On Tuesday, April 11, Dr. John Haddad, professor of American Studies and Popular Culture, will present a special “Godzilla Lecture” at the Penn State Harrisburg Library to celebrate a new collection of Godzilla and other “Kaiju” DVDs. From 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Haddad will present his lecture, “Fantastic Beasts, and How to UNDERSTAND Them: Godzilla, Kaiju, and the Nuclear Age.” Interested individuals may bring a lunch or snack with beverages provided by the library.
Thanks to a Student Activity Fund grant, the Harrisburg Library has acquired about two dozen Godzilla and other “Kaiju” DVDs for student leisure and academic viewing for those interested in pop culture, movies or Japan. “Kaiju” is a Japanese word that refers to “monsters” and is used mostly in the context of Godzilla and other Japanese films that were produced from the end of World War II, with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, to the present.
Regarding academic purposes, Haddad teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses on popular culture. In these classes, he typically selects pop culture texts that students can connect to key intellectual ideas or historical concepts. He plans to use the Kaiju films as “nuclear narratives” that reflect the complex emotional responses of Japanese and Americans to nuclear power and weapons — responses in which fascination mingle with fear.
Though such narratives are of interest to any student of the 20th century, they especially resonate with students at Harrisburg, which almost literally rests in the shadow of Three Mile Island. Similar to Haddad, Dr. Charles Kupfer, associate professor of American Studies and History, teaches undergraduate and graduate classes on the theme of War and Culture. More specifically, he hopes to use the Kaiju collection to demonstrate how the Japanese used the monster movie, formerly a low-prestige genre, in a larger national effort to reconstruct Japanese pride and the Japanese psyche in the wake of World War II’s devastation.
Indeed, the same atomic power that brought terrifying destruction to Hiroshima and Nagasaki also led to the creation of Godzilla, who became an enduring symbol of Japanese pride and power. He also believes that the movies, which the Japanese successfully exported, came to represent Japan’s amazing economic resurgence later in the century. Both professors plan to use the film collection frequently in their classes.
The students of Penn State Harrisburg have a strong connection to nuclear/atomic power since our campus is adjacent to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, home to the most infamous meltdown of a nuclear plant in U.S. history. This connection impacts our identity in that our College literary magazine is entitled “From the Fallout Shelter” and the library houses a collection of materials related to the nuclear accident in 1979. Therefore, it is appropriate that this library should have the ultimate “Kaiju” collection for the enjoyment and leisure viewing pleasure of all Penn State Harrisburg students.
Thanks to the Harrisburg Student Activity Fund, and library colleagues Glenn Rudy for selecting the films and Angela Caldwell for designing a wonderful poster and exhibit.
– submitted by Glenn McGuigan, Harrisburg Library