The director of Jurrasic Park 4 has tweeted that the Velociraptors will not have feathers, which has lead to quite a bit of backlash in the palaeo community. There’s not much point in rehashing the scientific in inaccuracy of this. Brian Switek’s piece will give you good rundown of the situation.
I want to take a different tack on this, and look at the broader culture this is occurring in.
Jurassic park became little more than a monster movie about halfway through the first film. I don’t think we should be at all surprised that the franchise continues on its monstrification trajectory. What I’m going to argue here is that the context in which dinosaurs are embedded in our culture makes this almost inevitable.
Most of us have come across or participated in what I’m going to call “awesomebro” culture: “dinosaurs in space with fricken’ lasers? AWESOMEBRO!”. Awesomebro culture is huge, and makes up a huge proportion of the people that buy dinosaur-themed stuff. At the really stupid end of awesomebro you have the people that complain that feathered dinosaurs look “gay”. You have less retarded grumbling as well. My problem is in how I, and many other people I agree with, have reflexively deflected these grumblings. We say something like “well, eagles look pretty awesome - watchya got to say to that, smart guy?”
The problem with this sort of defence is that it buys into the whole stupid assumption of dinosaurs belonging to awesomebro culture. What if dromaeosaurs really did look all fancy or goofy? What then? I say so what, animals often look fancy or goofy. The “awesomeness” isn’t the most sophisticated way of viewing the natural world, and one that I personally have very little interest in.
Of course, awesomebros are the prime market for the Jurassic Park movies (indeed, many of us probably started out with dinosaurs as awesomebro 13 year-olds). So we end up with the Axis of Awesome, the big money of big media, and the massive fandom of the awesomebros supporting it.
The problem with all this is that the fundamental aim of the awesomebro project is to make things ever more “awesome”, not to make things more accurate. Trying to find the “awesome” angle on the new discoveries about behaviour and appearance seems to me to be missing the whole damn point of what I’m trying to do — which is come to terms with the truth. Nearly all dinosaur documentaries struggle with this, and nearly all fail, resulting in a hodge-podge of garbled science juxtaposed with flights of awesomebro fancy (Tonight on AwesomeDinoFights: Triceratops vs. a Brick Wall). Dinosaur artists, too, play their part in this, with their screechy slobbering theropods. I think it’s a fundamentally flawed approach, but one which has too much money behind it and cultural entanglement to change from within.
So what’s to be done? I say forget JP4, the awesomebro project will continue unabated by the complaints of a few dinonerds. Instead we need to build a credible cultural alternative to awesomebro dinosaurs. It’s a big task, to be sure, but it’s why I do what I do.
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