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Giant Robots Fight Giant Lizards in Globalization Allegory

Most have greeted the new sci-fi action movie “Pacific Rim” as mindless entertainment, and it certainly is that. But the movie is about much more than just computer generated action sequences and campy dialogue. In fact, it’s an allegory about the effects of globalization on manufacturing employment.

First, some important spoilers. “Pacific Rim” is a film about giant robots fighting giant sea monsters. For reasons that are not clear to begin with, these lizard-like creatures begin to emerge from an inter-dimensional breach deep in the Pacific Ocean, whereupon they attack various port cities. Emerging from the heart of the region most closely associated with globalization anxiety, these monsters represent the forces of creative destruction unleashed: they are unthinking, mysterious, and utterly disruptive.

Today there is growing anxiety about globalization and what it means for many individuals. The ratio of global imports to world GDP has risen from 14 percent in 1970 to just under 30 percent in 2008. At the same time, American manufacturing employment as a percentage of total employment has steadily fallen from 26.5 percent to 9.25 percent over roughly the same time period. Even in absolute terms, manufacturing employment has fallen by more than two million since 2000.

While some of this decline is no doubt due to increases in the productivity of American manufacturing, the recent events in Detroit illustrate the fraught consequences of increased global competition. It’s only natural that these anxieties—like the anxieties of previous times and places—should find expression in seemingly unrelated works of popular culture.

When traditional military forces prove less than adequate against the rising tide of monsters, nations naturally respond by building 250-foot tall robots, controlled by a pair of pilots using a kind of next generation Wii system. As the film explicitly notes, these robots were initially developed using DARPA funding, and represent a kind of industrial policy, each nation deploying its own robot champions. There is a Russian robot team, a Chinese team, an Australian team, and of course an American one, each protecting its home country.

But while the robots are initially successful, the monsters keep growing and invading at an ever-faster pace, overwhelming the efforts of the local industries. In response, the world’s leaders decide to abandon their industrial robot program in favor of literally building giant walls around all of their ports. It is explicitly mentioned that this has cut off trade and forced rationing and other hardships on the population—though it does seem to create a fair number of short-term blue collar jobs actually building the wall. The one city that doesn’t succumb to protectionism is Hong Kong (which happens to be an oft-cited example of free trade success in real life), where the remaining robots all relocate.

Along with the robot teams are two scientists who hope to solve the monster problem. The first, representing the neoclassical school of economics, believes that the behavior of the monsters can be explained and predicted based on mathematical models that he developed (when the models initially appear inaccurate, he gives the standard explanation that his theory was right but the timing was wrong). The second scientist is more of a behavioralist, who thinks that to understand the monsters you have to examine them, how they are, rather than working from deductive theories about them.

Combining their wisdoms, the scientists are able to discover that what appear to be unthinking “market forces” are actually being controlled and manipulated by a race of lizard-like aliens who hope to take over the planet. These lizard-aliens represent an amalgamation of multinational corporations, international finance, and so forth. The rise of trans-national corporations and magnates seemingly detached from any loyalties save global commercial conquest has long been decried, and giant lizards have long been used as a symbol for international bankers (conspiracist David Ickies [1] imagines an international plot of actual shapeshifting lizard aliens). The most recent controversies over multinational misdeeds include accusations of Apple hiding [2] international profits [3], Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin renouncing his American citizenship [4] to move to Singapore (and avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes), and massive global price-fixing conspiracies [5].

While I won’t give away the ending, unfortunately the heroes eventually defeat the aliens in a way that doesn’t offer much guidance for today’s macroeconomic situation.

Searching for deeper meaning in a Hollywood movie about giant lizards may seem a stretch, but it certainly isn’t unprecedented. The original “Godzilla” movie was a clear allegory for the atomic bombing of Japan, while “Cloverfield” dealt with post-9/11 psychic traumas. Today there is growing anxiety about globalization as a huge, destructive force beyond the control of individuals, and so it’s only natural that this should find expression is popular culture.

Plus, watching giant robots fight is pretty cool.

Josiah Neeley is a Policy Analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, Texas. His views on giant lizards are not necessarily those of his employer. 

Follow @jneeley78 [6]

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#1 Comment By Andrew On July 26, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

This was thoroughly enjoyable reading! 🙂

#2 Comment By Aaron Paolozzi On July 26, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

I found Pacific Rim to be exceedingly entertaining, though I had not sought to divine it’s deeper meaning…thank you for doing the soul searching for me

#3 Comment By hetzer On July 26, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

I’ve been vacillating on seeing this, now I guess I have to.

Also Idris Elba is an entertaining actor, though I doubt he gets to do much except yelling in this. (Though he’s good at that, too.)

#4 Comment By spite On July 26, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

Maybe its not an allegory for anything, but just an example that mindless entertainment is good for making money.

#5 Comment By sanman On July 26, 2013 @ 6:21 pm

I now see the light. ELBOW ROCKET is actually a metaphor for management-worker synergy as the driver for economic resurgence. It’s all so clear now.

#6 Comment By Steve in Colorado On July 26, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

I think I’ll exercise my rational selfish self interest and avoid the movie theaters this summer.

#7 Comment By Darth Thulhu On July 27, 2013 @ 2:22 am

The proper Japanese robot-anime finale (which dovetails perfectly with the actual Japanese political preference) would be for each nation state to desperately forge a special Super-Robot, each of which then merge and combine to form a Mega-Super-Robot that cannot possibly be defeated.

Voltron = One World Government

#8 Comment By Andy On July 27, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

Hum… nice fit but not perfect. Your theory doesn’t take into account the fact that the monster smashes through the wall (unlike goods behind a trade wall) , that no international effort to fight globalization (or its disruptive forces) exists and that disruption and creative destruction are not the same as chaos and may aim.

#9 Comment By Andy On July 27, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

Also, the hong kong wall is incomplete and that’s why the robots go there.

#10 Comment By Peter On July 27, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

Interesting observation! I actually saw the movie as an allegory for climate change. The kaiju are classified by their strength; a category 5 being the most powerful. They become more frequent and more powerful as time passes, just like warming induced hurricanes, and the world stops working together to find solutions to the crisis. Coastal cities build walls to protect themselves from the rising seas, just as GW deniers build walls around their minds. The walls don’t work. The kaiju come from a hot fiery portal/coal fired power plant, and the way to stop them is by shutting down the portal.

#11 Comment By Gene Callahan On July 28, 2013 @ 11:35 am

“Hum… nice fit but not perfect.”

If it were perfect, it would not be a metaphor!

#12 Comment By Chiefe Mo On December 8, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

I do not know whether you care to read all of this, but I just watched the movie – Pacific Rim. The movie is an allegory of the twentieth-century Cold War.

The movie starts off with a translation of “Kaiju” which means Great Monster and “Jaeger” which means Hunter, in Japanese and German, respectively. This proposes the presence of Japanese and German ideas (World War II) before the movie (Cold War) starts. Notice how the action set in to place of the movie took place in the Pacific, right between two major powers, United States and the Soviet Union, during the Cold War.

Let’s get REALLY allegorical into this: The “inter-dimensional beings” have social ranks that are given to them at birth, hence the monster’s CATEGORY of 1,2,3,4, and 5. This shows the idea of communism, that your life and purpose are determined at birth. The monster “masters” would command these soldiers what to do, maybe even against their will, just like in communism.

Now, this is where it gets interesting: The two doctors in the movie explained to the general that these Kaiju have attempted a “take-over” Earth before, a.k.a. the dinosaurs, but because a massive Carbon Dioxide covered the air, they couldn’t attempt another take-over until the air was stable. Then, after millions of years, in the early twenty-first century, the Kaiju rose again, but this time with human Jaeger opposition. This whole “take-over” tactic is just an allegory of the Cold War. Communism was attempted at first, but was not very successful, and was put to a small force. However, after decades, communism went on a HIGH-RISE in the 60s. Communism spread EVERYWHERE. In the movie, the humans were building a “Wall of Life” to suppress the Kaiju forces, which symbolizes America trying to suppress Communism before it can grow any larger. The Kaiju, or “communism”, smashed right through the wall “As if it was nothin[g]…”

At the ending climax of the movie, you learn that you have to take a Kaiju carcass with you if you want to stop the Kaiju forces, and that you have to connect with these Kaiju brains to “understand” their attack plans. In other words, you have to adopt and study communism before you can stop it.

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The heart of the Gypsy Danger represents the main protagonist’s emotion and will. He mentioned it to Mako Mori that the last time he saw it was 5 years ago, when his brother was still alive and they shared a bond. It can obviously be seen that now he sees it again, he has a new co-pilot, Mako Mori, to share his “heart” with.

The Newton’s Cradle symbolizes the balance of power and motion in every conflict. I believe that when they showed it, the movie was exactly half-way finished, but I need to confirm this belief.

The movie uses inter-dimensional beings to show that these Kaiju exists in the same universe, but in a different version of it. In other words, Communism and Capitalism are existing in the same world, but each has their own view on how the world should be like…