Hannibal the Cannibal meets Once Upon a Time

I’m a very big TV person, but lately I haven’t had time to watch much of it (new shows). Partly because of doing other (fun) things, but partly it’s because my cable is on the fritz…though I don’t know exactly why. More on that in a different post.

So I find myself in a conundrum: I need a show to watch for background, sort of. Like, if I’m eating or doing something mundane, like paying bills or ironing, I want there something for me to watch or listen to but not something that I feel like I need to pay attention to. Reality TV is great for this purpose, but I’m not going to stream reality tv repeats.

I started watching Hannibal, ostensibly, for the purpose of having this kind of show. If you’ve seen that show, you know that it can’t be a background show–unless, of course, you watch while doing something else to keep yourself from being traumatized by the entire thing. To say that the show is disturbing would be to minimize the emotional, cognitive, and visual content of the show. I mean, it’s crazy in a way that Dexter, for example, could never be. And the imagery is deeply unsettling, especially the food.

Why the food? I’m glad you asked. Hannibal, as we know, is a cannibal. The show has (brilliantly) exploited this side of his character–and activated the popularity of cooking/food programs–by focusing not only on the fact that Hannibal is a gourmand, but also by intensifying the creepy factor by highlighting the sensual experience of making and consuming food. Honestly, this show has a LOT of food porn. Sometimes, you actually feel like you need to watch in private; the show uses the conventions of cooking shows and romantic scenes to titillate the viewer with images of food. In effect, the show scrambles your mouth-watering reflex (that steak looks so good!) with your gross-out reflex (but I just remember that the steak comes from a PERSON HE LITERALLY BUTCHERED). Needless to say, I can’t watch this show while having dinner.

In order to “fix” this issue, I jumped over to episodes of Once Upon a Time on Netflix. So, okay, let me just say it: as a show that sets out to explore the emotional journeys of the characters, it’s fine. In the process, they torture the plot to make the emotional content more understandable–which is a losing combination. And of course the whole thing is really a branding incubator/recombinator. Like, I get why Elsa made it on that show, but Merida? Honestly, who cares? They basically added that character to make more money off of that property because having her there doesn’t add anything to the established storylines, except make them more convoluted.

What I’m going on and on about is that I overcorrected with the queasiness I feel with Hannibal (though I enjoy the gay subtext!) with the Disney machine of Once Upon a Time. So what am I supposed to do? I’m officially in a “showhole” (that sounds dirty, but I guess that’s the vernacular we’re using?), so if any out there in the world would like to suggest a new show–either for the background or the foreground, please send it my way.

Dance It Off

You know that saying in sports when a player gets hurt and is on the ground all pathetic looking and s/he gets up and limps along? And then everybody says variations of “walk it off”? I’ve seen this done and it has been very kindly, and other times it’s very assholish. General rule of thumb, the older you are, the more likely it will be said to you in an assholish way. Hey, for that matter, general rule of thumb: the older you are, the more likely people are to treat you like an asshole. Period. Then again, the older you are, the more likely it is that you are an asshole. But I digress.

In life, when you’re crazy busy and stressed, it might be a good idea to dance it off. In Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith and Christina “dance it out.” These are probably the best part of that show (and their friendship is also the best part of that show…but now Cristina is not in it any more). So, reader, when stressed out, dance it off.

Don’t know how? Here you go:

You don’t have to have choreography. You don’t have to be a single lady. Or a lady. Or a lady boy. Or a drag queen. Or need the lighting. But they help. Just adapt it to your room and/or friends.

If you’re not up to Bé, then do the Cristina and Meredith thing.

Regardless, it’s best when it looks like this:

And if you want a different song, this is my current jam that I am extremely OBSESSED with right now.

Kill Bill and the Renewal of the Revenge Tragedy

Kill Bill

The following is a little ditty I wrote many a year ago when I was doing my FIRST graduate degree in literature…which was the prelude of all manner of satisfaction and grief that came later. It was originally a spontaneous email to my Renaissance English professor, completely unsolicited, which I wrote after having seen Quentin Tarantino’s first Kill Bill movie, starring Uma Thurman. The piece proves how much of a literature nerd I was/am and anticipates what I would dedicate my life. But, perhaps not very surprisingly, the writing below is at the heart of what this blog is about…or, rather, what I want it to be about: making connections between high and low culture, obliquely analyzing the media soup we’re in. Oh yeah, and to show how it is that I unearth these connections.

A couple of explanatory notes: a revenge tragedy is a dramatic piece in which a character feels the need to avenge a great wrong, usually a death or an attack on his or her honor. There are many structural, predictable features of a Jacobean revenge tragedy, which is when this genre hits its apotheosis (1600-1640 or thereabouts), though of course the (English iteration of the) genre begins in late Elizabethan England. Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy is usually considered the progenitor, while Shakespeare’s Hamlet takes all the elements in plays by many other writers and establishes a paradigmatic form. There are many important elements of a revenge tragedy, but here are a few key ones (as evidenced by Hamlet): there is a supernatural element, usually a ghost, that lets the revenger know that something has gone horribly wrong, if the revenger is not aware of the event. The revenger cannot appeal to an appropriate authority to attempt to address the crime (no criminal justice system), often because the person whose responsibility it is to administer justice is also the criminal, so the revenger must take matters into his own hands. The revenger then goes through a process of trying to figure out what to do, though in some plays, the decision is reached quite quickly (Hamlet is an “aberration” in this point). Because of the confusion and moral quandary, the revenger often seems to be or is–one can never truly tell–mad. Then a plan is set in motion usually to truly ascertain whether the ghost’s story is true (who’s really going to trust the word of a soul stuck in purgatory without getting more evidence?), and then a plan is set in motion to exact the revenge. Oftentimes the plot to determine the truth takes the form of a masque or a play, adding a metatheatrical aspect to the performance. In essence, like the audience, the revenger watches how the alleged murderer responds to watching a performance of exactly the crime they have committed. The plan to exact revenge is traditionally directed at the wrongdoer (Claudius), but the revenge often wipes out those who helped the wrongdoer, even if unwittingly (Gertrude). The act of revenge usually results in the death of the revenger himself; the revenger has done what the wrongdoer has done–or worse–so he too “deserves” death, according to the Early Modern English view of the world. In the end, the order of the world is restored, though in Shakespeare we often see that while order is restored, things are not quite restored to what they used to be (in Hamlet the royal family of Denmark is wiped out and Young Fortinbras ends up taking the throne–this is a good thing, but now we have if not exactly an illegitimate monarch, certainly a foreign one who has no or very little historical claim to that throne–this is a huge deal especially the crises of succession that plagued the English crown for centuries). After Shakespeare, many playwrights continued to write revenge tragedies, and theater companies were eager to produce them. Why? Well, the story is compelling, the elements are tantalizing, and there’s tons of action and blood and guts on stage. For people who had the choice of going to go see a good, old fashioned bear baiting, the violence was a definite draw.

So here’s the piece:

Revenge Tragedy Redux

Just when we (I) thought revenge tragedy was no longer produced, film manages to repackage the genre and serve it up to us as if it were a completely new phenomenon.  Last weekend, I went to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Kill Bill.  The film exhibits many, if not all, of the features that have classically defined revenge tragedy.

In the film, the revenger is a woman (Uma Thurman), and though she is not haunted by a ghost, she is constantly haunted by the memory of having been wronged – and the belief that her daughter is dead.  Like Vindice in The Revenger’s Tragedy (Thomas Middleton, 1606, formerly attributed to Cyril Tourneur), she is dead set on cleaning house, wiping out all her enemies until she gets her hands on “Bill.”  Throughout the film, it is easy to ask the question if this character is mad or not, if she is altogether there.  Moreover all of the people she is going after are either insane or live lives held together by the fissures in their life histories.

Because the characters are all part of a vast criminal underworld, there is no avenue of redress for the revenger, and even if there were, Bill, the revenger’s object, would be the only avenue to any redress. Furthermore, the revenger is completely on her own; she cannot depend on either an earthly justice or a divine  one.  The code of the criminal gang she used to run with completely lets her down, and so she must act as agent of her own brand of justice. If 17th century revenge tragedy hints at the problems of an atomized, lone individual, the revenger in Kill Bill presents this problem quite bluntly.

The film is marked by excessive violence, violence that runs away from the revenger insofar as she has to kill so many people in order to reach her goals.  In one scene, which I might add functions much like the masque scene in The Revenger’s Tragedy, she dismembers about 80 assassins.  Each cut produces projectile bleeding…as ridiculous as it may sound, the scene
can be read as darkly humorous as the repeated killings at the masque at the end of The Revenger’s Tragedy. In an interesting touch, the audience never learns the revenger’s name (in the first movie), which in many ways renders her the human vessel for revenge.  I think the similarities between her and Vindice are really quite stark.

Another point in which Kill Bill is like revenge tragedy, and The Revenger’s Tragedy in particular, is that it pays homage to and mocks the genre from which it arises.  Kill Bill is directly inspired by Kung Fu movies of the 70s and 80s, so much so that the
revenger is dressed throughout much of the film in an outfit which is the modern iteration of one of Bruce Lee’s outfits in one of his most famous films.

Finally, if revenge tragedies tend toward the theatrical and the metatheatrical (in my reading, they almost always do), Kill Bill is decidedly so.  Its intertextuality to the Kung Fu films presents theatricality and certainly hints at metatheatricality.  But I believe that it is so consciously an artwork that it is definitively metatheater (metafilm?).  The usage of projectile bleeding, so obviously artificial, is an indicator that the film is aware of itself as both copy (of an older genre) and original.  Whereas in the older film
projectile bleeding has to do with bad technology and low budgets, Kill Bill purposefully chooses to “go back” to a more primitive technology, ridicule it, praise it, aestheticize it, and convey that these choices were decidedly conscious.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the film, not yet in evidence in the first film but clear by the end of the second film, is that the revenger, Beatrix (Black Mamba), does not die. In fact, she pretty much gets a happy ending. This is perhaps the most salient difference between revenge tragedy in the 17th century versus the 21st century: we apparently now think and celebrate the unbridled murder (retribution) is an appropriate response to being wronged by another. Whereas Jacobean tragedy would not have permitted the revenger to be rewarded, Tarantino’s film seems to be just fine with it–and so do most audience members. Given how incredibly out of proportion the extent of the revenge in the film is, it should give us pause. No, you might think that it is out of proportion to convey the revenger’s pain, but this reading in which the individual takes precedence over everything and everyone…that’s an alarming reading. Then again, there doesn’t seem much mechanism for redress these days, and certainly after 9/11, the film cathected for audiences a desire–a need–for the world to bleed in response to a deep trauma.

My Love Letter to Lisa Kudrow and The Comeback

Lisa Kudrow as Valerie Cherish in HBO's The Comeback

Lisa Kudrow as Valerie Cherish in HBO’s The Comeback

I’ll go ahead and say it upfront: I hate Lisa Kudrow. Or, I used to. I remember taking an internet market survey in the early 2000s, I believe, showing the trailer of a movie in which she was cast. I was asked repeatedly about what would make me go see this movie, and I kept pointing out that Lisa Kudrow being on it was a deal breaker for me. I remember being fairly adamant about it as well. Why so much animosity for her? One word: Friends. I remember liking her in Mad About You, but Friends soured me on her and all the actors on the show. I didn’t mind that they banded together to get PAID. NBC was making buckets of money on them, and if it’s one thing I respect is that people need to get paid for their work (yes, even NPH in those stupid Smurfs movies). I didn’t mind a lot of things about Friends, but ultimately, I just didn’t think it was that funny. That was its number one crime for me. Don’t get me wrong, I would chuckle a bit here and there, but I certainly didn’t think it lived up to the hype. I didn’t understand why the whole country seemed to be obsessed with Ross and Rachel (and that haircut). I was living in NYC at the time and those apartments seemed like a farce (and, yes, I know it’s make believe, but it was beyond). Put that all together with the fact that I think Phoebe and those stupid songs were the worst part of the show, and you get a pretty intense low grade hatred for Lisa Kudrow. Which I now deeply regret.

When The Comeback first came out, I remember thinking that it was an interesting conceit. I may have watched a few minutes of it at some point, but I wasn’t that interest in it…and I couldn’t get past my blind hatred. I admit it, I went racist for Lisa Kudrow. As the years passed, I kept hearing how people had loved that show, I encountered Lisa Kudrow in podcasts and other interviews, and I thought, well, there’s something here that I’m clearly not seeing. When The Comeback came back this fall, 10 years after its first season, I decided to give it a try, so I binge watched the first season and caught up to the second one.

I am not one of those people who is prone to saying that shows, books, art is ahead of its time…unless I’m writing an academic article or book about something and history kind of proves me right. I heard some people say that the reason that The Comeback was not picked up when it first came out was because it was ahead of its time. After watching all episodes, I’m going to have to completely agree. See, the thing is that The Comeback anticipated a lot of reality TV, especially the Housewives franchise, and yet it’s hard to see its brilliance without having been acquainted with the many shows that it parodies that came AFTER it. This show was analyzing in many ways what was to come and laughing at it, but that hadn’t come to pass yet. In some ways, that show inspired a lot of people in Hollywood who got the idea to put more fame whores on TV…thus creating its own predicate. In other words, it generated its own genre, but it was hard to see it as the precursor that it was because we didn’t know that version of the genre yet. AND we didn’t know how the show was exposing the fissures to that “reality.”

I write above that The Comeback is a parody, and it is. But it is much more than that. Or, perhaps, extremely good parodies (all extremely good art) transcend their own niche. I say this because what we get from the show is a delicious parody of the TV business — a very meta parody that sucks even HBO into it in the second season — and also a wonderful treatment of character that portrays Valerie Cherish as nuanced, complicated, and very human, at the same time that she is clueless. I mean, Valerie Cherish is Paris-Hilton smart: she knows her business inside out and can navigate those waters in surprisingly savvy ways but beyond that world there is no there there. She is as equally shallow as she is brimming with emotions, experiences, and insights. So on the one hand, you have a parodying world, yet on the other, you get  a fully fleshed character rapidly approaching the truly human. Those two things don’t usually coincide in such a wonderful combination–they hardly ever do.

Of course, all of this happens because of the great writing, and Lisa Kudrow’s INCREDIBLE performances. With very few words and expressions, Kudrow communicates to the viewers the emotional journeys and foibles that Valerie is going through. The depth and joy of her performance is, well, it’s fucking deep! I particularly like the fact that the Cherish character often stumbles into being a better actress than she realizes and is often surprised by the fact that she does have talent, and that oftentimes what derails her career is that she, or the industry, gets in the way of it. I would think that this is a lesson that all actors should take to heart. But this dynamic is paralleled by Kudrow’s performance: Kudrow puts on display the fact that she’s got this, that people like me who underestimated her were always wrong because she has range and brilliance. She easily portrays the complexity of the Cherish character, but then has to “act” Cherish’s interesting and pretty unconscious acting (I mean unconscious in the sense that it seems like Valerie is approaching acting like a technician: hitting her mark, learning and delivering her lines, evoking the right emotion for the scene; she is not overthinking the acting, not finding the “soul.” All of which seems like a recipe for good acting–a point of view that I can’t claim, I got it from Alec Baldwin in one of his podcasts).


Agreed, Mickey!

Agreed, Mickey!


I can’t believe I’m going to do this–and, really, who the fuck am I?–but I am going to give Lisa Kudrow the highest compliment I can give anyone: I’m going to give her credit for performing what to me seems like our age’s Don Quijote (that was the compliment….I’m a literature nerd, and I’m sticking to it!). So, dear Lisa Kudrow: your work on The Comeback is amazing. You really do deserve ALL OF THE EMMYS AND THE OSCARS AND THE GOLDEN GLOBES AND THE EVERYTHINGS. So that means that I’ve gone straight for Lisa Kudrow? Um, well, that’s a bit hyperbolic…but close.

Honor is for LOSERS: A GoT Perspective

Game of Thrones


Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones was awesome for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was fantastic character development in Sansa Stark (finally!) and a major battle with a very unfortunate death. I’m told this has caused some consternation in the interwebs. But the universe has to basically face up to one of the narrative challenges and wonderful innovations of Game of Thrones: these characters die – they die often and HORRIBLY (that Red Wedding was something else!). Moreover, the more honorable the character, the faster/more horribly they die. It is the law of Game of Thrones. Case in point: Ned Stark’s death. If you’ve only seen the show, his death was slow in coming. But if you’ve read the books, you know his death is pretty quick, occurring at the end of the first book. And by quick I mean that it happens in the first book at all, at the very beginning of the series. Insofar as we can use that first book to think about the aims of the series, what it wants to think about, the implications are clear and potent: this is a world in which honorable, good people cannot exist because this world does not provide the conditions for neither survival nor success. Indeed, the most honorable of these, Ned Stark, is honorable but in a limited way. He fathers Jon Stark out of wedlock. Putting outside prurient moralistic readings, we know from his relationship to himself and with his wife that he regrets dalliance though not having the child. What this means is that even the most honorable are flawed from the very beginning. We shall see as the series develop if the conceptions of honor being formulated by Daenerys and Aria Stark will be able to full form, coalesce, and enable to drastically transform the world so that others too can have a life not predicated solely by naked violence and suffering.

Of course, some–many–of those who have died on the show are NOT honorable. Let’s face it, that asshole Joffrey had it coming. I mean, it’s sad to admit, but I think I was not the only person in the world who felt an abiding sense of satisfaction watching the little shit die. Yes, Aristotle, I know, this is why representations should not depict death — because sometimes the effect is not an emotional purging but rather an incitement to the darker emotions. To which I have to say, bite me, Aristotle. Bite me.

But I digress. My point is that both the honorable and the monstrous are continuously being killed off (which makes sense because these characters are power centers, and as we know, power in Game of Thrones–everywhere–is constantly on the move). The ground is being prepared (continuously) for others to rise up and assume either authority or tyranny. We shall see, then, how it might be that Daenerys, Aria, and potentially Bran will not only attain power but also stabilize it. The likelihood is not good, given the emphasis NOT on character but rather on the structure and functioning of power in the word – the emphasis on the GAME OF THRONES, but a chess board with more than two players could theoretically achieve a state of interlocking, reinforcing powers that could maintain control and also keep each other in check. In theory. So I’m going to say again: no.

Like many of the most stellar TV shows of this era, beginning with The Sopranos to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones attempts to form a relationship with its audience with characters that are both compelling but also prevent identification. Indeed, if there is a modern theory of character in contemporary dramatic television, it is one of disidentification with characters rather than identification (this happened in contemporary literary fiction as well as “high art” plays). Anything that dismantles a mewling, impoverishing identification with characters (particularly protagonists) initiated with Romantic aesthetics and at least through the 1980s is awesome in my book. As long as, you know, the show is good.

So, SPOILER ALERT, I will also mourn the death of the Red Viper. I will mourn more his scenes with that male prostitute at the brothel in King’s Landing, to be honest. But I will take that any idea to engage with a depiction of a world in which, much like in our own world, power and desire constantly migrate from one location to another, never stopping, never ending, a testament both to the endurance of well-laid human plans and the rhizomatic nature of chance that harries and defeats the human will. In the process, energy, creativity, imagination, improvisation, adaptation, and emotions are generated and dispersed in the cultural field. In other words, we win.

Hexed: American Horror Story

I’m going to be hyperbolic here, but I honestly think American Horror Story is perhaps one of the most important television shows in recent TV history. No, it’s not Mad Men, the Sopranos, Breaking Bad. But that’s why it’s so lovely. The first two seasons of the show prove that the show’s concept, the cast, the crew, everyone is working on some really novel ways of interacting with American horror/history stories, the underside of the American dream that is there in front of us if we just take a close look. The third season spent a lot prestige capital, and I don’t know if it can be made back.

Now one criticism about all three seasons of AHS is how many questions are left unanswered at the end of each season, and how many plots are picked up and then dropped off. But I think that’s the point. This is one of the reasons why each season tells a discreet story that begins at some point and ends at another point. It is and should be haphazard. The little side plots, like the alien abduction motif in the second season, Asylum, are supposed to tantalize and disappear. The show is trying to tell a story that is hyper connected to other stories, a story that is linked to other stories, but that it cannot fully understand or cohere with all the micro stories. But that’s life, especially in a fractured post-911 U.S. As frustrating as some of these unresolved issues are, this is part of the show’s structural magic.

In my opinion, to deal with some of these criticisms of incompleteness, Ryan Murphy and the show’s producers decided in the second season and certainly in the third season to package up the end, to wrap it all up. In the second season, I thought the ending was too neat but still organic. In the third, it was mind boggling. The first season was the “Murder House” season, and it centered on a transplanted family from Boston to Los Angeles. The family moves into a house with a grim history; every previous owner or inhabitant has died horribly. The house and its history amplifies the issues of the new family, and the allegory of the American family falling apart not because of the house but because they can’t communicate, there’s too much wrongdoing and mistrust, and they do not have the self awareness to deal with their own issues. The only one who ostensibly gets it is the daughter…but, well…it doesn’t seem a stretch to me that a child reared in this chaos would fall for a malignant spirit no matter how savvy the character is about her parents’ relationship. I’m not blaming her, it just makes sense why she would be attracted to such an entity.

The second season, Asylum, took head on issues of gender, power, and agency. It dramatized for us how people every day attempt to create themselves in their own particular way, and every day there is an infrastructure that surveils and polices us. When we do not conform, we are bound up, interestingly, in the mental hospital, which is much more effective than the state itself. Yes, Mr. Murphy either read Foucault or someone read it for him.

American Horror Story

The third season, Coven, at the beginning announced that it would take on issues of gender, especially aging and mortality and generational shift, as well as racism and the legacy of slavery in modern America. I was super excited about this ambitious goal. There was a lot of potential there. A few things, however, evacuated a lot of power from the show. At the plot level, you take away a lot of dramatic tension when death or a definitive end cannot be realized. I am an avid X-Men comic books fan. Each X-Man has died and come back to life at least once or twice (sometimes explained, sometimes not). In the 80s, they even had a joke phrase for it: “I got better.” But these deaths were momentous and the return of the characters equally if not more epic. So I do not mind resurrection, but you can’t use it like a cheap trick. And yes, I am aware that the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica kept coming back, but we learn very quickly in that series that there are consequences for such recycling with quite unintended results. And regardless, the Cylons themselves give up resurrection for peace; the show and the characters understand that this kind of resurrection is untenable. But I digress. In this last season of AHS, resurrection was too trivial and it muted its dramatic effect. 

But I think the more significant crime of the season, especially its end, is how preachy it was. Honestly, we don’t need Ryan Murphy to tell us that if only women came together in sisterhood, transcending divisions of class and race, that they could remake the world and destroy tyrannical phallocentric power. Yawn. Yes, we get it. I think I had that the FIRST DAY OF COLLEGE. The season basically ended with a moral happy ending, and it was not a good luck. The transgression that this show is based upon is completely lost when you cap it all off with a quasi political, quasi social program. We should have hope that we can change the world for the better, but hope should not be delusional, it should not provoke a psychotic break. This politically correct finger wagging, as much as it might appeal in theory, is dramatically BORING. It needs to be mediated much more carefully, it needs to be organic. And honestly, it needs to follow less the happy ending dictum of Hollywood films. These endings should reflect the world from which the story comes from; these endings should be messy. Believe me, we can make the world a better place, but it will still be a mess. Allowing for this messiness will let the characters, plot, and ideas really flex and stretch themselves (allow for the series to push itself like its excellent cast does).

To my mind, this is the problem with a lot of Ryan Murphy’s stuff. I had thought that because of the wildly different genre, that he would not fall into this preachy trap. But I was wrong. I blame that preachiness for the failure of The New Normal. Those characters were interesting and likable. But because everything had to be so precious, it all fell flat. No amount of Nene Leakes could fix that. (I’m not discussing Glee here because BARF). So dear Ryan, yes you need and have big ideas, you need and have interesting characters (and have recruited wonderful actors), but please do not foreground democratic party/LA white liberal progressive guilt ideology. Work with the ideas, work with the story and the characters, and you will electrify audiences, much like “Murder House” and “Asylum” did. I truly hope that for next season we’ll have raw characters and stories that will resist easy categorization and pollyanna results. Okay, that’s it.

Godzilla, c’est nous…

The summer blockbuster season is in full swing. And I, like any other asshole in the U.S., have joined in the fray. My first foray this summer was to see the newest iteration of Godzilla. I am certainly not an expert on Godzilla films. In fact, I have seen very few (but I think I’ve seen all of the Godzilla animated adventures from the early 80s-more on that later). But the premise is pretty simple, and it animates pretty much all of the films, including the latest one: Godzilla and other prehistoric animals are woken up by man’s use of nuclear power. Once awake, they either destroy the city or they destroy the city as they fight each other. Godzilla is a Japanese cultural product that became popular in the 50s and 60s. Given this historical context, it seems fairly certain what Godzilla films are about: they imagine the consequences of man’s unleashing of atomic power–and of the atom bomb in particular. The destructive forces that are woken are representations of harnessing a power not understood; their decimation of cities show the consequences of a power that is awesome and inherenty incontrollable.

Being an American film, this movie is very clear about explaining how these monsters exist and lay out the coordinates of the allegory. According to the film, the advent of nuclear power wakes up gigantic beings from a prehistoric era in which the planet was rife with radiation. Indeed, these beings either absorb radiation in the environment or consume radioactive material itself in order to feed. (Godzilla doesn’t “eat” in this film; he only hunts. I guess when they tried to blow him up in the 50s, they super charged him?) Further, the sole Japanese scientist in the movie theorizes that Godzilla and Mothra (one of Godzilla’s most famous adversaries) occupy their own food chain, one in which Godzilla is at the very top. This scientist’s solution for the crisis is that everybody should just let Godzilla duke it out with the baddies as he is the only one capable of defeating them (which is true). I don’t mind the predator-prey logic, but Godzilla doesn’t want to eat Mothra, just fuck him up real good. Basically, the moment one of these monsters show up, Godzilla’s like: “Oh, no, you didn’!” and whups them. Just cause, he’s like the king and shit. All right, but I’ll take the logic.

As I mentioned earlier, Godzilla is a Japanese cultural product that has had mass appeal all over the world. But this current version (as with that awful one with Matthew Broderick a few years back–but in that one they didn’t explain shit, so you know…) takes place mostly in the United States. Sure, it begins in Japan and then migrates to the U.S. As most cultural appropriation, this is pretty suspect. I mean, why wouldn’t we care about Japanese folks being attacked in Japan? Oh, right, we really don’t need to remind anyone that this nuclear nightmare was created shortly after we bombed the fuck out of Japan with nuclear weapons. Got it. That said, I do like the fact that if this story migrates to the U.S., it shows how the sins of the father are visited upon the children. The horror unleashed by U.S. nuclear power comes back to haunt this country. In some ways, then, this film is expanding upon the warning about nuclear power to include its historical source–and generally the entire world. I guess they thought they would heighten the irony by having the U.S. city destroyed in this movie (actually, there are two: Honolulu gets it bad in this movie) be San Francisco. Why the heightened irony? The San Francisco Bay Area is probably the most anti-nuclear power/weapons area of the country. In fact, the city of Berkeley proudly boasts that it is a nuclear free city, which could not have been a small accomplishment because the UC and UC Berkeley administer the main labs where nuclear energy is researched in this country (but the research is not conducted in the city). So basically, these nuclear monster come from Japan and destroy San Francisco, the least nuclear place in the country. Which is to say, we’re all going to get it, no matter where we are.

Now I actually quite enjoyed this movie: it was a good monster movie, and there aren’t a lot of good monster movies in this day and age. Godzilla is definitely the victor (duh), but the main character manages to save the world too. But as you might have noticed, there are some things that didn’t quite make sense. Godzilla is basically hanging out at the bottom of the ocean waiting for one of these things to appear to kill it. Really? Once out, he’s content with fucking up the entire place but only when Mothra is jacking things up. Otherwise, he’s a dude  on a mission. I don’t think the human race is the greatest thing ever, but I think if I were Godzilla and there were all these humans running around, you know, I think I’d try to, like, taste a couple or three hundred. I mean just cause. I guess what I’m saying is that Godzilla is instinctually driven to destroy other animals from his prehistoric era; he has a very aggressive drive to do this. But, like a missile, he’s locked in on one type of target only. This version of him remind me of the Borg: the Borg do not set out to assimilate individuals, they only do so as they assimilate civilizations and, on occasion, vessels. The Borg stick to a scale of target appropriate to their power and magnitude. Apparently so does Godzilla — without a hive mind and a queen. So he’s a super duper beast but also seems to have some kind of intelligence (that suggests that he’s NOT all instinct). In this way, this Godzilla reminds me of the Godzilla from the animated series. That Godzilla came when humans called for him through an electronic symbol. He would rescue the day and go back to the ocean. And that’s the Godzilla that is comforting…and eminently American. Only America could produce/want a Godzilla that was a nice badass (I’m carving out the Broderick movie because, well, watch it). That’s the cultural appropriation that really rankles me: we’re taking a Japanese baddy, a stand in for how man has exploited nature in such a way that nature indiscriminately destroys, and turning him into super charged nature with a laser focus on its target who, even though he does destroy the Golden Gate, is basically a good guy. So: Godzilla c’est moi? If moi is a straight dude from Winsconsin who’s roided out and is anti social but will save your ass during a terrorist attack. Apparently many Japanese fans thought that Godzilla was “too fat” — which I can see, but as an overgrown dinosaur I actually think Godzilla’s proportions are on the money, and who cares anyway? Bitch knows how to fight. Perhaps the criticism is about our own waistlines or that our waistlines have skewed the proper scale of things. But the real americanization here is doing this double dance of wanting to denounce virulent, reckless power while at the same time being super psyched when such power is on OUR SIDE if not our control necessarily.

So go see it. But be prepared to be underwhelmed with the female lead. I wanted Whoopi Goldberg from Ghost to show up to say: “You in danger, girl!” Do not wait for that man! If MONSTERS are heading to your city, I think that it is OKAY if you get out. Just sayin. Also, there were no gay sex scenes, so that was pretty crappy. Otherwise enjoyable.

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