Editor’s Note: Like its accompanying art piece, “Godzilla Hates Fascism,” this interview includes politically candid (some might call it “charged”) commentary and opinions that some readers may find disruptive or complicated. The interview also includes explicit references to ableism, racism, xenophobia, and war, as forms of violence, aggression, and oppression. Diane R. Wiener interviewed Mike Mort for Wordgathering.
WG: Mike, thanks, so very much, for sharing your new art piece, “Godzilla Hates Fascism.” Can you please tell the Wordgathering audience a bit about what motivated your creation of this piece? Thanks! (And, GRRRR!)
MM: Thanks Diane! So, my favorite way to express myself artistically tends to be reclaiming existing fandoms and pop-culture icons through the lens of disability. I’m a huge nerd and love to depict my favorite characters as fellow crips. For this particular design, I decided to choose the king of monsters himself, because of the fond memories I have watching the somewhat cheesy Godzilla films on VHS as a child. I also enjoy this larger-than-life, dinosaur-like being because of the raw power he exudes. Godzilla is this massive force of nature that is undeniable in his presence, much like the ongoing protest movements across the United States. I consider this piece to be my take on protest art as well as a political statement. The swirling smoke shown in the image represents tear-gas that continues to be used against peaceful protesters daily–just one of the numerous acts of violence carried out against our own citizens. The bus in the image serves as a Godzilla-sized middle finger to Donald Trump and the reality-show brand of fascism he represents.
WG: Mike, that’s a powerful, artful combination of humor, critique, and irony, indeed! Love it! How does this imagery relate—if at all—to your service velociraptor art piece? And, could you kindly comment, therefore, about your dinosaur explorations, and the use of creatures in your artwork, broadly? More specifically, how do these choices represent or otherwise address your cultural and political aesthetics? Much appreciated!
MM: Ultimately the two pieces are connected, in part, by the simple fact that I am an unabashed dinosaur kid, through and through. As a child, I had every piece of dino themed swag one could imagine, from clothes to toys, to books that I made my parents read to me countless times. While ‘Zilla may not be a dinosaur–or even real, for that matter–he inspires that same feeling of wondrous, childlike joy in me. Interestingly, though, these fascinations from my early youth have become part of my social and political identity as an adult. For example, I’ve learned that the Godzilla franchise began as somewhat of a commentary on the consequences of nuclear weapons. The first film–1954’s Gojira–was arguably an allegory for post-World War Two politics and American militarism. As for my love of dinosaurs, I’ve watched Jurassic Park about a million times, and need I mention why a theme park prioritizing profit over public safety is a bad idea? But I digress. From a broader perspective, dinosaurs and monsters tend to be misunderstood, and that is something I very much relate to as a disabled person.
WG: Mike, thanks, again! Can you kindly comment further on your devotion to dinosaurs and monsters, a sense of wonder (as you noted!), and, specifically, what you mean by “very much relate to as a disabled person”— with respect to dinosaurs and monsters? Also, I thought Godzilla was often depicted as or understood to be female. Any thoughts on gender, disability, and “monsters”—real and imagined?
MM: Of course! To me, dinosaur-type creatures exist in a place between reality and fantasy, where my imagination truly shines the brightest. Godzilla doesn’t exist, but dinosaurs did; therefore, such a being is not totally impossible. Dinos were real, yet there is much we still don’t know about them, so they take on a mysterious, almost mythical quality in my mind. The same overlap of truth and fiction occurs in the majority of my artwork, whether it be superheroes, dinosaurs or sci-fi characters.
For the disability aspect, I feel as if a lot of assumptions are made about disabled folks based solely on things like appearance, mobility, and cultural stereotypes. Much like Godzilla is assumed to be malevolent or dinosaurs were once assumed to be sluggish swamp dwellers. As someone who is visibly disabled (wheelchair, ventilator, etc.), I’m regarded similarly to a massive radioactive reptile by some abled folks, my existence completely alien to them.
As far as nerdy knowledge extends, there is truly no consensus as to Godzilla’s gender over the years. The original Japanese versions use gender-neutral language and most of the American films use he/him pronouns–except for the 1998 film where ‘Zilla is female, I believe. In that sense, they could be considered sort of gender-fluid. The beauty of fictional characters, however, is that they can be whomever we imagine them to be. So, if someone wants to draw or cosplay their favorite character as disabled, a different gender, ethnicity or body type, I believe we really should embrace and celebrate that as fans.
WG: Thanks, Mike, for your thoughtful responses—as always. Given the 75th anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the argument that Godzilla was, in part, intended to be a critique and/or metaphor of these historical events—despite how the stories were “spun” by Hollywood—any thoughts on these rather timely and necessarily critical themes and narratives in our lives (locally, nationally, and globally…), as far as disablement, war, and so on? Big question, I know!
MM: Very good question, Diane! The use of atomic weapons on these mostly civilian targets is just one of the many dark deeds to be committed by the U.S. government and subsequently whitewashed. I like to think, however, that we are reaching a tipping point collectively, where we can’t ignore America’s past and ongoing atrocities any longer. The United States has arguably the world’s most powerful military, yet what has it truly gained us as a society? Our government spends trillions of dollars on war, while so many other problems could be solved with a fraction of that same funding. With Covid-19, for example, missiles and fancy warplanes are completely useless against a virus. As the Blue Öyster Cult song Godzilla explains, “History shows again and again, how nature points out the folly of man.” From a moral perspective, our country is using taxpayer dollars to kill and maim people around the globe using the labor of poor People of Color, who the armed forces disproportionally target for recruitment. American militarism has also created a hollow, inspiration-porn type reverence for disabled veterans. They are often held up as model crips in the media, somehow separate from the rest of the community, even though they face many of the same barriers. Politicians on both sides of the aisle love to mention disabled vets for political clout, but still functionally treat them poorly, policy-wise. I believe the best way to “Support Our Troops” is to be anti-war.
WG: Thanks for your candor, Mike. Any closing comments you care to share with our readers and visitors, regarding the importance of disability arts, and your role, therein?
MM: I would just like to say that disabled art is inherently a form of resistance, is political in nature, and is beautiful beyond measure—because our lives truly are. I hope I contribute in some small way to a message of inclusion, truth to power and self-love. Also, I want to encourage everyone who can to vote—let your voice be known and, for the love of Godzilla, wear a mask!
Thank you so much, Diane, for this lovely opportunity.
About Mike Mort
Mike Mort (he/him) is a 29 year old freelance digital artist, activist and writer living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. His interests in nerd culture, intersectional justice as well as disabled representation are uniquely reflected in his work. Mike’s Twitter handle is @MikeeMort. Visit his Tee Public merch shop: https://www.teepublic.com/user/rollingmort91. “Godzilla Hates Fascism” is available at: https://www.teepublic.com/t-shirt/13583620-godzilla-hates-fascism.