The subject of what's funny and who is allowed to laugh at what is a matter of interest around here lately. In fact a nice gentle-man from CBC Radio One called me to talk about it just now. My answer for him, after lots of reflection: uhhh, it depends. One thing I don't find funny, I said? Thousands of people dying in a national emergency. I'm weird like that. Neither does our man Erik Sofge, who knows a thing or two about getting flamed by pussies on Slate himself actually. He wrote this piece for PTSOTL:
Twitter is aghast: Someone on CNN joked on-air about Godzilla during the early hours of the tsunami coverage. Forget whatever brave truths Glenn Beck is speaking to heathen power, this is the kind of dipshit behavior everyone can get behind hating.
Except the anchor didn't actually say it. There's no evidence. It's an urban legend screeching and waddling through a trigger-happy social networking service.
But here's something someone did say, yesterday, in the Opinionater section of the NYT:
As a scholar focusing on the place of nuclear energy in Japanese culture, I’ve seen more than my share of nuclear-themed monster movies from the ’50s onward, and the scenes of burning refineries, flattened cities, mobilized rescue teams and fleeing civilians recall some surreal highlights of the Japanese disaster film genre.
The point of this timely story, titled Japan's Long Disaster Film, is to frame the gruesome deaths of thousands of Japanese, their bodies washing up on shores in numbers that overwhelm local morgues and crematoriums, and the subsequent nuclear crisis that the International Atomic Energy Agency rates as worse than Three-Mile Island, and fast approaching Chernobyl, by way of Godzilla.
Let's take a step back.
Regular folk, of the averagely stupid variety, seem to feel a civic duty to mention Godzilla whenever Japan comes up. That, or Hello Kitty, or robots. Look, I just did it, right there! Maybe this is understandable—Japanese culture is so profoundly weird to Westerners, with its extreme polar opposites all rammed together across time and space like so many commuters on a Tokyo subway car, that we can only navigate it as a web of cliches. It's a land of repressed salarymen leaving offices decorated with samurai armor, taking trains full of surgical-masks, reading text-message novels on their phones, and stopping on the way home to buy used panties from a vending machine on the same street as a Temple, all while fighting the near-constant urge to commit hari-kiri over various centuries- old traditions of honor and familial loyalty. It's a mess. Easier to wait, coiled like a Crouching Tiger (we like to cut and paste ethnicities, too) until someone mentions Japan, and strike like the gaijin wits that we are.
It's not a good joke. No one wants to compare a stock market collapse or earthquake to Godzilla. But it has to be done, and done quickly, before the window of opportunity closes. It's the cross-cultural cousin of “that's what she said.”
It's in that spirit that the NYT story makes an association that even the vast chuckle-headed hive-mind of Twitter can't stomach, that the sickening disaster unfolding in Japan looks a whole bunch like a slammed-together YouTube clip of scenes from Godzilla movies. The author presents what he's seen on the news (emphasis added, obviously): “Cars, trucks, trains and large ships lie swept into piles ashore or float in murky water like misshapen bath toys. Buildings implode and fires rage as if ignited by a burst of radioactive breath or a flick of a great creature’s tail.”
Never mind that Godzilla was spawned by postwar nuclear weapons testing, which in the Venn diagram of lazy associations never quite makes it into the same intellectual space as an earthquake, a tsunami, and nuclear reactors veering towards meltdown. Or that, even if visions of Godzilla are dancing through anyone's head while watching recent footage, not every stupid thought needs to see the light of day. The sloppy, not-funny, borderline-racist non-joke joke can wait, at least until the death toll stops rising. You can dress up commentary like this as legitimate, with the requisite history of monster movies and implications that a giant lizard karate-chopping a giant moth is a form of protest cinema only a dour Japanese audience could grasp, but it's exactly what it is, one dude Tweeting or commenting, “whoh! that's some godzila shit lols!”
Full disclosure: When the first footage of the tsunami rolling across cities showed up, I got a real snappy idea, and did a Google Images search for panels from the Akira comic, which includes a devastating scene of waves crashing through Tokyo. Wouldn't that be a swell thing to post to my Twitter buds? Then I remembered that Tokyo wasn't hit by the tsunami. And that some mental diarrhea should stay in your brain-pants, and not drizzled all over the Internet.