Some people are into certain seasons.
Some people are Spring people. Some people like Summer. Or Winter.
I’m definitely an Autumn kind of gal.
I’m super into Halloween.
Yes, I refer to Halloween as a holiday.
It’s like my Christmas.
I dress up, bake holiday-themed goodies, and play holiday-appropriate music.
No. I don’t worship the Devil.
I’ve been asked that before.
For me, Halloween is the time to dwell upon all things spooky and scary.
I like to think of myself as spooky and a little bit scary. Wednesday Addams is my totem animal.
I’ve found the quickest way to get into the spooky and scary mood is through the cinema.
Actually, the quickest way might be through a Ouija board. But then, who wants to risk conjuring up Captain Howdy while trying to communicate with the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe?
I must say that it’s not very often that watching a creature feature gets one thinking about U.S. foreign policy. After all, the point of a creature feature is to spook you out or even scare you a little bit. It’s even less likely that a 1950s B-grade, sci-fi flick would get one thinking about foreign policy and philosophy.
It would be fair to say that it doesn’t really happen at all.
It’s not that fifties cinema wasn’t political or philosophical. Fifties films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Day of the Triffids, and The Day the Earth Stood Still (not to mention Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone) not only are classic sci-fi films, but are also plenty political and philosophical.
Spend an afternoon watching movies on Syfy. You’ll see.
The reason, I think, so few sci-fi flicks get me (us?) thinking about politics and philosophy really has more to do with the fact that Hollywood so rarely makes old-fashioned monster movies these days. Modern cinema is all special effects or all slice and dice.
Paranormal Activity-whatever numbered sequel they’re up to by now.
We don’t think because movies no longer encourage us to think… about anything.
Oh wait, Cloverfield came out a few years ago.
That movie got me thinking. Not sure if all my thoughts about it were political or philosophical, though.*
To be honest, that movie kind of messed me up, man.
I used to think that only vampire and zombie bites were dangerous.
Unfortunately for monster flick lovers like me, we have to look to the past to enjoy a good “What the F@#K is THAT???!” flick.
Giant lizard films from the sixties are always a good place to start.
A remake of Godzilla was released a few years ago. I’m not going to beat a dead horse but if there was anything worth watching in that barely watchable movie (admit it, it was barely watchable), it was Jean Reno – who is by definition required viewing no matter what movie he is in.
Actually, the problem isn’t the Godzilla remake. To be honest, there is a problem with Godzilla movies in general. Watch more than two Godzilla movies and you’ll soon discover that if you can get past the comically bad dubbing, the weird made-for-American-audiences re-editing, strangely choreographed monster fight sequences, and chuckle-inducing monster suits, your intestinal constitution is stronger than any champion competitive food eater.
Oh God, I hear they’re making another one. Another remake.
Why must they punish my eyes so?
The funny thing is, is that even though Godzilla flicks are, qualitatively speaking, pretty awful movies, once you see past all that‘s not worth watching, there’s actually something really smart going on. Godzilla movies are not only some of the finest examples of unintentional madcap comedy, they’re some of the best teaching tools around.
Especially if one is inclined to think about philosophy or foreign policy.
When I was a kid, weekends meant only one thing: spending my Saturday afternoons watching bad movies. In the days before basic cable and the endless stream of made-for-Syfy and the Lifetime Network’s obscure 80’s actors cinematic crapfests, one only had local television affiliates and a bunny-eared antenna to view the best of the worst cinema ever made. I remember the local Los Angeles affiliate, KHJ (now KCAL) aired Movie Macabre, hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
I spent many Saturday afternoons watching craptacular gems like The Werewolf of Washington, The Monster Club, The Devil’s Rain, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, and The Incredible Melting Man.
I may be wrong but I think John Saxon hosted a show called Kung-Fu Theatre.
Those movies were pretty bad, too.
Still, more than any other memory of those Saturdays spent boob-tubing away my early childhood, I remember watching Godzilla movies.
Enough Godzilla flicks to last a Japanese school boy in too-tight-shorts a life time.
Admittedly, by the time Godzilla was pitted against the giant, flying, pollution-dispensing, melted shuttlecock-looking, Smog Monster, the intelligence quotient of the film series had reached an all-time low.
By the mid-1960s, Godzilla flicks had started the slippery slide down the crap scale from slightly stupid movies to full-blown, “you’ve got to be kidding me”-inducing plotlines involving the son of Godzilla (never once addressing where Mrs. Godzilla, was) and pitting the King of Monsters against America’s own racially-metaphored monster, King Kong.
The sad thing is Godzilla started out as kind of a smart film.
An invention of the Toho Picture Company, Godzilla made his film debut in Gojira released in 1954. Originally an anti-nuke, anti-war allegory, Gojira was re-cut for U.S. audiences with footage of American actor Raymond Burr (best known as TV’s Perry Mason) and re-titled Godzilla, King of Monsters.
Gojira was intended to be a cautionary tale; a warning against man’s arrogance and want to harness the power of the gods creating real-life monsters (nuclear weapons) that can destroy man and the planet. Gojira producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, said:
The theme of the film from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind.
However, in the Americanized Godzilla, King of Monsters, any references to the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, and U.S. hydrogen bomb tests (in the original Gojira we’re told the hydrogen bomb is what created Godzilla) were also removed from the film.
By the way, Raymond Burr plays a reporter named “Steve Martin”. His character’s name still makes me laugh.
It’s not unreasonable that a Japanese film company would make an anti-nuke movie.
Japan is the only country to have been bombed twice with nuclear weapons.
Watching the original Gojira and its anti-nuke message got me thinking: Of course, being anti-nuke is a political position, but if being anti anything means you’ve taken a stand against something because you think it’s wrong, you’re taking a moral position as well.
If you’re talking morals, you’re talking philosophy.
And if you’re talking about the ethics of atomic warfare, you’re talking foreign policy.
We’ve all heard the explanation before: The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to save lives that would have been lost in U.S. invasion of Japan. The explanation is utilitarian. The bombs were dropped to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) explains:
… actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
The utilitarian position is this: if dropping atomic bombs on Japan would save lives and end the war, ending thousands of Japanese lives was a small price to pay for saving millions of American and Allied lives. U.S. government argued Hiroshima and Nagasaki were military targets; which made destroying the cities all the more necessary. Therefore, the total destruction of two Japanese cities was a necessary and morally justified act.
It was the only solution.
Utilitarian justifications for military action are not uncommon. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the Bush Doctrine, military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Libya, Grenada, the Balkans, and American support of coups in Iran and Chile, were all based on utilitarian arguments. In arguing for military action in Iraq, President George W. Bush stated:
By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it… We have a great opportunity to extend a just peace, by replacing poverty, repression, and resentment around the world with the hope of a better day.
That, my friends, is a utilitarian argument.
But wait, you say, the Vietnam War ended badly for the United States. As did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you think about it, more than a few “interventions” have gone very badly. If this is so, how can you justify military aggression if the result is worse than the initial problem?
If you just said that, congratulations. You figured out the problem with utilitarianism.
You see, the utilitarian (moral) position tells us that if we possess the means to end or prevent the suffering of others, we are obligated to act. We would be neglecting our moral duty if we do not. Taking lives is not necessarily wrong if our ultimate goal is to increase the overall good (or happiness) of the whole.
So, if dropping bombs from unmanned drones will decrease violent acts of Islamic extremism, then blowing up weddings, unarmed journalists or people eating lunch is morally justified.
On its face, that all sounds fine and dandy. But, if you haven’t already realized it, not every bomb falls on its intended target. And sometimes our best utilitarian intentions fall victim to the law of unintended consequences.
Utilitarian ethics tells us that if we ought to act if we have the means to increase the happiness of the whole, but the sometimes inaccurate calculation of (best) consequences leads to bad things happening rather than the outcomes we expected. Sometimes, despite our best intentions and expectations, the situation ends up much worse than before we did anything.
WORSE LIKE THIS:
If you’re a utilitarian, this is unacceptable.
Because the moral rightness or wrongness depends on the consequences of our actions, not our intentions. We can have all the best intentions in the world, but if we act and the consequences are bad, then our actions are morally wrong.
Because in the real world when we act, we risk more than creating an irradiated, 150 foot, “big-gutted, big-butted” prehistoric beast hell-bent on destroying Tokyo.
In the real world, we must weigh our actions against the possibility that we’ll kill real people and cause real damage to others.
Even if our intentions tell us unmanned drones will get the job done.
* Actually Cloverfield is a political movie. One need not look too deeply into the plot to see the parallels between the events in the film and the terrorist attack on New York on September 11th, 2001.
1) John Stuart Mill. “Utilitarianism”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 571
2) Sam Stall, Lou Harry, and Julia Spaulding. The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures: 1001 Things You Hate to Love. 2004. Philadelphia: Quirk Books. p.108.
3) Steve Ryfle. “Godzilla’s Footprint”. Gojira DVD insert.
4) The Evolving Presidency: Addresses, Cases, Essays, Letters, Reports, Resolutions, Transcripts, and Other Landmark Documents, 1787-2004. 2004. 2nd Edition. Ed. Michael Nelson. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. pp. 288.