It was over 30 years ago that Godzilla first walked the imaginary earth, along with all the others of that Japanese gang; Rodan, Mothra, Ghidra, and the rest. In virtually every one of these films the City of Tokyo was featured as the movie monster’s playground and was totally and repeatedly devastated in the process. The devastation continues to this day in Japanimation epics where the destruction of Tokyo 2, 3, 4 proceeds in formulaic ritual. The psychic echoes of the carpet bombings and nuclear attacks in World War II regenerated as manufactured images and exported all over the world.
The Japanese in World War II were the first to see their entire culture overcome and all but destroyed in the Black Rain of our technological future. The common wisdom is that we “won” the war against the foreign terror. Did we win the war? Did anyone? In the dark years of the war, following the economic devastation of the Great Depression our economic models were rebuilt in the model of new machineries for destruction and consumption. Men went to battle, women entered the military factories and the countryside was emptied by a vast migration to the urban centers of industry. Rural communities were replaced by suburbs, rolling plains and hills by mazelike patterns resembling transistorized circuitry. The almost total replacement of nature and culture was accomplished with little resistance. Social relationships were replaced by statistical patterns of consumption and the family and community were absorbed by a televised spectacle with little connection to either time or space.
As a child my recurring nightmare was of being trapped alone in the darkness, locked outside of my house as the world was shaken by the thundering footfalls of an immense and unseen approaching giant.
30 years later Godzilla returns, amped by 30 years of progress in the spectacular replication of reality through special effects, and this time the monster arrives to destroy Manhattan, the generative center of the post industrial apocalypse. Surveying the recent and upcoming lineup of Hollywood spectacles one contemplates a landscape of almost total destruction. Last year it was volcanoes and aliens. Next year it will be monsters from the depths and comets from the heavens. The message coming through these collective dreams and nightmares is one of both memory and prophecy. Like the Japanese, we feel the delayed aftershocks of an event so destructive that our response has been a profound and numbing collective denial. For Americans, in the heart of the technological beast, the devastation has been almost total. The illusion called ‘progress’ largely masked our smooth descent into Armageddon. Although we never witnessed first hand the havoc of nuclear wipe-out, we’ve been like the victims of Chernobyl, wandering through the wreckage of a blasted culture while lost in gazing at our own reflection in a cloudy glass. As we go forward the destruction inevitably escalates as the technological world evolves through cycles of repetition and replication, eventually and inevitably leading to obsolescence. Driven by endless demand and mindless consumption, the consumer world can only end by being consumed.
Prophecy is really a function of memory. We look at the past and project the patterns we see into the future. In the age of the spectacle we play out our prophecies and memories in a scenario born on sound stages and in special effects labs. Every year we invest more of our resources toward a quest to achieve the perfect replication of reality. The image we perfect is that of our world being destroyed. Like children that have been violated we are driven to express deep rage in orgies of projected violence. At the end of the Millennium the highest achievement of popular culture is the construction of the perfect disaster. “Titanic,” “Volcano,” “Independence Day,” “Terminator,” “Armaggedon,” and “Godzilla” have become the true legacies of a culture on the brink of Judgement Day.