Mary Holland


Ever since I was a little girl – before I even knew I was a girl – I was obsessed with movies about giant monsters stomping around, knocking down buildings, and beating the snot out of each other.

More specifically, I was obsessed with movies where people in rubber suits pretended to be giant monsters stomping around et cetera. The artifice was part of the appeal. The fact that the buildings were constructed, that the tanks and planes that annoyed the monsters were models, that the monsters were people sweating under a couple hundred pounds of poorly ventilated rubber and cement. It wasn't camp – I was too young to know what camp was.

It was more the way the films seemed to say, this is a thing made by humans, we hope you like it.

Punch the Bomb

The films say a lot of things, of course. Monster movies take things we're scared of, and literalize them. This monster is our fear of the atom bomb; this one, our fear of environmental collapse, of corporate greed, of genetic engineering, of bureaucracies and governments that cannot save us. Monsters take things that are too big and shapeless for society to come to grips with, and give them a shape that we can destroy, make them into physical, tangible problems that we can solve.

My friend Erin Escobedo described it as "the magical and hopeful position of being able to punch the bomb," but noted that the genre also gives us "the small back of the brain horror of commercializing the bomb, domesticating the bomb, befriending the bomb". This commercialization – the way capitalism turns even horrors into profit – is present as early as 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla, in which a pharmaceutical company kidnaps Kong to use as its mascot. "Full-page ads of a smiling King Kong holding our drugs!" waxes one of the company men. "The catch phrase will be, 'I'll pulverize Godzilla, because I use Pacific drugs!'"

It's present in another way, too: in the slow and steady transformation of Toho's horror-lizard into a sort of sci-fi pro-wrestling hero-protector. He's tamed – domesticated and befriended – not for artistic or thematic reasons, but because capitalism demands yet another entry in the franchise. And when that audience starts to skew much younger, so do the films, now written with child protagonists, and sometimes, a child's logic – a fate that also befell the Gamera series put out by Daiei.

Later revivals of both franchises have often skewed darker, going back to the horror of the genre's atom-bomb genesis. In almost all of his Heisei-era films, Godzilla isn't the hero, but the villain. I haven't enjoyed those nearly as much as the Showa-era films. I used to think that was because of nostalgia, but I think there's another reason.

I was never really scared of the monsters in the first place.

The Doofy Little Larvae

I always found the human parts of the plot boring.

I guess this made sense back when I was a kid, and wanted to get right to the part where someone does a sick flying kick, or loses a limb and geysers green blood. And certainly as I got older, and more attuned to the themes and texture of the thing, I developed an appreciation for those plots and their cultural context. (My favorite is almost certainly the tragic love story at the heart of 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla, which feels appropriately haunting and doomed, and makes the line "I love you even though you're a cyborg" actually quite poignant.)

But honestly, even today – even when I am quite capable (and happily willing!) to sit through a three-hour plotless arthouse film about the deftly-observed interior lives of its characters – I get a little antsy when the monsters aren't on screen tearing it up. And I suppose the reason for that is, I have always identified more with the monsters.

I identified the most with Mothra, because of course I did. She was a divine and beautiful metaphor not just for feminine metamorphosis, but for rebirth. I guess it's no surprise that a trans woman identified with the doofy little larvae bouncing around, ejecting way more fluid than it should, on its way to becoming whole, holy, and serene.

But there's more to it than that, something that applies to all of them. They're big and clumsy, unable to navigate a world that wasn't built for them – a world that is, in fact, hostile to their continued existence. They are misunderstood – or rather, society only seems to want to understand them as much as they need to in order to destroy them, or to control them. In this case, it's quite literal: more than one plot revolves around attempts to mind-control these giant monsters so that they can become well-behaved, compliant, and of use to a society for which they will never have membership.

They are at odds with everything around them.

Queer Bombs

There's a long and complicated history of coding villains as queer: homosexuals as debauched predators, trans people as violent psychotics. This can be an expression of the wider culture's revulsion toward us, their fear of us: we are the bomb. And by the end of the story, we have been defeated or solved: they've punched the bomb. And maybe the villain is being punched because of the things they did and not because of their queerness. But they only did them because the people telling the story decided they should, and gee, isn't it just a strange coincidence that these villains we came up with also happen to be filthy perverted tranny faggots?

Punch the bomb. Commercialize the bomb. ("The first pride was a riot", proclaims a twenty dollar t-shirt at Hot Topic.) Domesticate the bomb – or rather, let the bomb assimilate and domesticate itself, let it excise all the weird frightening parts. (Love is love, we're just like everybody else, we're the good kind of queer.) Befriend the bomb – except, that friendship is always conditional, because in the end, no matter what we do, for many we will always be bombs.

We will always be monsters.

But a monster is not always a bomb, not always a thing to be scared of. A monster is beautiful and peculiar. It does not belong, but that means it is free to decide what kind of thing it is, and what kind of life it will live.

A monster will fight: for itself, for those it holds dear, for the things it's angry about – and usually, that anger is justified. ("Poison gas and sludge get dumped into the ocean," intones the child-hero of Godzilla vs. Hedorah,  before correctly guessing "Godzilla would be mad if he saw this.")

My Monsters

The reason why you're reading this is because I've made a game about giant monsters stomping around, knocking down buildings, and beating the snot out of each other – or rather, a game about people in rubber suits pretending to do all that. It's a love letter to the genre.

And a love letter to my monsters – not as metaphors for bombs and other horrors, but as the first things I saw that felt like me.

1 comment

  • My girlfriend and I recently watched The War of the Gargantuas on TV. It’s a Japanese monster movie. There was a “good” gargantua and a “bad” garguantua, and the military even wanted to shoot at the good one.

    John Theissen

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