Josh Naugh takes a look at how Toho’s Godzilla franchise has touched, shaped, and influenced the lives of fans.
Escapism is something we always rely on to remove ourselves from the sometimes depressing confines of reality. Instead of accumulating gloom, it’s more favourable to shift focus to something more positive in order to feel at ease with one’s self.
With beneficial properties, escapism may be used to occupy a person’s mind to block out a persistency of negative feelings or general sadness. Whether it’s “stanning” a pop act, getting lost in the virtual worlds of a video game, or binge-watching the latest show on Netflix, we need that escape for that proverbial breath of fresh air.
Enter the Godzilla franchise.
Comprising over thirty films, TV shows, and video games, Japan’s most famous monster has a mostly solid array of content to jump into, stretching from 1954 to the present day. It’s captivated fans all over the world, commonly referred to in western congregations as “G-Fans”, who have all gained a sense of dear admiration for the fictional radioactive monster.
As for myself, my journey with Godzilla began in 2008. Introduced via a friend, I spent hours, days, and weeks in and out of the school library and at home, delving deep into the series’ films and surrounding lore. Whether it was imagining that I was part of the crew in Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, or adventuring with Minilla on the fictional Solgell Island in Son of Godzilla, the series always provided me with a welcoming home from a bad day. This fascination developed into an obsession, although what this interest was actually providing was a refuge from a jarring school life. Having minimal interest in British mainstream teen culture and unsatisfactory communication skills with my fellow peers, I was considered an outsider in early school life.
With Godzilla, however, I was gaining a fantastic validation I had always wanted as a child which I couldn’t get from reality.
As my interest deepened, I soon began collecting physical copies of the films to satisfy my needs when the fansites and low-quality uploads to YouTube were no longer enough (before automatic copyright detection came about). The unfortunate lack of distribution for the titles in the United Kingdom meant I had to scour the international sellers of eBay and now-defunct Play.com to import them.
The interest would soon fade, however, with me finding new friends and giving myself a mental makeover. My interest in the beloved franchise was still there, but lying dormant, up until the 2014 release of Legendary Pictures’ reboot and the discovery of a community of progressive fans on Tumblr.
Throughout my formative years, the franchise was there to provide a sense of wellbeing – an alternate reality in a sense – away from adolescent troubles and the strain of university hardships. It has also helped to shape and craft my creativity; the output of which has become a successful Godzilla fansite. This has helped me to reach out and befriend others who consider themselves as “G-Fans”.
Digital designer, illustrator, and Godzilla fan, Daniel Hartles, believes the series has done the same for them.
Since joining the creative industry as a designer and illustrator in 2014, Daniel comments that Godzilla has been there every step of the way for them as a “secretive obsession” and “doodle partner.” Daniel continues to say that Godzilla has “influenced almost all of [their] recent projects”, including their popular fan-verse based on the franchise, World of Monsters. Godzilla and other monsters also feature in many of Daniel’s commissions and jobs outside of their full-time work for a children’s publisher.
Latino artist and writer, Marcel Rocha, also known as Rochasaurus on Twitter, is also in concurrence with the idea of Godzilla being a major influence in creative projects. “Godzilla has been one of my passions, serving as one of my inspirations as an artist in the community. My wife, who has also been the rock of my life, partakes in my interest.”
Rocha goes on to comment, “art as my passion and my wife as my partner saved me, and seeing how Godzilla has been a part of both, I can happily say that Godzilla by extension saved me.”
Despite this, there are negatives to the fandom’s online presence. There are occasional encounters with unwelcome behaviour, including grim instances of racism, and abuse towards the LGBT+ community. While this isn’t unique to the Godzilla fandom, it is nonetheless a problem.
Most sci-fi franchises with a long history tend to have largely male-driven fanbases who have been, at times, anti-progressive when the focus of their interest or the fandom is not relatable to their identity for once. The thought of someone other than their own, sharing their space, is tantamount to heresy.
This ties in with the LGBT+ community tending to “latch onto” – as one Twitter user, The Antifa Socreroralist, describes – the use of fictional characters, and reconfiguring them to become more relatable to themselves. As they noted, “I think part of that is like how society treats anything divergent, be it queer people, or old movies with effects that aren’t quite what western audiences are used to.”
Echoing that sentiment, Stephen Lavinder, gay and non-binary fan, supposes that the monsters in the genre have “nearly no regard for gender or sexuality; they exist proud, terrifying, and glorious with no fear in their hearts. They go beyond any sort of bravery and declare their existence with a primal glory. There is no anxiety about their identities or appearance, and they relent no ground about what they are there to do.”
That disregard, however, is not shared with everyone across sci-fi fandom spaces.
Reacting to the thought of Jodie Whittaker taking over the titular role in Doctor Who in 2018, Peter Davidson, the fifth Doctor, in line with a minority of that fanbase, said that the casting could mean a “loss of a role model for boys”, highlighting an outdated view that men can’t (or shouldn’t have to) relate to a woman lead.
With the gradual acceptance of women’s voices in sci-fi fandom, alongside those of the LGBT+ community, a certain few have no doubt grown restless over these progressive changes.
Chris McDonald, podcast presenter for Gargantucast, published an article highlighting unchecked homophobia within the ‘kaiju-stanning’ community. The piece was largely met with disdain from those in prominent Facebook groups such as Toku Legion, Toho Kaiju Legion, and across a mysterious traditional front emanating from deep within the fandom’s crevices.
“When I shared the editorial on Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit, it was a sh*tshow of people calling it out as ‘SJW nonsense’ and a lot of similarly disgusting rhetoric”, noted Chris.
To even admit that this sort of pop culture’s fanbase has a reactionary branch, however small, is strange considering the pacifist and anti-capitalist themes that constitute the Godzilla series’ core ethos.
Twitter and Tumblr user Jake, of king_gojira, despite being “firm in the fandom”, hasn’t always had a joyous experience. “I’d say I was pretty embarrassed to be part of a fandom that’s wildly hateful. It really sucks, man, ’cause seeing people who you kinda know, or are friends with, get harassed by freaks is heartbreaking.”
“It’s gotten better, for sure. But even on Kaiju Twitter there are still regular people just being ugly.”
As for myself, who identifies as gay and has been on the receiving end of such hate from some members of the community, it does dampen the mood, and at times it makes me question my presence in an otherwise safe place that commemorates something I hold so dear to my heart.
Negatives aside, digital artist and graphic novelist, Lisa Naffziger, believes that while the fandom can appear saturated with the same content creators and their audiences, she believes the online space has “been the perfect opportunity to find a bigger audience.”
“I’m not worried that I don’t belong – I’m happy that I am seen.” Lisa has hopes that her work’s popularity will influence a wave of other female content creators to join in with sharing their creative passions and love for the franchise.
Godzilla has benefitted my mental health and that of others. To say that it provides an expressive outlet is an understatement. It’s been there for us and won’t dissipate from our conscience any time soon. Opposing ideologies have tainted part of the experience, running rife with underlying hate that undermines the pleasant escapist efforts that Godzilla provides. Nevertheless, the fandom that we’ve tried to create for ourselves and one another is changing for the better. More LGBT+ voices are being welcomed every day, and the fandom is better for their presence.
Chris McDonald believes that despite having anxiety and fear from seeing a community that he once loved show its ugly spots, he has “met some equally amazing individuals who show this community can be a safe place for everyone.”
My time spent with Godzilla by my side has been a long and sometimes treacherous journey. For the fandom to impact positively, it needs to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing times, or risk being stuck in the past and thus possibly trapping the franchise’s reputation with it. Godzilla, as a character, has changed repeatedly over the decades; from nuclear nightmare to stoic hero and back again. In looking at Godzilla, the very reason for this fandom at all, there is hope that the fandom will change with him.