Sociologist, local councillor, activist from Malta

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Jurassic Debate


The Times of Malta, 21st July 2015
http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150720/opinion/The-Jurassic-debate.577306


I loved watching the recently-released film Jurassic World. It is being acclaimed as a summer sensation, a popcorn thriller and a dinosaur dream for all those who are thrilled by T-Rex and Triceratops.

Though it has its critics, it broke numerous records in terms of sales in its opening days. Before you proceed reading this article, I hereby declare a spoiler alert, as I discuss the plot and some key scenes.

Jurassic World has a simple plot. Basically, the dinosaur theme park found on the fictional island of Isla Nublar needed to find innovative methods to ensure business viability. For this purpose, the scientists employed in the park created a genetically-modified dinosaur, Indominus Rex, a nastier and more intelligent version of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Indominus is raised as a solitary being. Apparently, this deprives it of social skills but not of craftiness, so much so that it manages to break loose, subsequently creating chaos on the island.

The island is evacuated, but not before many people die or are injured, courtesy of all sorts of dinosaurs who run riot through newly-found freedom.

Thus, Indominus Rex was meant to be a profit-making super smash hit but it turned out to be the cause of ruin of Jurassic World. An unintended consequence of Risk Society, as Ulrich Beck would put it.

At the end of the day, however, Indominus meets its match when a Tyrannosaurus Rex is freed by the film’s protagonist humans, eventually resulting in defeat for the genetically-modified dinosaur.

The film ends with the victorious T-Rex in a triumphant pose, overlooking the Jurassic World panorama. This scene seems to synthesise the two-hour spectacle.

From an entertainment point of view, the film is definitely worth the watch. I, for one, would surely enjoy viewing it again while guzzling nachos or popcorn. Yet, it also raises questions which are very much relevant to our brave new world. One possible reading of Jurassic World can consider it to be a postmodern spectacle characterised by the contradiction between the real and the hyperreal.

Jurassic World is a fictional theme park which stimulates its consumers, the thousands of people who are entertained by dinosaurs that have been created to live in the park and generate profit for its investors.

The theme park imagery can be seen to represent postmodern society in itself. This is depicted by a world of logos, symbols, images, corporate campaigns and media messages which stimulate us to keep the social fabric going.

Yet, this social fabric is increasingly individualised and precarious, just as the thousands of people at Jurassic World find out when Indominus Rex breaks loose.

The theme park imagery also represents an interplay between opportunity and risk. On the one hand, it creates endless scientific opportunities to create dinosaurs to stimulate people but, on the other, it manufactures risk as things can go wrong – as they do.

The genetically-modified Indominus Rex does not follow nature’s patterns and opens a pandora’s box of unknowns. Indeed, the operators of Jurassic World soon find out that it has the ability to camouflage, to deceive its prey and to kill ‘for fun’, courtesy of its DNA make-up from all sorts of species.

The film’s human protagonists soon find out that it had to be a comparatively ‘real’ dinosaur, namely T-Rex, which could destroy Indominus Rex, as it does, though it eventually takes another ‘real’ marine monster to gobble Indominus up.

T-Rex’s triumph can be seen as the ultimate revenge of nature just when humans think they are in control. This theme has been recurring in literature, philosophy and sociology for quite some time. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and James Lovelock’s The revenge of Gaia are two notable readings in this regard, though they were written centuries apart from each other.

Along the lines of such controversies, one can mention various ‘real’ examples from everyday life.

For example, is it ethical to dabble with people’s genetics in terms of child birth and sickness? Should genetically-modified crops be allowed?

Various religious and philosophical perspectives believe that biotechnology is meddling with nature without taking account of possible ethical, ecological and health consequences.

Others argue that human intervention is actually part of evolution, given that we are highly intelligent species capable of improving things, as has been the case through agricultural, industrial and information revolutions.

Both arguments have their strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, human intervention in nature has enabled progress, such as increased longevity, but it has also brought about risks, such as climate change and endless appetite for war.

Such contradictions show that science should never be seen as an end-in-itself, as an unquestionable technocratic authority. The democratisation of science, for example, through increased accountability, transparency and dialogue, is essential in a society of risks, opportunities, unintended consequences and lack of rock-solid certainties.

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