A few days ago, I saw the latest trailer for Jurassic World. There is a much maligned plot point involving Chris Pratt's character teaming up with a gang of velociraptors to take down the diabolical genetically modified apex predator on the loose. Some commentators have cried foul over the ridiculousness of the plot, and lament that it smacks of Michael Crichton's signature anti-scientific paranoia. Yet there is much more going on in this trailer: for one Indominus Rex isn't just the psychopathic bad guy (killing for sport), it's also instigating a dinosaur revolution! Consider the scene in which the bewildered heroes remark that "something's wrong. It's communicating." A later cut shows I-Rex roaring at pterosaurs, followed by said pterosaurs snapping up hapless victims in an air raid on the park. Now check out the military-grade park security forces, going in guns-blazing. Tell me this does not look like an all-out human-dinosaur war.
Okay, now let's imagine that the park is actually a settler-colony, the humans are the colonists, and the dinosaurs are the natives. In classic Orientalist fashion, using the power of science, the humans have literally revitalized the once-dead dinosaurs and turned this resurrection into a profitable enterprise for themselves. The dinosaurs get the pleasure of living in a highly managed environment, but since they're dinosaurs, they are animals that do not have a "perspective" or narrative in the human sense, nor do they have any needs beyond the biological basics. As soon as the humans get cocky and give one of their new genetically experimental dinosaurs the power of intelligence, it immediately becomes a terrorist insurrectionist psychopath hell-bent on releasing all the dinosaurs in the park and declaring war on the very same humans that created them.
Enter Chris Pratt, a modern-day "mighty whitey" old-fashioned everyman. He has the power to "go native," which allows him to create a coalition of the classical, pre-intelligence dinosaurs that everyone once feared in the original films so that he can take down Toussaint L'Overture-Rex, but also irks the corporate suits for his unscientifically hands-on methods.
It should come as no surprise that Jurassic World is produced by US-based Amblin Entertainment and Legendary Pictures, considering its imperialist narrative. While I realize that these this one example is by no means exhaustive, it's clear that executives expect this narrative to sell handsomely. Jurassic World's estimated $190 million budget places it fairly high on the chart when compared to 2014 movie budgets. This example illustrates how imperialist narratives in modern cultural products are still expected to make bank. Moreover, I think these trends corroborate other indications that the United States continues to fancy itself as the world's most powerful empire and will likely not stop until the whole thing comes crashing down. As I've hinted at in another piece, I think this will come about not because of US enemies, but of its convoluted and difficult strategic alliances.
Rather than condemn these kinds of narratives, I'm interested in finding out how we can draw connections between the revolutionary movements of the 21st century (and crackdowns in response to those movements) to movies today that work with the concepts of revolution, rebellion, and terrorism. It seems to me that many recent action blockbusters that, on the surface, engage with the trope of "the creation going awry" are in many ways also soaking up the general consciousness of an imperialist nation watching as the colonies it created make a violent break with its values. While many might be quick to see this as an allegory of children straying from their parents, this metaphor is by no means incompatible with the idea that this is simultaneously an engagement with post-colonial rebellion. Examples abound of colonizers speaking of themselves as fathers, and the colonized as voiceless and potentially destructive children in need of a paternalist guardian.
Yet the colonized are not children, and they have always had things to say about their situation. From their perspective, revolution and rebellion have always been about political and economic resistance. Their causes are about dignity, self-determination, justice for the exploitation of their people, and oftentimes, the creation of a native nation-state. Not once have I heard of an anti-colonial movement that was built on the principles of nihilism. So what does this say about culture and imperialism in the United States when so many representations of the formerly colonized are ultimately driven by some mandate for apocalypse?
I don't see this as deliberate mischaracterization or narrative laziness on the part of writers. I actually believe that writers generally do not realize what kinds of imperialist themes they end up weaving into their stories. They see what feels right, what works for narrative structure, what their presumed audience will allow themselves to believe. Considering that we are steeped in a culture that is built on the spoils of colonial plunder, depends on a neocolonialist perspective of managing and policing the rest of the world, and is guarded jealously by a well-armed and paranoid military establishment, the stories that US writers intuit as good stories will, without conscious intervention, always be warped by the gravitational field of this country's domineering relationship with the global community. To me, the underlying nihilism for all these villains ultimately reveals the breaking point of cultural representation in an imperialist frame of mind. In that mindset, those who oppose imperialism cannot be represented as anything but antithetical to civilization, order, and justice. They will always boil down to being a frightening "other race" that, speaking in terms of the cultural logic of imperialism, cannot have the desire for self-determination or justice in any way that does not devolve into cynical violence.
What about narratives outside of the imperialist bubble? Unfortunately, I am simply not familiar enough with "international" cinema or games to feel comfortable speculating about them. What I can say is that, in US cinema, even those narratives that explicitly side with the revolutionaries against the status quo have severe problems with whitewashing their protagonists or positioning a white savior as the only hope for the native opposition. The architecture of culture and imperialism in the United States runs very deep. I see no signs of it letting up anytime soon.