Gorilla Whale

Monster Boomers grew up with Godzilla. Among the many monsters on offer on a Saturday afternoon, Godzilla was one of the most obvious fakes, but also among the most poignant of realities. Even as kids in the 1960s we knew about the atomic bombs that had been dropped on Japan. We knew, at some level, that we had come to a point where one species could destroy its entire habitat and that we had obliterated millions of our own kind in just the past half-century, let alone the millennia prior to that. Godzilla represented not just a man in a rubber suit, but the fear of what we could bring upon ourselves. Radiation, burning, the terror of Japanese citizens, and yet, that odd sympathy for the monster. Metaphors were growing much faster than the half-life was decaying. Godzilla became a lasting symbol of both childhood and adult awareness.

I haven’t seen the Godzilla that opened in theaters this past weekend. Inevitably, I eventually will. The 1998 version came pretty cheaply on DVD at a local video store a decade after its release, and I saw then that the monster had lost its emotional appeal. The original, compelling Godzilla was now just another monster to be destroyed. Instead of representing the environment fighting back, it was the environment waiting to be exploited. A shift had taken place and Godzilla was less godlike than before, but more terrifying. Monsters can be lovable, too.


H. R. Giger, Time reports, died this past week. Giger was involved in creature design for the new Godzilla, and the memorial by Richard Corliss notes that he was inspired by H. P. Lovecraft, among others. Lovecraft gave us the old gods, and although the original Godzilla was about the horrors of nuclear war, there is a streak of Lovecraftian righteousness to it. The universe does not care for us. We invent gods, or monsters, or both, for that. Godzilla, as originally conceived, was never really that scary. What people could do to each other, and their planet, was. Sometime in the next decade, I’ll watch the newest Godzilla, and in the meantime, I hope that the message of the original somehow manages to sink in. We Monster Boomers can be quite naive that way.

Sex and Violence in Ancient Pompeii

The earthquakes and tsunami that have devastated northern Japan have me thinking about natural disasters. Currently in New York City there is a display of artifacts from Pompeii, an exhibit I have not yet had a chance to visit. The parallelism of the two tragedies, however, has not escaped me. Pompeii’s destruction by Mount Vesuvius in 79 of the Common Era and its subsequent rediscovery and excavation are the stuff of legend. An unsuspecting city in the shadow of a sleepy volcano, at the pinnicle of its civilization, suddenly snuffed out. Forgotten for centuries, and eventually rediscovered. But rediscovery led to embarrassing revelations.

How will you be remembered?

Some of the first artifacts recovered from Pompeii were the erotic frescos that adorned many of the buried structures. Further, such images as super-sized phalli and other cultic implements of questionable morality led to reburial of some of the material because of more recent sensibilities. We judge ancient and extinct societies on the basis of modern predispositions on decency and propriety without considering that it is our view that is the innovation. Even a cursory read through the Holy Bible will reveal many stories where sexuality plays a prominent role. This suggests that biblical writers, like most people of antiquity, were less shy of sexuality than their post-Victorian heirs.

Natural disasters have a way of stopping time. Not just in the sense of speeding up the rotation of the earth by another 1.6 microseconds either. Surveying the wreckage of what we believed was a stable status quo, priorities are suddenly shifted. Compassion, rescue, and survival outweigh the petty differences of just the night before. Disasters are snapshots of the human condition. As the hot ash settled on Pompeii, lovers clasped in their final moments, never imagining that some two millennia further on that more modern, civilized tourists would be embarrassed by so human a response. Disasters are harsh teachers, but we may learn in the face of an unfeeling nature that we are all humans after all.