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An Innovative Perspective on Extinction

Updated on April 29, 2010

Spielberg's Jurassic Park has provided us with a powerful symbolic reference point of mythological proportions. Beyond the breathtaking special effects, the dazzling camera work, and the edge - of - your - seat suspense, Steven Spielberg who was America's premier master of cinematic magic had conjured up a spell that steps boldly off the screen and into our collective faces. He had generated magic of a different sort with all his dinosaurs.
With almost every frame of footage, with each image of monster and man - made thing, the filmmaker had brought us a close encounter with a message for our times, spoken from a voice far older than the 60 million years separating humans from dinosaurs.

The very fact that millions of people have seen this cinematic spectacular serves as another symbolic reference point. What's all this about dinosaurs? Our culture has been steadily developing a consuming passion for dinosaur - related imagery and entertainment for years, and the trend is increasing.
We've got this passion for dinosaurs. Well before Spielberg's film, pre - schoolers have been generating megabuck sales of Barney merchandise ever since that gentle purple prehistoric dragon began singing songs of friendship and affirmation on the PBS network.
Why are we so obsessed with these creatures that died over 60 million years ago? Maybe we're trying to tell ourselves something, to remind ourselves, with an ancient voice, that we may be in Big Trouble in terms of our longevity. And maybe we have a lesson to be learned here, a call from across the vast canyon of time, from what appears to be among the most successful life forms ever to have existed on the planet. The most radical of recent findings suggests that a hominid - like critter, the elusive Missing Link, may have been here around two million years ago. Dinosuars roamed the Earth for millions of centuries longer than that. We are, at best guess, infants compared to the Great Lizards.
It is an indisputable scientific fact that we're flirting with the extinction of our species. Perhaps all these dinosuars are a way to remind ourselves that we have a very real possibility of disappearing from the scene.
In the 1950s, dozens of bug - eyed giant monster movies were churned out, often predicated on a variation about some scientific experiment gone awry. For instance, in Them!, radioactivity somehow mutated tiny ants into car stomping, people chomping menaces. Jurassic Park, as a cautionary tale, modernizes that same premise with a chilling measure of scientific understanding unknown in the 1950s... specifically genetic manipulation, getting right down into the molecular structure of life and...and what?
Since the 1400s, we have spewed untold poisons into the air and into our water system. We're talking in the billions, possibly trillions, of tons of toxic substances never meant to be in the Natural World. The ocean, and the living critters populating it have absolutely no defense against the tons of acid that recently leaked from a broken vessel, just as the humans of Mexico City have no defenses against the deadly cloud of particulants that hovers over the city like a predatory bird. Humans Beings, as in thousands of residents of Bhopal, India, have no way to assimilate a bath in methyl isocyanate. We just burn and bleed and choke and die.
How does our DNA deal with the zillions of radioactive waves released into our atmosphere over the past fifty years? Or with the widespread ingestion of DDT? Not to mention countless other toxic chemical combinations.
Through science, business, agriculture, and weapons production, Humanity has been mucking around on a bio - molecular level: for that matter on a sub - atomic level as well for a good many years. Do we have any clue as to what the hell we're really doing and what the consequences really are?
For instance, a relatively new theory gaining currency among fossil finders is that the majority of dinosaurs did not die out in a long slow drama, but suddenly after a large celestial object smashed into the earth, dramatically upsetting the entire ecosystem. After 165 million years of ascendancy, they died in one great shaking of the ground and darkening of the sun. Those who choose to think that humanity's ingenuity can solve all problems ought to try that one on for size.
True, there's nothing we can do if a comet decides to plow into Idaho or Alabama. But we don't need a big chunk of rock to hit us, we've been stirring up quite a broth of disasters of our own, some of them on a planetary level. Urban generated ashfall has been recorded in annual layers of ice in the most remote arctic wastelands. We put that ash there, with our cars and our coal - fired electricity and our consumer habits. Humans have been fouling the ports of the earth for a long time. We've let many monsters loose. In Jurassic Park, our worst carnivorous nightmares are realized, with jaws far more powerful than the Great White Shark's. Even as Spielberg seems to indicate that a rescue might be possible, the message is as plain as the flashing claws and jagged teeth of a Velociraptor, and just as serious. If we choose to keep juggling the building blocks of Nature, we will surely be devoured by the monsters we've created.


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