Like so many people, much of my interaction with my fellow human beings now happens on social media. I know, the problems and issues with that statement could be called legion, for they are many. Anyway, in particular – since I’ve been trying to not follow politics quite as closely (more for sanity/burnout than anything else), I’ve been spending more time looking at the online Godzilla community, particularly those folks who choose to be active on Facebook.
In general, things are pretty positive. A lot of people (myself included) liked Godzilla vs. Kong, some are excited about the upcoming Godzilla: Singular Point, another few have decided they already hate it – hey, more power to you there, I guess? There’s also a ton of speculation about future live-action films, both from Legendary and from Toho. All of this is fine – but there’s another running thread, not quite as common as those I’ve listed but still frequent enough to raise my eyebrows.
This thread is aggressive and it is hostile, particularly to “those who just don’t get it.” I want to draw your attention to one such article that earned people’s ire. The article, published on Variety, is titled “Godzilla vs. Kong Raises the Question: Is Nonsense the New Normal?” Needless to say, the author of the piece did not think much of the new film, putting it more into the category of “just dumb” than “dumb fun.” He also doesn’t seem to care much for the quality of the original films, blending them together into a mass that he only discusses in general terms.
And all of this is fine – or should be. However, a few people online have taken issue with the bad man and his hurtful opinions. Some of them clearly couldn’t be bothered to read his article before they did, since they took his criticism as simply “all Godzilla films are nonsense,” which – having read the piece – I don’t think was his point.
More alarming still were some of the comments. Despite the author’s name (at least as of now) being plainly visible online, some in the comments expressed frustration that the author’s name was hidden, saying how they’d like to get back and make him understand just how wrong he was. You know, like the proverbial bully being mad that they can’t find the kid whose lunch money they wanna take.
Many others pointed to such films as The Return of Godzilla, Shin Godzilla, and the original 1954 classic as a way of saying “see, Godzilla is serious business!” That made me chuckle, because I see these three films brought up so often – with many saying they’re three of the best because they are “serious” or “realistic” or “adult.” You know, the stuff of worthwhile academic pursuit.
So, in a roundabout way (sorry about that), we come to my point: Godzilla does not have to be serious to be good, and Godzilla fans need to stop trying to justify their fandom by pointing to a fraction of movies so that they will be taken seriously by…random people on the internet they will likely never meet.
Growing up a Godzilla Fan
On one hand, I totally get where this anger comes from. Like many people, I grew up being ostracized for my geekiness – and for liking Godzilla in particular. Heck, even today – surrounded by geek and nerd friends – most still are like “Wow you’re into Godzilla? Okay. Cool.” before changing the topic as quickly as possible. He doesn’t enjoy the mainstream reverence that super heroes have recently achieved.
When you’re bullied, you are made to feel shame for liking the things you like and, by extension, for just being yourself. As I said, many Godzilla fans grew up with this. I have read it in G-Fan, heard it spoken at G-Fest, and seen it online at least dozens of times: people talking about how alone they felt before finding fellow Godzilla fanatics. I think times are a little better now but – who knows? I don’t pretend to be that tuned into the culture.
My point is people get hurt, and when they get hurt they most often get angry. It’s a more empowering emotion I think – especially for men. Being hurt can mean admitting weakness – and in a culture still rich with toxic masculinity – it’s just not cool for guys to cry. Being enraged on the other hand and wanting to beat someone up? Well, boys will be boys.
How Defense Turns to Gatekeeping
And it is precisely this kind of thinking that turns people hostile. It happens even in their own fandoms. Remember those three films I mentioned, well there are plenty of others at the opposite end of the spectrum. One film that is frequently maligned is Godzilla’s Revenge, a film centered around a lonely little boy who imagines he’s friends with the son of Godzilla. I know, how could the people I described above ever relate to that?
However, a poor dub, a use of stock footage, and an all around campy atmosphere make this film an easy target for angry Godzilla fans. In part, they blame their bullying on films like this – films that made people think the Godzilla series was anything less than cool or serious. Films where the effects were cheesy, where Godzilla did silly things, where there was no real world allegory. To be fair, Godzilla vs. Kong is a $200 million dollar version of this film, complete with Godzilla shooting a monkey out of the air before laughing into the camera.
So, anything less than that deadly serious, real-world stuff is just not as good – and they will tell you that over and over again. If that’s the Godzilla you like, especially if you like it while calling it cheesy or dumb, well then you’re just not a real Godzilla fan. By the way, our Variety author talks about how much he enjoys Mothra vs. Godzilla for these reasons – but people online were still very quick to say “he doesn’t understand us!”
Embrace the Camp
At the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their opinions. The people who love Godzilla’s three very politically overt films…and the people who just enjoy the ridiculousness of the Showa series (films between 1954 and 1975). It’s all fine. Just please don’t try to beat each other up over – and don’t try to pick fights with film critics online who are just writing articles, even if they are expressing opinions that you find frighteningly evocative of your old school bully.
So when someone brings up the tale slide in Godzilla vs. Megalon or the dancing scene in Invasion of Astro Monster or how the costume doesn’t look threatening at all in Son of Godzilla and says Godzilla is just silly, cheesy nonsense. Guess what, you’re allowed to still say “but I love that, it’s fun beyond belief.”
That’s okay, it is okay that the bulk of Godzilla movies – even the self-serious Heisei era, are completely silly. Seeing a zipper or a wire doesn’t necessarily make a film bad. It is okay that people think otherwise. It is okay that they write about how Godzilla vs. Kong is the bad kind of nonsense whereas the original Showa Era films were good nonsense. It’s okay if they hate the concept of Godzilla all together.
We don’t need everyone in our fandom for it to be a good fandom. In fact, maybe stuff like what’s happening in the Star Wars fandom should be a cautionary tale of what happens when a film series tries to speak for everybody everywhere – without first trying to control or confront its own gatekeeping issues.
Being serious does not equal being good. Being campy does not mean it’s bad. Godzilla has lasted over sixty years and thirty movies – in large part sliding or dancing or smiling or laughing or flying or talking or rock-throwing his way to victory. Clearly, the approach can’t be that bad.