WHEN: 5:45pm EST, May 23rd, 2013
WHERE: In my apartment in Portland, ME
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 47″ LCD HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Tired. First time viewing on Blu-Ray since seeing JP3D. Much less impressive.
I doubt that many people would rate Jurassic Park as an offensive, or insensitive film. After all, Grant doesn’t call Sattler a bitch, hop onto a Velociraptor and ride off into the sunset to commit a hate crime. But what about subtler biases? I have never felt that Jurassic Park was an intolerant film, but when conducting Fake Movie Science, our impressions are not enough. Films must be put to the test. In an effort to gauge Jurassic Park‘s potential biases, I took a look at three standards that give insight into how films deal with race, gender, and sexual orientation: The “Black Dude Dies First” trope, the Bechdel Test, and Mr. Plinkett’s “Case of the Notgays.”
BLACK DUDE DIES FIRST:
As assuredly as the Starfleet crewman in the red shirt will not return from the away mission, the least white character in a Hollywood action film is also most likely to be the least alive the soonest. Okay, that last sentence was a mess, but you know the trope: The black guy always dies first. So, does Jurassic Park buck this unfortunate trend?
Meet Jophery the gatekeeper:
In about twenty seconds from his first appearance, a mere three minutes into the film, Jophery will be snatched up by a Velociraptor and eaten. We don’t know who he is, and we never will. I wouldn’t even know his name if I hadn’t watched the film with subtitles on last week. He is an anonymous Jurassic Park worker, sacrificed so that we can have some killing in the first scene of the movie.
What bothers me is, undoubtedly aware that the trope existed, couldn’t Spielberg have sent someone else to an early grave?
This guy, maybe?
I mean, it’s not as though he’s a respected filmmaker or anything, but this Spielberg character seems like a guy who knows his movies. Couldn’t he have seen this coming and sidestepped it?
Anyway, it’s pretty cut and dry; Jurassic Park has failed test number one. It may be worth noting that Michael Moore called the film out for this just a year after its release in his famed documentary Canadian Bacon.
1. It has to have at least two named women in it.
2. They have to talk to each other.
3. Their conversation must be about something besides a man.
Jurassic Park just barely squeezes by the first criteria, Lex and Dr. Sattler being the only named women in the film. If you blinked, you might miss their one conversation, as they rush into the control room near the end of the film.
Lex: We can call for help?
Sattler: We’ve got to reboot the system first.
So, yes, the film does, by the skin of its teeth, pass the Bechdel Test. We can’t be too proud of this, though; it was only one line away from failing.
Looking at it from another perspective, since all the dinosaurs are female, any time two of them talk about something, the movie would pass. Unless they were talking about a man.
Would not count.
WHO’S GOT A CASE OF THE NOTGAYS:
Mr. Plinkett (perhaps best known for his feature length review of Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace) is a fictional curmudgeon created by Red Letter Media‘s Mike Stoklasa. In his review of 2009’s Star Trek, Mr. Plinkett noted the great lengths to which the movie went to assure audiences that its main characters were straight. To describe this phenomenon, he coined the phrase “A Case of the Notgays.” To steal one of Mr. Pinkett’s examples, Scotty’s sexual orientation has absolutely no relevance to the plot of the film, but the script goes out of its way to have him make a joke about breasts, and how he likes them. (“I’d like to get my hands on her ample nacelles, if you’ll pardon the engineering parlance.”) Thus, Scotty could be said to have a case of the notgays.
So, are there any characters in Jurassic Park that the screenwriters might have felt needed a little bit of heterosexual clarification?
Funny you should ask…
Who is this mathematician, dressed in black, chuckling uncontrollably, and exposing one of his nipples all over the place? In the book, he spends all his time talking about the way complex systems behave in a phase space. How can manly moviegoers be sure he doesn’t want to phase his way into their space? Hell, in The Lost World he’s even described as “a confirmed old bachelor” which might confirm our deepest, gayest fears.
Better give him a big case of the notgays and have him constantly hover over Sattler like a horny sex-vulture. Throw in a mention of several ex-wives and the audience can now listen to watered down chaos theory without fear that they’re secretly being force-fed The Gay Agenda.
But what about Grant? Can a homophobic audience feel safe leaving Timmy in the hands of a middle-aged man who spends his life scouring the world for bones?
In the book it’s mentioned that he has an ex-wife, but that’s not going to cut it here. Better make his heterosexuality visual, by giving him a relationship with Sattler (engaged to another man in the book).
Uh, oh. We first meet Nedry having dinner with another man! What if the audience thinks that he wants to plop some Barbasol onto Dodgson’s pie?
Something kinky’s brewing…
Thankfully, it’s nothing a little workplace decoration can’t fix:
Oh, thank god, boobs.
Sometimes all it takes is a little pin-up art to prove that someone’s got a case of the notgays.
But Gennaro… oh, wait, we’re not supposed to like Gennaro. It’s okay if he’s gay.
Alright. That’s enough.
The point is, it doesn’t matter to the story what Grant’s or Malcolm’s or Nedry’s sexual orientation is. It’s why it never really came up in the book. Yet, the film goes out of its way to assure us that all three are heterosexual. While the film could be worse (Arnold and Muldoon are notably not infected with the notgays), it’s enough to give pause.
I think that Mr. Stoklasa’s Plinkett has really hit on something significant here. By looking for cases of the notgays in our favorite media, we can see a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) bias that still creeps into our everyday lives. As enlightened as we would like to think ourselves as a society, studios still don’t think we’re ready to embrace a film in which the main characters might be gay.
While Jurassic Park cannot be held up as a pinnacle of unbiased film-making, it is by no means a racist, sexist, or homophobic film. Jophery might be the first to die, but Arnold is probably the most responsible man in the park. There aren’t an abundance of strong female characters, but Sattler is the top scientist in her field, and is integral to saving the day. And while the film makes some modification of its characters to assure us of their heterosexuality, it doesn’t stretch as far to do so as J.J. Abram’s Star Trek, made 15 years later. Jurassic Park is a product of its time, and our enjoyment of it shouldn’t be marred by this. But we should be aware of its shortcomings, so that we and the media we enjoy can move towards a less biased future.