Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

American Politics Seen as a Japanese Monster Movie

(Thomas Jefferson's intended original artwork for the Declaration of Independence.)

Marx is the Godzilla of economics – heavy, but not real.
- Unknown

The State is... the coldest of cold monsters.
- Nietzsche

As a teenager, I ran across the two lines above separately, and put together, they made me think of politics as a giant monster movie. Liberty versus equality! Government versus private enterprise! The powerful versus the little guy! Dogs and cats, living together – mass hysteria!

This (mostly) tongue-in-cheek post will take this dubious premise to ludicrous extremes. We owe the Founding Fathers - and Godzilla - nothing less.

Godzilla started as a villain in the movies, but became something of a hero in later films. It's this Shakespearean moral ambiguity that makes him the best character to play the government. Take Thomas Paine's assertions that "government even in its best state is but a necessary evil," and that:

Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices.

Compare this with Thomas Jefferson's contention that:

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

Let's also throw in James Madison from The Federalist No. 51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Many political thinkers have wrestled with the proper balance of individual liberty in relation to a social contract, of restraints upon and license given to the powerful, and of equality under the law and core rights versus the will of the majority. We can see these core issues play out in many works, from John Locke's Second Treatise on Government to the Collected Political Works of Godzilla. For instance, what is the right balance between civil rights and law enforcement? Godzilla occasionally flattens cities and runs amok, but in later films, he's the 'people's monster' and the only one with the might to take on other powerful creatures that make the populace flee in terror. (Eat your heart out, Jack Bauer.)

The authoritarians of movement conservatism and glibertarians claim to hate "big government" and Godzilla, and rail against him constantly. They sometimes have a point - Godzilla has an unfortunate penchant for accidentally destroying raised trains and other forms of public transportation, and can cause other havoc. However, oddly enough, movement conservatives and glibertarians don't have any problem with other monsters rampaging across the countryside and crushing the citizenry – only Godzilla. Some pretend these other monsters don't exist at all – but most of them actually cheer these monsters on. Even more bizarrely, members of this crowd cheer destruction by Godzilla, too – as long as Godzilla destroys people and things they don't like (such as the aforementioned public transportation).

Godzilla alternatively fights alongside, and against, other monsters. While powerful, Godzilla is occasionally bested by Wall Street, represented here by the mighty King Ghidorah:

(Goldman Sachs is more specifically a giant vampire squid.)

Godzilla must also contend with the Military-Industrial Complex (Mechagodzilla, who sometimes tries to fool the populace by going disguised as the actual Godzilla):

There's also the powerful energy industry (Hedorah the Smog Monster):

There's the insurance industry, able to immobile its foes its foes in red tape silk (Mothra):

For social conservatives opposing equal rights, let's go with a giant Sneetch:

(Yeah, a Sneetch ain't a Japanese monster, but it'd still be fun to see one tussle with Godzilla.)

As long as we're not strictly sticking with Japanese monsters, for the theocrats screaming fiery damnation, let's go with the ancient evil Balrog:

For neocons, Randians and anyone else who fights for ideology regardless of reality, there's Mecha-Streisand:

Legitimate citizen watchdog groups sometimes fight Godzilla and occasionally help him against more destructive monsters (as does Anguirus):

Watchdog groups can be tenacious in their fight against powerful monsters.

Reality-based bloggers using the hamster-powered internet tubes normally fight against perceived injustice, like humanoid robots Jet Jaguar, Ultraman and Spectreman:

In contrast, authoritarian bloggers are objectively pro-monster. (Evil monster, that is. For their perceived foes, it's: "Ex-ter-mi-nate!!!")

Most citizens just flee in terror, though.

While we're mainly dealing with domestic politics here, Godzilla sometimes faces foreign foes (like Space Godzilla):

Some political players, like Newt Gingrich, seek to impose a "small Godzilla," like son of Godzilla Minilla:

Or Godzilla's clownish son Godzooky (shudder):

In any case, if we're running with this (increasingly strained) analogy, anarchists and certain libertarians seek to destroy all monsters. There may be some people who want to destroy every monster save Godzilla, but they seem to be rare in America. "Classic" liberals such as liberals and rule-of-law conservatives believe that the power of all monsters must be contained, but that Godzilla can be a force for good - or at least that he is necessary for combating the destructive impulses of the many other monsters. When Wall Street (Ghidorah) or other monsters attack the screaming populace, citizen groups can only do so much, and the weight of Godzilla is the most powerful counter. However, when Godzilla is under mind-control (a frequent monster movie trope) or otherwise teams up with Ghidorah or one of the other monsters, the populace is in big trouble. Americans don't like to believe we have a class system. But when Godzilla takes a laissez-faire slumber beneath the waves, or shows monster class solidarity and lets the other monsters trample citizens – or even joins in – the devastation can be terrible. Just think back on the last, monstrous regime. The Bush administration let loose the creatures of Monster Island, torched America and the world with nuclear mutant lizard flame, and trampled on human rights like a crazed, sweaty man in a giant rubber suit on a model metropolis.

It bears repeating: the authoritarians of movement conservatism love to criticize Godzilla, but they're eager to exploit his power when they have him under control. Glibertarians are much the same, and will insist that the other monsters aren't rampaging across the countryside and crushing citizens, or that those monsters simply don't exist. (Like the aliens in some of the Godzilla flicks, they're indifferent to the destruction of others, and happy for it if it profits them.) "Classic" liberals are intent on building a system of Godzilla-management that's responsible and benefits everybody. Authoritarians are only interested in power and fortune, regardless of where or how they acquire it, and no matter who gets hurt in the process. They cannot be trusted with the power of Godzilla.

Most of American politics really comes down to competing views on Godzilla. Is Godzilla, good, evil, or a neutral force? Is a starve the beast strategy really wise, or is competence in Godzilla-management important? Should other monsters be free to eat screaming citizens - and if so, how many? A pundit's feelings on Godzilla are as a window to the soul. For instance, can Glenn Beck really be trusted? Is this crying, teabagging demagogue a Godzilla kind of guy?

And while this analogy may seem silly and strained - really, when you think about it, doesn't every Sunday morning political show pretty much sound like this?


Update: Darkblack passes on his great picture of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man:

In comments, watchdog votes for Stay-Puft as a "good rep for the insurance agencies, he looks good, but is evil, not good for you and is sticky as hell too." John seconds the vote, and makes the case for including King Kong as "the will of the American people." As for King Caesar and some of the other monsters, I already linked this Godzilla roll call video above, but there were too many to include them all.

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man is an inspired choice for the insurance industry, or maybe giant food corporations loading packaged food with sugar and salt. Still, the version above, with the Cheney face and hapless Lady Liberty, makes me think a bit of the torture and warrantless surveillance crowd, promising you'll be cozy, warm and safe in child-like innocence as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, well - tramples on human rights like a crazed, sweaty man in a giant (foam) rubber suit on a model metropolis. But hey, go with what ya like.

Meanwhile, Mike "Monster Keyboards" Finnigan (who kindly linked this post) passes on the final battle:

It's not just classic monster cinema, folks, it's Democracy in Action. (Now if only the Obama administration would do the same to Wall Street scoundrels...)

Update 2 (12/3/09): All right, I'm wary of infinite updates, but there have been some really good suggestions in comments. In accordance with general consensus, we'll stick with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man for the insurance industry:

Mothra is now the United Nations instead, endowed with a global perspective and special powers of communication. She normally aids peace among other monsters, but sometimes her webbing powers impede good things as well. While quite powerful, Mothra doesn't always get that much respect, because as opposed to being a giant nuclear dinosaur, she's, ya know, a moth. A giant gardenia or (energy efficient) light bulb might immobilize her. Or, as Rhadamanthus puts it:

Mothra's never been able to hold opponents down for long with her silk/webs (UN pressures) or public protests in other nations (largely ineffective nips at opponents' tails in larval form). Even when killed (League of Nations?) she "returns" in the form of new progeny hatching.

The tiny singing women can represent UN diplomats, the smaller, peace-seeking nations of the world, and Bono.

I agree that "giant, flying turtle" Gamera works very well for the media. Quoth Rhadamanthus:

While we may want him to fight all evil monsters, he tends to get tired easily and goes off to rest. Bad things usually happen during this time, and everyone wonders, "What has happened to Gamera?"

The Wiki entry lists several Gamera flying methods, but like Watchdog, it's the spinning one I remember:

Gamera also has the ability to fly. Generally, Gamera pulls in his arms, legs, head, and tail into his shell, fires flames out of his arm and leg cavities and spins around like a flying saucer. This mode of flight had an added advantage in the later films, where he used the sharp edges of his shell to cut enemies while spinning, similar to a circular saw.

Spinning furiously and blindly away, occasionally cutting down evil monsters, but also smacking into good monsters and allowing public works to be destroyed; going to nap, and pulling his head inside his shell so he can't see a damn thing even when it should be obvious – yeah, that sounds like our corporate media. Plus, let's not forget the media's ability to flip suddenly on foes, Gymkata-style.

It's sorta scary that this extended silly analogy is already far more sophisticated than anything the teabaggers or glibertarians offer, huh?

(Fixed some formatting.)


watchdog said...

Great comparison, although I kind of disagree with Mothra representing the insurance industry. I recall Mothra was the one they called in to bring both Godzilla and Rodan under control when their rivalry was destroying everything....plus she had those tiny little women singing her praises all the time, that was kind of cute.

zeppo said...

I love this post; great analogies. I wish I had written it....

darkblack said...

How might the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man factor into this marvelous set of analogies, given current wishful trends among the populace?


Captainapathy said...

Holy crap, I think this may be the ticket to getting my Republican-voting Randian/anarchist father to understand exactly what government is and does!

Batocchio said...

Watchdog, fair point, Mothra is arguably a good monster in some of the films. (The tiny women appeared in quite a few films, and I can't get the English-language smog monster song out of my head from when I was a kid. "Saaaaaave the earth...")

darkblack, great pic, and I guess that's what many of the teabaggers are fighting for!

Captainapathy, we can only hope.

watchdog said...

I think the above Sta-Puft would be a good rep for the insurance agencies, he looks good, but is evil, not good for you and is sticky as hell too.

John McKay said...

I think watchdog has the right role for the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

King Kong needs a place in this system. I see King Kong as the will of the American people. His actions are unpredictable and often contradictory. He can be pointlessly destructive in pursuit of his goals. He can be a noble protector (of Faye Wray). He is subject to moments of chest beating braggadocio as well as sentimental tenderness (Faye Wray. again). Often he just wants to be left alone to sulk. He has ambiguous relationships with mass transit and the entertainment industry. He has been known to kick Godzilla's butt.

Unknown said...

Where's King Cesar?

The one who looks like big Chinese Foo Dog?

tony said...

Yes, Foo Dog [KC].

Kudos for "the Doctah" shots , and showing me that there are others who have seen these films as many times as I have.


watchdog said...

Oh how I love these old monster movies, by the way, good on you for remembering Godzooky from the early 80's Godzilla cartoon. I still remember the theme song for that.

Giant monsters forever (although in a modern context, I think Kratos could take them all).

Batocchio said...

Watchdog, here's that theme song. The Godzooky bit comes out of nowhere. We start with menacing "Godzilla! Godzilla! Godzilla!" and then completely breaking tone - "And Godzooky... la la la la..." Even as kids, I remember we thought it was bizarre. As some people have noted, Godzilla would radically change in size throughout the course of an episode, but no one seemed to notice.

Rhadamanthus said...

Well done! Makes me want to dig out the old MST3K tapes again.

I was thinking that Mothra may better represent Global opinion and pressures. Overall, she is good, and works with Godzilla. However, she's been known to fight him when he's out of control.

Mothra's never been able to hold opponents down for long with her silk/webs (UN pressures) or public protests in other nations (largely ineffective nips at opponents' tails in larval form). Even when killed (League of Nations?) she "returns" in the form of new progeny hatching.

I was, however, somewhat disappointed in not seeing Gamera in the mix. I see the giant rocket-powered turtle as the mass-media. While we may want him to fight all evil monsters, he tends to get tired easily and goes off to rest. Bad things usually happen during this time, and everyone wonders, "What has happened to Gamera?"

He's "friend to all children". The media certainly treats us all as if we were children... And usually does the bidding of Timmy or other little kids before deciding to help.

Dr. Zaius said...

This is awesome! I had no idea that Mecha-Godzilla was so much taller than Godzilla. Ultra man was favorite when I was a kid!

watchdog said...

Mothra as global opinion or even the UN is good, Gamora as the media is even better. A giant turtle that flies through the air with flames coming out of his shell holes all while spinning like a top....sounds like the media to me.

Anonymous said...


I had other comments, but upon reading the various replies, I realized they had already been made by other posters.

You have made this kaiju fan and well-read political activist very happy!