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Godzilla has experienced a cinematic growth spurt unlike any other since he emerged from the eldritch depths in 1954, but what is the real reason he evolved into a skyscraper on legs?
Because pop culture phenomena even make scientists curious, researchers Nathaniel Dominy and Ryan Calsbeek investigated why the already massive Godzilla has doubled in size since he first stomped Tokyo. There isn’t one easy answer to why he shot up to a height of 164 feet. Turns out the dinosaur with atomic breath is more complicated than we thought.
“[Godzilla] represents a sensational example of evolutionary stasis, second only to coelacanths among vertebrates,” the authors said in a study recently published in Science. “Yet, the creature’s recent morphological change has been dramatic.”
Say Godzilla was an actual dinosaur. Dominy and Calsbeek believe he would have been a ceratosaurid and a Lazarus taxon, or a supposedly extinct species that surfaces later (another thing he has in common with the coelacanth). There is no known dinosaur as immense as the latest iteration of the most famous kaiju ever in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. He could have only gotten that big in the wild if he underwent natural selection 30 times greater than usual. That means he grew 30 times faster than any creature that ever existed.
That monster needs tons of food, which means...you know.
Such a boom in size would have been just about impossible — even over a hundred million years ago. As a product of our human imaginations, however, Godzilla probably blew up for entirely different reasons. We crave disaster films. All you have to do is look at box office stats any given week to prove that. Behind that is an epidemic of anxiety brought on by both natural and political forces.
“Godzilla is evolving in response to a spike in humanity’s collective anxiety,” they said. “Whether reacting to geopolitical instability, a perceived threat from terrorists, or simply fear of “the other,” many democracies are electing nationalist leaders, strengthening borders, and bolstering their military presence around the world.”
You’ve got to say that Dominy and Calsbeek were onto something when they found out Godzilla increased in size the most at times when there was a spike in U.S. military spending, which they feel is a reflection of how anxious humanity is getting. The original Godzilla film, Gojira, was a direct response to an atomic blast that devastated Japan. That is way more terrifying than a creature that spawned from human imagination.
Because the Godzilla films are ultimately a response to market forces, it seems that people who are constantly on edge about everything from climate change to international tensions are subconsciously demanding more massive forces of destruction onscreen. Humans want films they can relate to. When the predominant feeling among us is anxiety, it makes sense that we do relate to a giant lizard that can destroy an entre city just by taking a walk through it.
“Godzilla’s near invincibility almost always eventually leads humanity to the realization that they must work together to defeat it,” the authors said. “The monster is thus more than a metaphor; it is a fable with a lesson for our times.”
So Godzilla is the personification — rather, monster-fication — of our current existential crisis. Scary.