A gargantuan, lizard-like specimen lumbers around hungrily, trampling over the population and laying waste to one of the world’s great cities. No, it’s not a long-awaited Boris Johnson biopic but the latest incarnation of Godzilla. I’ve always had a thing for the Big G, regularly staying up late as a kid to watch 3am screenings of the Japanese b-movies on Channel 4 and revelling wide-eyed in the spectacle of actors in rubber suits rolling around over model buildings. Best of all was that piercing shriek, the one that says “I’m here, humanity. Let’s play.” Wikipedia/Toho Company Ltd. Some rights reserved
But Godzilla was far more than simply watching giant creatures beat the hell out of each across ruined urban landscapes. There was the political allegory of the original 1954 film, in which the destruction of cities represented a metaphor for the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima which had occurred less than a decade previously. Beneath the veneer of fantasy carnage, the series resonated with the very real fear of nuclear holocaust, represented through the awesome image of Godzilla and other similarly-sized beasts. The critical element lessened as the series grew ever more commercially lucrative, with cartoons, toys and Hollywood remakes, but Godzilla remained an important cinematic and cultural reference. It was through the terrifying robotic form of Mechagodzilla that I learnt to appreciate, as an eight-year-old, what total destruction entailed.
The new film sees Godzilla play second fiddle to US military prowess and heroism, only really turning up late on and even then not hanging round for very long. As with several other Hollywood blockbusters of recent times, there is a quasi-pornographic fetishism to the gratuitous focus on military hardware. For every one minute of ‘zilla on-screen presence, there are seemingly another five of helicopters, tanks, aircraft carriers and so on, glistening sexily against a backdrop of incoherent story-lines and implausible narrative (even for a film about a 100 metre-tall lizard).
Whereas the Japanese creators of Godzilla intended the character to serve as a warning of impending catastrophe, the new film’s driving ambition is to assert the moral right of US military expansionism. Throughout the film, audiences watch set-piece after set-piece in which the military plays a vital role in saving humanity, with the title character merely providing context to which these fantasies can be applied. Other than slap a couple of other monsters about, Godzilla actually does very little: the key elements in saving the day come about either directly or indirectly from the actions of the armed forces.
The reality, of course, is that the US military and its allies are engaged in conflicts which have cost the lives of over a million people in Iraq and Afghanistan, somehow still occupying both countries in spite of the stated objectives for launching these wars being completed several years ago. These ongoing campaigns have largely disappeared from the mainstream media, but operations continue in these countries. If you spend a lot of time in cinemas, you could be forgiven for thinking the military spent its time engaging with sea monsters or aliens rather than actual human beings.
US political rhetoric will have you believe that real-life foes are just as large a threat to civilisation as any fictional city-munching space bug, but Hollywood execs' are generally unwilling to place the military in scenarios that actually exist. The exception is in films such as The Hurt Locker in which the portrayal of US forces invariably involves a high degree of individual bravado and brooding lonerism, traits inherited from North American audiences’ long affiliation with the western genre. This is cowboy convention transplanted to the Middle East.
So, why are audiences continuously submitted to false representations of the role of the military? Filmgoers are unlikely to react well to a truer portrayal of the hostile acts committed in their name, such as the aerial bombardment of impoverished mountain villages in Afghanistan. Nor does their cinematic escapism make room for images of, say, limbless Iraqis, victims of a conflict they help to fund. Showing these realistic scenarios would have the reverse effect on public support for the military that our governments seek to engender, hence the invention of situations which elevate the military into the role of saviour.
Hollywood is a fundamental cog in the propaganda machine. Go to the cinema, ogle over all that racy machinery, and bathe in the deluded warmth of military just cause. I started to suspect my sentiments were being manipulated when I found myself rooting for a sidewinder missile as it hurtled its way towards an evil Transformer engaged in massacring humans. In real life, it is not Transformers but these very missiles that massacre humans, yet here was a narrative which turned reality on its head. I was watching a fabrication in which a weapon designed to kill on a large scale was re-imagined as a symbol of protection and valour. As audiences, we are being coerced into forming views far removed from any semblance of truth.
Following on from the likes of Battleship, Transformers and The Avengers, Godzilla is yet another film which seeks to direct us into supporting the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as building momentum for future conflicts. Primarily targeted at children, these blockbuster movies present an utterly distorted worldview in which aggressor becomes victim and subsequently a heroic figure. Mainstream entertainment is simply another channel through which we are told what to believe. Godzilla’s message is that military expansionism is a morally righteous act which benefits and protects us, and is therefore necessary for our survival. And that is a monster lie.