SOLUTION: ENGL 101University of California Cultural Monsters & Scary Behavior Discussion

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Last Name 1
Student Name
Kelly Allen
English 101
08 May 2017
King of Monsters: Godzilla Reigns Immortal
Godzilla is the undisputed King of Monsters from Japan. He has reigned supreme over Japanese
pop culture for over half a century and birthed modern history’s longest running monster franchise. For
good reason, as Godzilla’s existence hinges upon anxieties that are still very much prevalent in modern
viewer’s minds. Godzilla was first envisioned in 1954 as a physical depiction of the atomic bombs that
decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Since then, he has continued to maintain his
relevance to current events and disasters. He is irrevocably linked to a host of social and political issues in
the Japanese consciousness throughout all his incarnations. Therefore, the atomic goliath is a categorical
candidate for analysis a lá Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s essay “Monster Culture (Seven Theses). ” By utilizing
Cohen’s methodology to examine the two most recent Godzilla films: Toho’s Shin Godzilla (2016) and
the American reboot Godzilla (2014) and contrast them to the original Godzilla (1954) in which the titular
lizard found his genesis, we shall reveal the cultural fears of Japan that birthed the King of Monsters.
Before embarking upon our characterization of Godzilla, we must first characterize Cohen’s
argument. His essay claims that examination of a given monster’s traits may yield insight into the cultures
they inhabit. Cohen supports his dissertation with his seven theses, which are each complex and weighty
enough to exist independently as an argument in its own right. Since seven is confusingly excessive, we
shall focus upon his most relevant theses, of which there are only four. The first thesis we shall examine
is Cohen’s Thesis 2, which states that a monster’s existence is based upon its indestructibility. The
monster eludes our understanding and can even be invoked as a perceived connection to immediate social
issues. Thereupon, the surmised threat the monster poses is through its mutability and difficulty to
combat. The monster’s mutability is key as we move into Cohen’s Thesis 3, which contends that monsters
are dangerous because they are “full of rebuke to traditional methods of organizing knowledge and human
experience” (Cohen 7). Its challenge to our cultural understanding becomes something simultaneously
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discomfiting and perilous. Similarly unnerving is the alien-ness of the monster: in Thesis 4, Cohen claims
that monstrosity comes through difference in culture, which is often specified racially, economically, or
sexually. True to form, the monster “threatens to erase difference in the world of its creators,” thus
revealing the fragility of the established system (Cohen 11). The final Cohen thesis we will inspect is
Thesis 5, which dictates that the monster serves to warn against curiosity and reminds us not to test the
limits set in place by our encompassing culture. These theses individually examine various essential
monstrous characteristics and determine how each monstrosity challenges the mores or understandings
unique to each culture. In support of his theses, Cohen invokes a plethora of examples originating from
mythology, history, wordplay, and even current day practices. He then makes his point by emphasizing
the way the monster infringes upon the traditions established by its respective culture. Although Cohen’s
argument ultimately weakens because of his somewhat recursive methodology of occasionally molding
his monstrous exemplars within distinctive cultural characteristics, his essay provides a fresh outlook for
a reader with an interest in cultural studies. Freshly and adequately armed with Cohen’s methodology, we
can now examine Godzilla against the backdrop of Japanese culture and history to find the reason for his
half-century reign as King of Monsters.
Godzilla was born on the heels of World War II in the 1954 self-referential film Gojira as the
physical representation of the acute fear many Japanese felt after suffering the horror of the bombs that
ended the war: Little Boy at Hiroshima and Fat Man at Nagasaki. Neither bomb could actually be
characterized as a “little boy” due to the utter devastation they wreaked upon the Japanese cities. William
M. Tsutsui, the famed “Professor Godzilla,” spoke to this dichotomy in his address at the UCLA Asia
Pacific Center, where he noted that the name Gojira was “a combination of gorira (gorilla) and kujira
(whale)” (“Godzilla and Postwar Japan”). These two massive animals are each already terrifyingly
overwhelming for the comparatively small and weak human beings. But Godzilla is not merely a
portmanteau. He is the pure black of the aggressive and intimidating lowlands gorilla. He submerges with
the unseen threat of capsizing Japanese fishing vessels much like a whale, and very much analogous to
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the very real radioactive contamination of the ill-fated Lucky Dragon in 1954 which spurred national
outcry. The terror of Godzilla is compounded by his physical hybridization of the already threatening
gorilla and whale. Cohen’s Thesis 3 speaks to the danger posed by a monster’s ability to evade
commonsensical understanding: “they are disturbing hybrids whose externally incoherent bodies resist
attempts to include them in any systematic structuration. And so the monster is dangerous, a form
suspended between forms that threatens to smash distinctions” (Cohen 6). Indeed, Godzilla’s sheer bulk
enables him to smash his way through Japan simply ambling through with the hulking gorilla’s clumsy
gait. When he surfaces as a whale might, he sends tsunamis crashing to the shores. Although Godzilla
may have been inspired by the 1952 success of King Kong, his menacing tidal threat is a distinctly
Japanese worry peculiar to an island nation. In this vein, the recent 2014 American remake of Godzilla
nailed the monster perfectly. Godzilla is characterized as an ancient force of nature throughout the movie
and in fact only appears on screen in all his monstrous glory for a grand total of 11 minutes and 16
seconds (Screenjunkies). Once again, Godzilla characterizes the unseen and unknowable threat from
beneath the ocean’s surface. Ethan Sacks pays particular attention to director Gareth Edwards’ intentional
leveraging of this guttural panic:
The swath of destruction [the malignant creatures] leave in their wake is evocative of news
footage from the Sept. 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 tsunami – but don’t call it
coincidence. Call it relevance. Freaking out filmgoers is just a matter of opening up the paper and
putting it in your script. “Unfortunately for our generation, you don’t have to imagine very hard,”
says Edwards. “For the last 10 years, there have been these horrific situations and the visuals from
those moments have just scarred everyone’s minds.” Just as “Godzilla” did for Japanese audiences
back on Nov. 3, 1954, when the film opened in a nation still very much in the throes of nuclear
anxiety. (Sacks)
If it is difficult to forget the media that has “scarred everyone’s minds,” it is even harder for the Japanese
survivors of the bombings to forget the scars left upon their very skin. As the only nation in the world that
has suffered atomic bombings, the Japanese public was painfully aware of the nuclear threat Godzilla
posed. Although the war had ended, the United States continued to conduct nuclear tests in the Pacific
Rim through 1954. Chon A. Noriega writes that in 1952, “the United States exploded its first H-bomb, a
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ten-megaton weapon one thousand times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima, on a Pacific
Island near Japan. The island evaporated” (Noriega 57). Both Godzilla films draw upon the visceral and
wantonly destructive events in their audience’s collective consciousness to create terror personified as
monster. Cohen’s Thesis 2 states that “’monster theory’ must therefore concern itself with strings of
cultural moments, connected by a logic that always threatens to shift; invigorated by change and escape”
and can therefore be found in Godzilla’s contemporary significance: he is always present, nigh
indestructible, and ready to flatten civilization (Cohen 6). Thusly, Godzilla is always a physical
manifestation of forces far beyond humanity’s reach, forces which cruelly and unremorsefully devastate
our cultures and societies time and time again.
This then begs the question of whether such forces as the atom and nuclear bombs ought to be
beyond humanity’s reach. Cohen’s Thesis 5 comes into play through his declaration that “from its
position at the limits of knowing, the monster stands as a warning against exploration of its uncertain
demesnes” (Cohen 12). At the turn of the 20th century, the discovery of the special theory of relativity by
Albert Einstein threw open the floodgates for a bright new era of human innovation and betterment.
Einstein’s theory of relativity promised to upend every known definition of our physical world, where
simple and small amounts of matter could contain vast and seemingly endless reserves of energy. The
world held its breath in unison because it was both thoroughly enraptured by the promise in Einstein’s
discovery and utterly confused by his complete deconstruction of common understanding. What began as
a foray into a redefinition of our structured world ended in the misused and maligned research of Robert
Oppenheimer. As the foremost victim of technological misuse, Japan is the first in line to malign
Oppenheimer’s most famous piece of work. In returning to Godzilla’s genesis, Tsutsui explains that “the
first Godzilla film clearly had a strong anti-nuclear message….Yet it becomes increasingly hard to
conclude that the films have had a consistent message over time….The only constant about the Godzilla
films is a deep ambivalence…on the part of the Japanese when they look at issues like modernity,
technology, science, nature, politics, and the world outside Japan” (“Godzilla”). Tsutsui provides a quick
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synopsis of the first Godzilla where he notes that a driving plot mechanic comes in scientist Serizawa’s
invention of a powerful weapon capable of neutralizing Godzilla. Serizawa agonizes over using the
weapon out of fear that such technology, once unleashed, may well fall into the wrong hands and be
misused for evil. The scientist uses his fearsome weapon to neutralize Godzilla and purposefully perishes
with the beast to keep the secret of his weapon from humankind. Tsutsui notes that “some commentators
have read the self-congratulatory celebrations at the end of the film as a symbolic and therapeutic
rewriting of the end of World War II, with Japan emerging triumphant this time around” (“Godzilla”).
Notably, this version of Japan’s victory hinges upon the codependent destructions of powerful weapon
and undeniably catastrophic monster. Japan hosts a strong undercurrent of belief in the impossibility for
humankind to handle such an awesome power in its weaponized form; their fear of the unknown
technologies that comprise the devastating weapons even extends to the peaceful and originally intended
usages for the technology. Quite frankly, the technology of atomization and harnessing nuclear energy
was discovered and toiled upon with the intention of providing unlimited clean energy for society’s
usage. Here, too, Japan’s perception of technology has unfortunately suffered through circumstance.
Where the rest of the world experienced the horrifying 2011 tsunami that devastated the entirety of
Southeast Asia as a reminder of the insignificance of human ability in the face of the forces of nature,
Japan experienced this terror twofold when the tsunami triggered the Fukushima reactor meltdown that
quickly became a national crisis meriting evacuation of the entire region. This double assault from both
nature and technology manifests in 2016’s Shin Godzilla, wherein Godzilla returns to the Toho studio and
the Japanese movie industry. Matt Alt writes that “indeed, the now fiery-complexioned Godzilla seems to
be a walking nuclear power plant on the brink of melting down. For anyone who lived in Japan through
the trying days of late March of 2011, the sight of blue-jumpsuited government spokesmen convening
emergency press conferences is enough to send a chill down one’s spine” (Alt). Once again, Godzilla
hearkens to the audience’s deepest fears in order to evoke gut-wrenching terror, except that the new
horror was a technology that was intentioned for the betterment of society. Japan was again reminded that
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even well-intentioned technology can be turned upon its handlers at any moment. Even the original
Godzilla film pays a brief homage to atomic technology’s intended purpose and ultimate usurping
through one Professor Yamane, who “proposes instead a rescue mission to save the monster, noting that
Godzilla is in fact a victim of man-made nuclear technology. Yamane also suggests that examining the
monster might lead to discoveries that could help human beings survive nuclear war” (Inuhiko). Yamane
is shouted down from the panic of a government and public scrambling to defend itself from the invading
behemoth. In a sense, Godzilla is both monster and victim. As monster, he represents the threats that time
and time again encroach upon Japan’s shores; as victim, he is Japan in its attempts to create a better
society through adopting new technologies, attempts that may seem to unanimously backfire. It appears
then that the real monster is not Godzilla himself but rather the authoritative governing body.
At his very heart, buried beneath radioactive scales and atomic breath, Godzilla is the national
pride of a population that holds a deep-seated hatred for authority and an acquired taste for xenophobia.
We now step into Cohen’s final thesis: Thesis 4 states that monstrosity is created by difference and
champions the vilification of the “other.” In the new Shin Godzilla, the government’s painfully slow
response to the Fukushima meltdown is cast in satirical slant when the authority in charge of the region
“downplayed the meltdown and suppressed reports of high radiation levels” much like the reality of 2011
(Rath). Furthermore, there are entire scenes of blaming and finger pointing as the fat cats of the
government try to retain their cushy positions and minimize political fallout at the cost of radioactive
fallout. The true heroes of the situation are the local everyman workers who “risked their lives laboring
round-the-clock to stabilize the crippled No.1 nuclear plant” much like the Fukushima 50 (Schilling). The
nationalistic pride of Japanese people is on sharp display in the 2016 Shin Godzilla reboot, which was
suspiciously released two years after the successful American reboot. Perhaps for good reason, as the
American version essentially whisked the Japanese national symbol off to San Francisco to become the
hero of the American west. The new Shin Godzilla places this nationalism on surprisingly acerbic display
with the inclusion of a Japanese-American:
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A sharp contrast is Kayoko Ann Patterson (Satomi Ishihara), a Japanese-American special envoy
to the U.S. president. Arrogant, condescending, and flaunting her sexuality while the other female
characters have all but obliterated theirs, she is the “Ugly American” personified. But, as Ishihara
says in a program interview, ‘the blood of her ancestor’s country stirs within her,’ and Kayoko
starts to side with her Japanese counterparts, becoming more sympathetic in the process.
Racism unfortunately comes part and parcel with Godzilla’s origin story, as he was born from the
American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In combination with Japanese vacillatory attitude
towards modernism, this racism is bolstered into hatred for western gender progressivism; verily, it is a
hatred for any sort of western progressivism. Even today, the older generation of Japan is culturally
strongly resilient to the social liberties taken by younger Japanese who have been exposed to global
To summarize his lecture, Professor Godzilla provides a brief list of the five themes consistent in
Godzilla’s legacy: Anti-Americanism, Godzilla as Defender of Japan, the Vulnerability of Japan,
Ambivalence toward Science and Technology, and Ambivalence toward Authority (“Godzilla”). These
five themes are central to Godzilla’s enduring existence in the Japanese consciousness as both monster
and champion, chiefly because they are still very much relevant to the current day. If and when the day
ever comes that Japan realizes its evolution from these concerns, Godzilla shall no longer be needed. But
until then, as Matt Alt succinctly closes out in his correspondence with The New Yorker: “What’s certain
is that Godzilla retains its knack for returning when its country most needs it, providing a giant canvas
upon which Japan can work through its existential angst” (Alt).
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Works Cited
Alt, Matt. “Godzilla Returns to Japan.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 14 May 2016. Web. 27 Apr.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Monster theory: reading culture. Mineapolis:
U of Minnesota Press, 1996. 3-25. Print.
“Godzilla and Postwar Japan.” UCLA Asia Pacific Center. N.p., 26 May 2005. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
Inuhiko, Yomota. “The Menace from the South Seas .” Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts. Ed.
Alastair Phillips and Julian Stringer. New York: Routledge, 2007. 102-11. Print.
Noriega, Chon A. “Godzilla and the Japanese Nightmare: When Them! is U.S.” Hibakusha cinema:
Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the nuclear image in Japanese film. Ed. Mick Broderick. Abingdon, Oxon.:
Routledge, 2009. 54-74. Print.
Rath, Robert. “Godzilla Resurgence is actually a biting political satire.” ZAM. ZAM, n.d. Web. 27 Apr.
Sacks, Ethan. “New ‘Godzilla’ reflects our fears of nuclear and natural disasters.” NY Daily News. N.p., 11
May 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
Screenjunkies. “Honest Trailers – Godzilla (2014).” YouTube. YouTube, 09 Sept. 2014. Web. 08 May
Schilling, Mark. “‘Shin Godzilla’: The metaphorical monster returns.” The Japan Times, 3 Aug. 2016.
Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
Student Last Name 1
Student Name
Kelly Allen
English 205
17 December 2015
Monsters in Asian Culture
“They ask us why we have created them” (Cohen 20). This short but intriguing sentence
is the last sentence of Monster Culture, a remarkable work of Jeffrey J. Cohen, in which he
explained a creation of monster based on cultural aspects. In this regard, “they” refer to our
cultural monsters and they are now questioning meaning of their existence to us. Then, why do
they exist? Or do they truly owe their existence to us? My answer for that question is yes; after
reading through Cohen’s seven theses and studying three different kinds of monster in Asian
culture, I came to agree with Cohen’s idea that human society had created its own monsters, and
can be effectively analyzed by them. From ancient times to present day, monstrous figures best
represent their respective cultures since they are the true accumulations and reflections of that
society’s culture.
Cohen views monster as a representation of a certain culture. He affirms that monstrous
body is pure culture itself (Cohen 4). Monster indeed reflects the culture of society they were
born into, like as a literature reflects the times. Dragon, a snakelike imaginary creature, was itself
an embodiment of ancient Chinese culture. Among numerous myths of its birth, it seems credible
that when separate tribes in China formed into a single nation, they combined their totem animals
to create one united guardian of the …
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