godzilla’s rampage. Godzilla is clearly not just about a giant
monster. Often Godzilla is interpreted as America, a rather
lackluster interpretation that relies too heavily on the existance of sequel
movies in which Godzilla becomes protector of Japan. As far as Godzilla (1954)
is concerned Godzilla is not America. Godzilla only acts narratively to
facilitate catastrophe. Yes, Godzilla emerges
baptized by the fire of an H-bomb, yet Godzilla is not the bomb, Godzilla is
not America. Godzilla is not nature’s wrath. If Godzilla is the bomb then what
is the bomb doing within the narrative, why do the films subjects interact with
Godzilla and the bomb as separate entities to be compared? Godzilla cannot be a
metaphor for these concepts as they already exist within the film. Instead,
America, nuclear weapons, and Godzilla exist within a broader subject: the
newfound social and technological modernity. These are all metonyms for the
catastrophe and constitutive violence of modernity under capitalism. Industrial
Capitalist society as such organizes every aspect of life around the mass
exploitation of labor and intensifying production. This ordering brings about
an inherent potential for catastrophe, interconnected systems that if disrupted
would have devastating effects: a pandemic interrupts the food chain, subprime
mortgages collapse the economy, and so on and so on. The distinction between a
natural disaster and a manmade one is forever blurred under this method of
organizing. “Modernity itself constitutes a kind of second nature, its
cataclysms having the scale of natural disasters, devastating ecological
consequences, and, perhaps most terribly, having been naturalized … so that
they seem inevitable facts of life rather than the results of historical
processes of collective decision-making, guided by and serving the interests of
the powerful according to the logic of capital accumulation. Mediated
technocatastrophy is the new natural disaster.” [2] Capitalism contains the
endless repetition of the technocatastrophy. Make no mistake, Godzilla is
more of a disaster movie than monster movie, yet it is not a natural disaster.
To accept the seductive argument that Godzilla represents natures wrath
obfuscates the real forces at work, it is the bourgeoisie-produced narrative of
natural disaster, under such a narrative things like market mechanisms,
derailments, oil spills, and more have all become functions of nature,
unknowable and abstracted. It is thus wholly reductive to settle on describing
Godzilla as a force of nature. Rather, Godzilla is the ever-present catastrophe
within capitalist organizing. Godzilla is king of modernity.  

            In order to prove that Godzilla’s
attack is a form of this systemic technocatastrophe, I will follow Godzilla’s
assault on Japan, which coincidentally traces the political economy as laid out
by Marx from top to bottom, traveling from the base of material production
towards sites of ideological and political power. 

assault begins in the rural peripheries of Tokyo in a small village whose
fishing industry is semi-industrial. The film opens with fisherman aboard a
small commercial fishing boat whose boat is suddenly destroyed. These sailors
represent the very base of political economy: the proletariat. Their labor is
embodied in Japan’s largest export, commercial fishing. Godzilla cripples the
roots of the Japanese economy, then moving towards industrial sites. In
Godzilla’s final attack he attacks media buildings and most notably the Diet
government building. Godzilla’s movements upwards along the chain of political
economy mirror the way in which many disasters begin: with labor. 

            The design elements behind Godzilla
contains numerous aspects of Japan’s new modernity. Godzilla is of course
highly radioactive, he fits in with a world built around the atom. Godzilla’s
roar is metallic and industrial. The aesthetic design choices behind Godzilla
reflect key elements of Japan. 

Godzilla’s violence is often mediated by the
militaristic response of the JSDF. From the very start the response to Godzilla
is militarized securitization, much like the US response to many catastrophes,
especially interruptions to labor and primary production.

 As a brief
aside, take for instance the US response to Hurricane Katrina. As the JDSF was
modeled after US police and military apparatus, it is useful to analyze how
realistic the depictions of securitized responses to catastrophe. Katrina saw
the widespread deployment of the US national guard, which in part was based on
an alleged lawlessness because of the disaster. Armed guards were posted around
shelters and relief centers. Despite such
efforts, “there were reports of people pushing the elderly to the ground and
taking their water when relief did arrive in locations along the Gulf Coast”,
suggesting that the role of the security forces had less to do with protection
of the vulnerable and instead focused on protecting government assets. Often
Armed gaurds were used to turn away non-residents affected by the hurricane.
The presence of military force was a form of control. This
meta-narrative is associated with elite-panic and desire to protect capital. “This focus on security not only distracted from the
response to the disaster; it often made it worse: delaying search and rescue,
limiting the options for shipment and distribution of relief goods; tying up
human resources that could have been used in other ways. While this was perhaps
most noticeable at the federal level, local governments also assigned armed
guards to shelters and shopping areas and, as we have seen, took matters into
their own (armed) hands, hijacking relief goods. “Ironically many of the very
agencies who created the narrative of lawlessness engaged in this lawless hijacking
of relief goods. Across many of Godzilla’s scenes we can see that the
bulk of JSDF force is concentrated towards killing Godzilla. It is only after
the barrier Tokyo constructs fails, that individual squad cars are allowed to
begin rescuing civilians. While the evacuation is facilitated by a few soldiers
the bulk response is a military intervention to secure the interests of
capital. Godzilla is fought on bridges, near warehouses, corporate skyscrapers,
and the Diet government building all while Tokyo’s civilian centers burn,
eerily like both the US firebombing campaign and the imbalance of state
resource allotment to lower income areas more affected by the failure of levees
during Katrina. [3] The military focuses more reasources on protecting the assets
of the elite upper strata of Japanese society than on protecting the poor. The
families of the sailors lost at sea are promised the full force of the Japanese
coast guard and yet only receive two small boats and a handful of sailors to
help. In fact, the rural fisherman spends more time searching. Eventually a
helicopter arrives but by then Godzilla strikes: FEMA arrives but the levees
have already broke. 

A good deal of the film
showcases the newest machines of war in the arsenal of the JSDF. Tanks are shot
from below their turrets filling the screen. In isolation this could be seen as
simple military-porn, a triumphant reminder of Japan’s militaristic return. It
isnt however, these machines of war which once “changed” the battlefields of
war are thrown aside by Godzilla. In a single fell stroke Godzilla deflates
militarism and reveals truth. Militarism can never resolve the
technocatastrophe. The last act of militarism within the movie occurs when
scientist Dr. Seriwaza devises a way to kill Godzilla, a bomb that literally
destroys oxygen by liquefying it. This device based on weaponizing a
fundamental aspect of life is itself a natural escalation of nuclear weapons. Godzilla
gives us a further stage in weapons proliferation, a glimpse into yet another
iteration of the system. Seriwaza, upon witnessing the horror he has unleashed
kills himself and destroys his notes, which facilitates both the romantic
subplot of the film and the “saving” of Japan. The film makes a deliberate call
back to the Japanese Kamakazi pilots, with Seriwaza wearing an eyepatch to
cover an old war wound. Seriwazas sacrifice is what he sees an attempt to
circumvent arms proliferation to avoid “a-bombs against a-bombs, and h-bombs
against h-bombs.” Seriwaza deep dives into Godzillas resting place and
activates the bomb, killing both. His actions destroy Japan’s oceans, the very
site of Godzilla’s first attack. This sacrifice is absolutely futile and plays
into a global system that creates catastrophe after catastrophe calling on the
common person to commit the ultimate sacrifice. We must die so they can
The film ends with a direct address from Yamane, a professor of
paleontology who throughout the film laments the militaries choice to enrage
and kill Godzilla. He mourns Godzilla not just because Godzilla could be the
last of a species alive during the Jurassic period but because Godzilla’s
natural resistance to radiation has the potential to benefit millions of people
who were and will be the victims of radiation. In a world with constant nuclear
testing there is no guarantee that there won’t be another catastrophe.
Furthermore, the activation of the oxygen bomb may awaken a far worse
catastrophe. There is nothing good about Godzilla’s death. To end Godzilla is
to make barren the oceans, to end life itself. There is no heroic narrative
sacrifice that can allow us to escape our modern technocatastrophic condition.

Killing what the bomb cannot

above analysis is satisfactory and thorough and yet Godzilla provides
more and more.  Many things like a
deep-rooted analysis of the mass-production of Japanese victimhood narratives
are worth considering yet fall beyond the scope of this already bloated paper.
However, in spite of the multitude of horrors committed by Japan during ww2,
the mass bombing campaign and nuclear bombs are particular cruelties, which
entrenched themselves in the Japanese popular imagination. 

interestingly however is our relationship towards the bomb and Godzilla. Its
abillity to resist radiation and immunity to the bomb, could create tangible
good it could redeem us and undue decades of damage. As such, Godzilla is the
only thing that the bomb cannot kill, and in the end our system of organizing
necessitates that we must securitize and ultimately kill Godzilla. We must wage
a holy and just war in the middle east so that it never happens again. 

its sequel the ending offers no relief, there will be no triumphant military
victory. Godzilla gives us murder and loss. We are a damned
people locked within an ever-proliferating techno-catastrophe. 

Works Cited

Short, Jase. “The
Theory and Appeal of Giant Monsters.” Red Wedge. Red Wedge,  January 24, 2015.            appeal-of-giant-monsters.

Harrison, Patrick, and
Patrick Harrison. “Destroy All Monsters.” The New Inquiry, April         18, 2017.

Malka. “Securitization of Disaster Response in the United States: The Case of
Hurricane Katrina .” Revue Interdisciplinaire de Travaux sur les Amériques.
Accessed March 8, 2023.

Joel, Big. “We Must Destroy What the Bomb Cannot.” YouTube.
YouTube, January 31,             2023.