Like apparently over half the world's population, we saw Jurrasic World last weekend. Fun film, and we always love the Chris Pratt at our house.
But as with last year's Lego Movie, I could not help noticing that the film underlines how much of popular culture is actually NOT aligned with the values and ideals of reformsters.
Data Driven Control
We know that our female lead is in need of rehabilitation because she is devoted to data. She calls the animals "assets" and cannot bring herself to see them as living, breathing beings. When asked by the owner if the park's visitors and the park's animals are happy, she replied with a customer satisfaction index for the visitors and, flustered, notes that they don't have an instrument for measuring the contentedness of the dinosaurs. The owner says one has to look the creatures in the eyes-- she doesn't understand what he's talking about.
Her unfit nature is further underlined by her inability to relate to her nephews. The character's moral journey involves learning to empathize, to relate, to connect to the children and the animals through something other than data and monitors and spreadsheets.
Beyond that character's journey, we have the usual moral of everything ever written by or based on works of Michael Chrichton-- that human beings invariably put way too much faith in their tools and control (seriously-- it's in everything he's ever written). The data control dream is that if we know everything, we can control everything, and if we control everything, we can make everything turn out exactly the way we want to. The film underlines the inherent falsehood in every clause of that sentence: we can't know enough, knowledge does not bring control, and the chaos inherent in any complex system guarantees unexpected and unplanned for outcomes.
Our unfit, morally adrift park manager is just like a data-driven school reformster, certain that spreadsheets and data are sufficient to turn a school into a factory that creates perfect products (aka students). And the pop culture sees that character as one who must be reformed.
The closest thing to a villain in the piece is Vincent D'Onofrio's military stooge, the guy who wants to use the barely-trained raptors as a military weapon. But the filmmakers don't position him as an actual official soldier. That would be perhaps unclear to the audience, so they leave him in civilian dress, and rather than talking about power, the writers give him a speech about competition.
The speech strikes all the notes we know-- competition will bring excellence, it pushes folks to greatness, it kills off and weeds out the weak and unfit. And the audience knows he is absolutely a bad guy (also, that he will be eaten by a dinosaur before we're done).
The idea that competition is to be worshiped as a means of Making Things Better, even if people must be sacrificed along the way. We understand that this is glorifying a system over individual creatures, and the character's death is not just a sort of narrative revenge on a bad guy, but an earned irony-- the character is so blind to the human cost of such a competitive that it never really occurs to him that he might be part of that cost.
Competition fans always like the view from a thousand feet up. It's when competition gets up close and personal that it becomes ugly.
Pop Culture Love
It's not like this movie is the only one to include these ideas, but it certainly is going to be one of the biggest ones in a while. And there on the billion dollar, the pop culture underscoring accents what everybody already knows-- deifying data and competition over basic humanity is bad. Not just bad, but the mark of a bad person who needs to be either redeemed or eaten.
Many people really are on the side of public education. They're just slow to realize that charter-choice data and competition fans are selling the same baloney that the movies reject.