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Clifford the Big Red Kaiju (CoffeeHour)

Dr. Johnathan Flowers (@shengokai), American University

"Abstract-in-a-tweet": For too long the canon of Kaiju has overlooked one of its most significant members: Clifford the Big Red Dog. In this essay I will argue that Clifford’s role in his narrative (and his unusual size) should afford him the status of Kaiju. Extended Abstract: Clifford the Big Red Dog, the titular character of Norman Birdwell’s children’s books and the extended media based upon it, is what is commonly referred to as a kaiju, or “strange beast” in Japanese popular culture. While authors like Nicole Waxman argue that Clifford’s kaiju nature is made evident through Clifford’s unusual size and coloration, I argue that Clifford’s kaiju nature is best revealed through the ways that Clifford functions in his narratives. In my view, the ways in which Clifford’s enormous size and unusual coloration serve as a device to make present the lesson to be learned from the narrative bear more than a passing similarity to the ways that more traditional kaiju, like Godzilla, Mothra, and now King Kong, serve to drive their own narratives through their awesome presence. That is, the fantastic power of the kaiju, and its interactions with the world around them, allows for the audience to better understand their connection to the world. This awesome power as narrative device has a long tradition in Japanese folklore, specifically through the tales of bakemono and yokai and, more broadly, through kami which are the literal manifestation of the moving power of nature. While Clifford might not be the embodiment of a phenomena of nature, in the context of the broader Clifford metaverse, the awesome power of the fantastic creature serves to enable a moral or social character. This talk will situate Clifford as a kaiju through exploring the ways in which Clifford’s awe-inspiring and mysterious presence enables moral understanding. Moreover, this talk will connect Clifford to the broader traditions of bakemono and yokai in both function and in form and, in conclusion, determine who might succeed in a conflict between Godzilla and Clifford.