Godzilla at 50

“In heaven,” wrote Nietzsche, “all the interesting people are missing.” Since his mammoth form lumbered from the depths 50 years ago, Godzilla, so intrinsically earthbound, still holds our interest. Given the chance, who wouldn’t invite him to the dinner table, as a hosting nation might invite an ageing, exiled, and fascinating tyrant. With armed guard standing by, of course. In this PopMatters Special Feature section 12 writers, armed only with savoir-faire and satirical wit, take on the beast in 14 essays.

Like the monster that roams our world at will, this topic is broad in scope. So we begin with a cluster of essays that, for the most part, tackle Godzilla in his grey-skinned mode; his thick hide the steely color of matter, burned and compacted, much like the 150,000 bodies, and the buildings that housed them, in Nagasaki. This is Godzilla as thanatos, in all the terror — apocalyptic and banal — that he embodies.

But as we all know, Godzilla has been through some changes over the years. “Godzilla was once, as conventional wisdom would have it, a stand-in for the unspeakable violence of the atom bomb and by extension humanity’s perennial, inscrutable drive toward self-destruction,” says PopMatters writer, Mike Ward, “But the history of Godzilla is also one of a gradual cultural transformation, whereby this self-destructive drive persists, but awareness of it is gradually lost — replaced by collective hubris . . .”

Our writers contemplate his transition from bringer of Armageddon to bringer of agathon, a fierce and ironic comfort to children who sense that theirs is a dangerous world. Godzilla understands. After all, he has offspring to protect, too, although what Godzilla mated with to produce his son, Minya, is one of the few mysteries left to us, as technology relentlessly pries secrets from nature’s clutch.

And we end up with Godzilla gone green, as green as the revenue he generates from video games, collectibles and . . . plush toys. Perhaps this is eros that makes us covet his image in cuddly form, and finds delight in this kind of play. Such is the irony of the human condition.

Yes, Godzilla as changed. At 50, he is no longer the hulking, pea-brained brute we thought. No longer reduced to stowaway in the bomb bay of the Enola Gay, he rides first class on international flights, carries a dozen passports, and he’s wired to cyber space. May as well have fun with him, as we do here, because in just a flash . . . well, what then?