Land of Confusion

Like life, movies hinge on fiction. Industries operate on the bases of myth. Products and personae are crafted to achieve success through the acquiescence of narrative schemes. When I learned this, I began to think more critically about everyday storytellers, vendors, retail markets who aspire to monetize narrative methodologies; that every telling is prejudiced by a desire to tell. Which made me appreciate the value of narratology that yields revelations; notably, the distinction between belonging and connection, a lesson imparted by my therapist.

Belonging carries a desire to recognize that our acceptance is independent from our activity or the sanctions of others. In comparison, connection entails behavioural efforts and an element of reciprocity which one can appreciate immediately or in hindsight. I realize that my tendency to think of the future underwrites my pessimism and most of my anxiety. I strive to belong to peoples and places because I fear my own—and since nothing lasts forever, maybe inevitable—displacement and disposal. Many revere my ‘strength’ to which my productivity, output, and immutability are allegedly testaments. I admit that I’m a fighter, but it never occurs to anyone that the reason I fight so hard is to convey that I’m worth fighting for.

The ostensible message of the belonging-connecting distinction is that it’s fruitful to adapt and conform accordingly whereas striving for belonging is futile due to the inconstancy of the species. Humans breed fatuity amidst societal disparity and turmoil. What hurts most in life isn’t the resignation that accentuates the grim catharses which play out on- and offscreen—it’s facing the bad faith inherent to our existence. This is often convoluted in “Don’t play God” motifs. Stories in this vein duly note our tendency to deny agency to what—or who—we create, which parallels the systemic dehumanization of marginalized peoples in real time and dependents who are infantilized or objectified as chattel. Fiction explores this motif ontologically, proffering the inhuman to be existential. Demarcations, however subjective, may posit animal or inorganic beings are not owed the same moral standing as humans; but their sentience intuits that they have moral standing nonetheless that goes unrecognized.

Which is what I took away from Jurassic Park (1993). Admittedly, I never watched the film or anything else from the series although popular culture has immortalized the franchise. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is an idealistic magnate whose facilities cloned dinosaurs and sought to purpose them as amusement park attractions. Despite what one would think are glaringly obvious problems with this concept—seriously, dinosaurs?—Hammond is only inclined to revisit his idea after a lawsuit is filed against him by the relatives of an employee who was mauled, then killed by a velociraptor. To appease investors who’ve since reconsidered the viability of the project, he solicits expert approval from a pair of paleontologists—Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern)—and mathematician, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) who are toured through alongside his grandchildren, Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello). Some scruples and existential tangents later, things unsurprisingly go left when the dinosaurs break free then proceed to terrorize, if not maim or devour whoever they can reach. Hammond employs scientists to clone Jurassic genomes extracted from mosquitoes preserved in amber, feminizing each subject so as to prevent reproduction and ensure thereby population control. To accommodate what gaps there are in the genetic material, the dinosaurs’ DNA are spliced with amphibians—which proves to be a crucial oversight once Dr. Grant finds a nest of eggs and notes how amphibians may change their sex for reproductive purposes.

When I sat down to watch Jurassic Park (and the rest of the Jurassic movies) earlier this week, I found a lot of parallels between the dinosaurs and Frankenstein. It all boils down to what ruination lurks in hubris: humans grossly overestimate their capacities, deluding themselves to believe they can subjugate progeny of any and all kinds. Perhaps, the most glaring example are the velociraptors who strikingly exhibit intelligence and determination. They retain memory, survey their enclosure for weaknesses despite the initially electrifying security measures, and tactfully collude in packs—the latter of which proves to be the warden Robert Muldoon’s (Bob Peck) downfall when one distracts him while another fatally closes in, subsequently elicits one of the most memorable lines in film history: “Clever girl.”

While Hammond and other venture capitalists speak to the potential for prestige and profit, the doctor[ate]s articulate concerns central to the problems. 

First, there’s the lack of failsafes. The dinosaurs run amok because their containment operates using a singular security measure whose foremost engineer—Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight)—is at odds with Hammond, the latter refusing to afford some relief towards personal financial difficulties despite his wealth. When Nedry broaches the subject, Hammond retorts with sanctimonious platitudes in a very “God helps those who help themselves” kind of way—even as he himself solicits others, experts, to help his cause. Consequently, Nedry arranges to sell assets to a rival company and powers everything down while doing so, resulting in the dinosaurs escaping their enclosures. Moreover, dinosaurs are beyond the scope of any defense ministry. There are no service personnel you can call in the event of Jurassic pandemonium. Who are you gonna call if the dinosaurs revolt? Police? Firefighters? Intelligence agencies? Ghostbusters?

Then, there are the research ethics—or lack thereof. Researchers should be as mindful of their work’s outcomes as much as their deliverables. Science has and continues to be utilized against marginalized peoples and nature by those who pursue ideological, political, or military objectives. BIPOC still navigate aspects of historical hegemonic campaigns such as eugenics. While none of the experts in Jurassic Park mention this specifically, they duly reproach Hammond for his unrelenting naïveté. For him, the prospect of novelty and patronage overshadow risks of human error and the savagery—and unpredictability—of wildlife. We can also appreciate the indigence from a socioeconomic perspective as Hammond’s idealism becomes almost Faustian since he is so obsessive. Even if there were no provisional risks, there is a failure to account for longstanding discourses which misidentify BIPOC as physiologically coded to be predators: a rhetoric popularized to substantiate their arbitrary abuse, exclusion, and dehumanization marauded to ‘hold them accountable,’ if not cast them as ‘beholden’ to their oppressors. It’s surreal when you think about it, how amenable positionalities like—or in proximity to—Hammond’s are keener to afford dinosaurs and likewise the benefit of the doubt in theory whilst denigrating BIPOC by weaponizing dangerous, if not fatal stereotypes against them in reality.

Dr. Malcolm speaks to these contentions in many ways, but most aptly when he says: “You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it.” This sentiment asserts that vanity hobbles growth. Despite how vehemently Hammond professes the scientific and remarkable value of dinosaurs, his adamance betrays that he indulges in the Jurassic less for results and more for access; just some vague, impassioned vision of opening doors irrespective of what lies behind them. Consequences may arise, but no one sets about crossing thresholds for outcomes. In contrast, the temerity to innovate or challenge injustice lands you nowhere as does vying for meaningful change. This takes on new meaning for those cast as transgressors against whom grudges are kept and enacted. Hammond embodies toxic, dysfunctional leadership that runs rampant. The failure of every initiative comes down to faulty oversight and poor, if not absent guidance. Tokenism exemplifies this as marginalized peoples devolve into personal tenures who fight over influence, resources, and sabotage principles. Hammond admonishes critique as cowardice or intolerance, but the real travesty afflicts those upon whom his wealth is contingent; the good, everyday people burnt by disparities and spat out of every space wherein they dare broach comfort. People like Hammond create, sustain, then ignore problems assume positions of oversight in perpetuity. This clearly isn’t the case for people like the fraught doctor[ate]s and employees: overworked, underpaid, even infantilized as they’re guilted into shirking their own needs to attain some noble goal despite no clear objectives or plans from affluents or superiors.

For me, the sight of the doctor[ate]s, Hammond, and his lawyer seated evoke the metaphor of having a seat at the table. Having been invoked by miscellaneous patriciates [some of whom many applaud and live through vicariously], I think it’s become futile. More futility is held in the emphasis of organizing the poor and working class who uphold high society despite having the most to gain from revolution.

I don’t know if this is a jaded insight, but I’m sure it’s at least a materialist one. Those who aren’t oppressed by the system—or are unaware of their oppression, or willing to overlook such to delude themselves—are unlikely to participate in its downfall. I often hold this in since it’s hopeless, hurtful, and I don’t want to be a downer, but it’s still true; and I still find it irresponsible that people—often, people with less, if nothing to lose—encourage us to simply ‘hope’ nonetheless. Find a tribe, they’ll say, Build your community.

Never lose hope.

The impetus to build community is overridden by the nonentity of conflict resolution. While intrapersonal conflict entails an active sustained effort to unlearn internalized hegemony, interpersonal conflict is compounded because marginalized peoples are—and remain—structurally disempowered which means they have more at stake. Despite our shared stratification, we are socialized to compete through cis-heteronormative nuclear models and capitalist regimes which cast difference itself to be adversarial. Spite underscores what social cues and hierarchies are encoded through an indirect verbiage and physicality. Moreover: spite is a comprehensive and rational trauma response to the convoluted, critical, alienating, thankless social interactions we endure. It’s almost cyclic in how a vast lack of love justifies a likewise barrage of hate wherein conflict is made palpable only in terms of avoidance or escalation, not management or resolution. This comes from idealistic albeit hegemonic tropes of love and safety, so uncritical reverence and deference comprise the ways in which people associate refuge. But these associations are unhealthy. Love and safety are not ‘givens’ contingent on performative or capitulatory variables. They come from your intuition and a higher wisdom which necessitates presence and consciousness regardless of who you’re with. This becomes driven home harder since I become increasingly solitary as I find myself exploited and alienated by networks of marginalized positionalities avowing a guise of community. My value is transitory. People are not. Welfare is a personal responsibility that comes from our vaster being.

True refuge does not call for ignorance—feigned or otherwise—or dimming yourself down to oblige a swarthy luminance. Too often, people misguide our ambition and valid suspicion, then trivialize our misgivings when we call them out. Rather than validate the sanctity of our distinctions, they instead incline us to downplay ourselves in some effort to empathize or sympathize with auxiliaries. It’s no coincidence that these people tend to envision safety as not being accountable. Never does it occur to them that progress comes down to being present where we apart from reasons to escape, as opposed to embodying an entirely new reality or living vicariously through the token acquisition of privilege.

Complacency favours an industrious denial of historical and ongoing harm, a denial that’s ironically enabled by optimism. Those like Hammond, who exert immense and rampant privilege, personify how opulence distorts even the barest virtue such as optimism or positivity—because not unlike the power they wield, everything they employ functions to thwart effective, crucial action conducive to their vanity projects. Moreover, this distortion is insidious in that it compels one to ‘look on the bright side’ which occludes even the clearest albeit darkest realities, dissuading the recognition or repatriation of harm because ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘will work out for the best.’ At large, people are urged to be positive to oblige imposed narratives of overcoming: good meets, then beats evil; the righteous and the joyful will prevail. Performativity obliges us to act happy, kindred, and occupied. Doing otherwise is deemed as ill-affect. As much I savoured the visuality and aural flair of dinosaurs onscreen, I didn’t feel much tension in their depiction as much as the grounds for their resurrection; just bearing in mind that Hammond—and to a lesser extent, the likewise not-so-BIPOC doctor[ate]s and grandchildren he consults—are keener to venerate dinosaurs whom are actually biologically coded to be predators with nary any commitment to absolve marginalized peoples (and even presently endangered species) whom are systemically and wrongly coded deleteriously.

Afforded by a vast budget and a confident motley helmed by Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park marked the apotheosis of prehistory and dinosaurs onscreen through an extraordinary visuality in audiovisual virtuosity and immaculate marketing epitomized by prosperous merchandise. What makes it memorable for me though is that story wise, there has never been a clearer demonstration of analytical and corporate ineptitude.

The very same society that has—and continues to—degrade and demand things from marginalized positionalities like mine; the same that dehumanizes us and thereby imposes expectations upon us that we could never fulfill. It crushes us, inclines us to feel defective or worthless until we’re drawn to fight as if to earn our humanity or merit, but we never do. We can’t. The game is rigged. The odds can’t be beaten because they’re insurmountable. I can’t tell you how many I know still hoping, fighting, suffering; some young, some old, others fierce or resigned. In any case, none of us are free to be who we want. We’re just characters to those more privileged than us. From the sublime sticklers like Hammond to the quixotic counsel who misguide us—they don’t see our livelihoods as valid, if at all worth protecting. Because, who cares if we’re decimated by dinosaurs? Or, if we can’t get jobs or afford to live despite how avidly we’re told that ‘people like us’ are ‘needed’?

I understand how unhealthy or unhelpful it is to be consumed by the future, but I have never lived otherwise. I don’t hope. It feels dangerous. Despair is waiting without knowing what’s to come. The only way I can cope is to err on the not-so-bright side, trying to fast-track and create failsafes. Looking ahead is how I overcome adversity, including anxiety: knowing that it’s only temporary, that things will pass, that I’m bound for bigger or better things equipped with grit and qualification. Except this conviction has wavered in recent years. No matter how much I read or write, I will never be able to find the words to aptly convey the anguish that afflicts me more often than not these days. To be lauded for my perceived prestige and perseverance who’s clawed and scraped this far to become a doctorate candidate, assured that success was inevitable; as if things, life, gets easier just by sticking them out. Everything—the malaise yielded from my syndrome; the beloveds I’ve lost to death and dependencies who championed, sacrificed for my dream of professorship; the maudlin junctures I came to fear and avoid lest they break my stride—believe me when I say that I’m devastated to graduate; because contrary to the idylls sold by the privileged positionalities whose comforts expose them to be less trustful or genuine than capricious, it is now gallingly clear that nothing awaits me after graduation except abandonment by the very peoples and institutions who I need most. Which is why I can’t just ‘connect’ or live in the present. Presence is incorrigible when you are haunted by a fated absence. There are no words that can begin to express what that loss means to me.