Ubinam Gentium Sumus?: Jurassic World and the Post-Modern Capitalist Cinematic
by Beauchamp Art
O di immortales, ubinam gentium sumus? Quam rem publicam habemus? In qua urbe vivimus?
This is not a review of the latest of the Spielberg franchise film, Jurassic World, but rather a spiel based on the representation of the film through its promotional materials, notably the video trailers, and a examination of how the film reflects the socio-economic and media environment in which it has been produced. Furthermore, the synopsis offered by the trailer may also be more indicative of how the producers and promoters of the film would want it to be seen: highlighting which key components offer the most effective synthesis of the contents of the film that would encourage a potential audience to engage with it at their financial expensive over other content.
When the twenty-four hours news, newspapers and online journalism features a constant onslaught of the horrors committed by man, what would stimulate a viewer to desire to see another man-made atrocity in high-definition surround sound? What is presented is a genetically engineered dinosaur hybrid digitally rendered, biting the head off unsuspecting mercantile forces, whilst extremist groups decapitate innocent captives, broadcasting through the multi-media experience of everyday technological interfaces. The security of the cinema provides an enclosed environment where the viewer pays to see high-octane action and human drama, safely incubated within length of the narrative, resolving by the third act, terror abated. Whilst the daily barrage of death in the physical world, as seen by populous of wealthy nation through screens that can be switched off, it still lingers in the background like the low hum of a television set on standby.
The Western states create an environment in which spectacle is perpetually proliferated through entertainment and informative media, so the fear becomes increasingly benign. With “three out of four people [are] desensitized to images showing hunger, drought, and disease” [BBC, 2012], new means of presenting the ills of man must be forged through more complex artifices, montages of multiple explosions, executions, and the energy of the media force complied together into scenes that transform the image of the real into the cinematic. This hybrid format, like the Chimeric antagonist of Jurassic World, may produce a reality that dissolves before our very eyes, “not into nothingness, but into the more real than real (triumph of the simulacra)” [Baudrillard, 1987: 103].
The man-made Manticore may escape from the circus of the theme park of the secure bubble of the medium, thus saturating the hyperbolic image of terror into the everyday life of media consumers. As Howard Beale, in the 1976 film The Network, proclaimed “Television is not the truth! Television is a God-damned amusement park!” [The Network, 1976] Audiences know what happens when the beast escapes from its bonds, it must be tamed or slain.
Perhaps it is worth noting here that in the abandoned concept art for Jurassic World, still under the working title of Jurassic Park 4, the hybrid dinosaur was not simply a concoction of pre-historic reptiles that had taken on the human characteristics of that which hunts for sport and has the capacity for deliberate cruelty, but the anthropomorphism was more concretely embodied in a human-dinosaur amalgamation. But evidently this interbreeding was even too far fetched for the Spectacular-Spectacular of the resurrected resurrection franchise. The darkly uncanniness of the malformed human figure too direct and jaded a reflection of the fears of man that stem from within the dark remises of his own mind.
The early humanoid design could be interpreted as a demonstration of the digitally rendered uncanny of the genetic fusion on film; a grotesque of the post modern spectacle of the spectacle, needlessly over zealous. Thus was denounced and replaced by the more favourable turbo Tyrannosaurus-Rex. Less explicitly embodying the human face behind ever mask of terror (the benign, inert perception of the phenomenon rather than the action itself) whilst also reflecting the trope of film sequel towards exponential vicarious extremes.
Only man can create horror. Other creatures may perform actions that may be perceived as horrific from a anthropocentric perspective (whether that be the violence of giant lizards, or the mating practices of the common mallard), they do not have the same capacity to deliberately simulate an aesthetic that transcends the mere threat of a bloody snout, but becomes the trophy kill, the unnecessary sporting violence implicated by the Villain. Whether that be the reptile flesh of abomination in Jurassic World, the reptile brain of the human acting on their warped instincts from the base of their skull, or the reptile tonged, whispering forked words into willing ears, on command to kill (silvery words assisted by silver-laden wallets). Frequently, organisations and governments have the potential to stimulate situations in which horror is produced and distributed to the masses through the interconnecting web of the network society, where “networks do not replace society, but they increasingly connect and organize its constituents” [Van Dijk, 1991: 85].
Regions near critical resources are disturbed to maintain ease of access to the nation-states that wish to sustain their domination over it and thereby may hold the economic stranglehold over the world. In doing this, man leaves chaos in his work. For example, the rise of the Slave Trade and genocide of the indignation population of the Americas was undertaken to provide greater control of cotton and the various new resources that were made available (also perpetuating the flow of the labour resource of the enslaved peoples) from the sixteen- to eighteen-hundreds. Or the various conflicts in the Middle East and environmental disasters driven by the need for oil.
But alongside these material resources, there is also the idea of ‘information economy’. Nevertheless, as information is not in short supply, the citizens of wealthy nations are drowning in it, so it is attention that is the commodity in short supply. In such an “‘attention economy’, the laws of intellectual property govern what gets attention” [Lanham, 2006: xi-xii], and so like the wars wage before, in the wake of Lanham’s ‘attention economy’ concept, battles are fought over the wealth of the gaze; the spectacle itself becomes the critical asset. However, audiences whom remain “burdened by the problem of excess”, sold information anxiety by every technologist and media distributing Ringmaster, then this “glut of information no longer adds to our quality of life, but instead begins to cultivate stress, confusion and even ignorance” [Shenk, 1997: 16]. The mental censorship that may be produced as a result of this overwhelming tide of hyperbolic and undesirable information may enables psychological distancing and sublime indifference to the “banality of evil” [Arendt, 1963] (described by Hannah Arendt referring to the distancing of Adolf Eichmann to his horrific actions action during the holocaust) that may mechanise institutionalised genocide, with reconciliation requiring deliberate forgetting [Sontag, 2003: 103].
Man’s first instinct it to put up walls, to compartmentalised, to “set up boundaries between their land and its immediate surrounding and the territory beyond, which they call ‘the land of the barbarians’” [Said, 1979: 54], set against the other, the unimaginable terror beyond the gates. Through a crack in these barricades, the light of the camera obscura may penetrate the arbitrary boundary, projecting images of that which is beyond inside, for those within to see a shimmering glint of what lies over the precipice of the medium between ‘here’ and ‘there’. Showing what may be found between the fetishised subject of the spectacle and the viewer. So the clawed walls and lack of containment (as embodied in the escape of the terrorising Indominus-Rex) reveal the fragility of this distinction, the lack of security between the representation and reality, and the ineffable banality that may result from a collapsing of this dichotomy.
Similarly, as the audiences momentarily twist their glances from their mobile devices to the sight of the aquatic display of the Mosasaur, desiring the greater immediacy of the flesh-and-cold-blood before them, the tidal splash from the prehistoric beast devouring the suspended and limp body of Jaws briefly alleviating the audience’s apathetic indigence of the constant influx of semi-simulating data emerging hyper-mediated through their mobile computer and smart phone devices. Invoking the death throws of Jörmungandr in the “sea of information” at Ragnarök; the water that gives life may also devour it, so “we thrive on information and yet we can choke on it” [Shenk, 1997: 20, 22]. The audience glancing at the hyperbolic water-park sideshow may be seen to have already become unmoved by the banal terror before them, much as cinema goers watching the film increasingly expect more from their viewing experience.
The plot of the film reflects the drive for more action, more drama, more reality. So a new monsters has to be made to satisfy the desires of the opiated masses. Therefore, it may be worth considering Jurassic World as a contemporary example of a post-Modern epic (although not in the same mould as Ulysses, and not as heretically received), positing the film-makers like the geneticists within the narrative, always needing to produce a more enticing spectacle. As Chris Townsend in the Huffington post noted, “Jurassic World is a film about films. More specifically, it is a film about film sequels, and the expectations an audience has of film sequels” Climaxing with the original 1993 antagonistic T-Rex re-resurrected, producing “a death-match between the original Jurassic Park and its sequel” [Townsend, 2015].
The dinosaurs presented offer a hollow representation of a idealised history, great beasts make a safari raging against their resurrected half-life. The cinema screen screams out in HD 3D, the terrifying hybrid media spawn abates the downward spiral towards apathy. The film cries out its swan song, fearing the death of narrative where there are stories, but not unified histories, where “the temporality specific to the aesthetic regime of the arts is a co-presence of heterogeneous temporalities” [Rancière, 2004: 26]. The film format mirrors the glamour of the tropical sun rising before the reign of man, glimmering as it sets over the isolated island of the sinking solar flare into the shimmer depths at the fall of The Last Man, “an apathetic creature with no great passion or commitment. Unable to dream, tired of life, [taking] no risks, seeking only comfort and security,” [Žižek, 2015]. Žižek cited Nietzsche’s proposed position following the Charlie Hebdo Massacre, a direct attack on a media outlet as a surrogate for the broader “weaponry of communication” utilised as the primary means of transforming the power of the initial assault into a simultaneously experience “multimedia explosion” [Virilio, 1983, 174-175].
The audience, transfixed by the transmission of information filtered through the cinema, television or computer screen presents an image of the world that is “indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality” [The Network, 1976], to quote the depressed realisation of Max Schumacher’s character in The Network (responding to the hyperbolic format that has been created and the sorts of people that are inspired by this violent acceleration of communication). Where “text is a tissue of quotations.” [Barthes, 1967: 142], then the world is stitched together as a vast tapestry of images, where nothing real unless it is framed. As Jacob Silverman observed, there is a tendency towards supporting the notion “‘pics or it didn’t happen’ – that is the populist mantra of the social networking age. Show us what you did, so that we may believe and validate it” [Silverman, 2015]. Whatever keeps people turned on, tuned in and dropping out.
Whatever brings in a paying audience, gazing, glancing, consuming, devour from the latrine of the new media troff, immune to the smell of their own swill, with a glazed over expression permanently affixed. This new Ouroboros is unlike “the world-encompassing wyrm keeps its tail firmly clamped in its jaws to form an eternal circle. It is symbol of continuity, dying and rising, the cycle of the seasons and the constant renewal of the world” [Howe, 2008: 40] (which also typifies the perpetually renewing film franchise) as the prosumer is a pig with its snout firmly lodged in its own anus, blissfully suffocating in its own filth. The dinosaurs are wild beasts on the big screen, but the small screen on standby shows man reflected in the black mirror of its tranquil surface as the neue wildebeest. Civilisation centralising power amongst an oligarchy, and only filmic faeces trickles down in an attention economy. Give the people bread and circuses, the freedom to choose between a pre-rendered selection of experiences, then writhe in their own waste, paying a monthly subscription for the luxury of the service. A John Williams (come Michael Giacchino) style soundtrack plays over the latest news, to make the real more cinematic, terror on the TV for domestic consumption and pterosaurs in the cinema.
For the hyperreal dinosaur simulacrum, brought to life not by DNA meddling but programmed peddling, the cries of virtual velociraptor sing a body electric. The simulations may fool the phenomenological interfacing with external stimuli, meaning the viewer can taste blood, smell the gunpowder, the filth, they can hear the cries, the squeals, the screams, the soundtrack, the cinematic, the Joycean “‘allnights newsery reel,’ that substitutes a ‘reel’ world for reality’ [McLuhan, 1964: 193]. If McLuhan’s idiomatic phrase, “the medium is the message” [McLuhan, 1964: 129] is entertained as an idea, then within the context of Jurassic World, it may be understood that the dinosaurs were simple not big enough so they spliced them together, filled them full of man’s bile, hate, and the potential to usurp an internal moralism through acts of inhumanity.
So too do people make films that echo the shadows on the mammal memory filtered through the generation, of flickering shadows on the cave wall, alongside the painted figures and prey, hunted by neolithic man, and the beast that pursued him in turn. So art was made to embody the fears, fury, and filth that reflect the world and the psyche at its social centre. In time, people would come to make tools, make war, make history and decide what should be seen as real, recreating the fire stolen by Prometheus to burn the great library of Alexandria. To willingly make and destroy is man’s most definite art. People may have always know fear, but the fight or flight instinct has exploded in the cinematic realisation of the atomic information age.
This may also lend credence that the film produces an antagonist that channels the modern concept of late-Capitalism. Far from its market-driven economics were supply meets demand, now it is the demand that is manufactured, to create a society in which the scarcity of resources is secondary to the desire that can be attributed to it, most notably, attention. There is no inert need for the hyperbolic spectacle, whether that be attraction of an island full of dinosaurs or a filmed based around this premiss. This may be understood as a a deliberate con-fusion of the want for entertainment (the creation of the myth of bourgeois myth of leisure following the Industrial Revolution that transformed the allocation and value of time, as compared to pre-existing notions of time spent not labouring – not excluding domestic labour, child care, housework, and so forth) and the want for the sublime (utilised strongly by religious institutions in the employment of large-scale architecture, high-ceilinged buildings and seemingly superhuman artistic accomplishments, now echo in the cultish appraisal of technologist and the worship of branded consumer products).
The resulting environment may be perceived as both inhuman and dehumanising. Thereby condemning humanity to self loathing, to become Post-Human machine-men working as Post-Fordist wage slaves. The expectation being that the individual works until they die. Whether that be from being ground down by the daily depressive struggle to survive the workday until the next, and perform all the necessary labour, social and bodily functions that are required. Or more dramatically, from falling into the raptor pit whilst chasing a stray piglet (a fate inferred by the film).
However, in the latter case, the befallen individual is saved by the human wall of muscle and charisma of the idealised labourer, Owen, performed by Chris Pratt. One whom, like Jack Bower in the television series 24, just wants to do his job, negating the indignant death in a globalised prostitution of the masses into the funhouse-factory of film, manufacturing the need to gaze in wonder to participate in the mass spectacle. Nevertheless, Galloway describes this new productivist structure as one that claws its way into every aspect of life, the daily outline compartmentalised like the factory floor, “in the age of postfordist capitalism it is impossible to differentia cleanly between play and work. It is impossible to differentiate cleanly between non-productive leisure activity existing within the sphere of play and the productive activity existing within the sphere of the workplace” [Galloway, 2012: 135].
Given that “modern media follows the logic of the factory” [Manovich, 2001: 29] so the products of new media may also reflect the paradigms of the current social institutionalism. They should long never to rest, never hunger, never work, just turn like replaceable cogs within labour and social structure. Where the only individuality that is valued is personalisation, the commercialised meta-data of mediated consumption fed back to the user through social media.
Rather than just making signs for people to follow, totalitarianism demand that a centralised power must direct where the roads should go, and what should be at the end of them, in order to consolidate both desire and the means satisfying it. Simply put, manufacture the environment to control the people. The “manufacture of consent” [Chomsky, 1997: 18], as described by Chomsky, entails the production of ever more terrifying enemies by the state in order for it to exert greater controls onto the population, using regulation against overseas threats to national security to enable a more stringent measures to concrete position of authority and prevent the possibility of being usurped. In essence, a foe is made more horrifying to redirect the concerns and attention of the general populous, every time this is done an even more abominable force must be brought to the fore.
Similarly, within the film, ever more dangerous and therefore spectacular creatures have to be crafted to perform to sustain the attention of the pacified audience, likewise with the cinematic dimension. The film-maker dramatic development must follow an exponential curve to constantly remain profitable, using the momentum of seemingly perpetual growth as the basis for a stable business model, which may seem somewhat unsustainable upon reflect. Indeed, it is this motif that the franchise (and the very notion of the ‘Franchise’) clings on to with tooth and nail. The latest CGI must be employed to quell the addiction to the opiates of the people; for the cult of cinema is al-consuming, with actors their Heroes and directors deified. In doing so, they may distort and reform their audience to expect ever increasing entertainment returned on they cinema ticket investment.
Moreover, as Galloway suggests, “under the new Post-Fordist economies, desire and identity are part of the core economic base and thus woven into the value chain more than ever before” [Galloway: 2012: 120]. Thus it is worth examining how individuals are defined “through the converging communication technologies” [Bolter; Grusin, 200: 231] when considering Jurassic World (both in the production and distribution of its content as well as the genetically engineered creature at its heart, filled with the unique malevolent violence of mankind). To a certain extent, the film could be seen a extreme embodiment of Philip Larkin’s words,
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.” [Larkin, 2001]
The identity of society and its products are performed actions and thereby may be questioned before they are performed. Furthermore, regarding the questionable maternal theme imposed onto the main female character, who initially refrains from the paternal imperative towards the human children in her care, with the subsequent dereliction from the imposed expectation to reproduce could thereby potentially be seen to be heeding Larkin’s warning
“Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.” [Larkin, 2001]
This would be so if the way Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire, is presented to have deferred this social imposed need to procreate, into her role in the recombining of genetic information in the creation of the new generation of spectacular terror, par excellence. Oh immortal gods, where in the world are we? To paraphrase John Cooper Clark; evidently Jurassic World.
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