Considering Justice

Justice claims seem to largely fall into two categories: (1) Political, legislative, economic, and social claims in regard to the structure, organization, and operation of public and private institutions. (2) Juridical and legal claims in regard to the criminal justice system. Regarding (1), the U.S. and much of the neoliberal world is structured and operates according to the theory of “distributive justice.” Under the distributive justice paradigm, benefits and burdens, privileges and disadvantages, are distributed throughout society. The distribution of rights, wealth, opportunities, etc. is largely based on an individual’s group identification. Regarding (2), for the vast majority of citizens, the U.S. operates according to a theory of “retributive justice.” The theory of “retributive justice” is opposed to the theory of “restorative justice.” “Restorative justice” is a theory that advocates restoring the communal bonds between the perpetrators and victims of crimes through a process of acknowledging grievances, apologizing, making reparations, and rehabilitation. “Retributive justice,” on the other hand, is based on the biblical ideology of “an eye for an eye.” It simply seeks to punish and exact retribution.

Martin Luther King, Jr. writes, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”  In agreement with King, I am highly suspicious of the “distributive justice” and “retributive justice” paradigms of the neoliberal U.S. nation-state, because these paradigms are based on a hierarchical and dichotomous way of thinking that ideologically atomizes individuals and leads to a logic of oppression. A logic of oppression operates within hierarchies where privileges and disadvantages, benefits and burdens, are disproportionately distributed based on one’s placement within the hierarchy. Within that logic, one’s place in the hierarchy is perceived as legitimate, because according to this ideology one’s place is either what one has chosen or is due to “natural ability”/”natural inability.” Thus, “justice” is interpreted as being the distribution of rights, wealth, opportunities, or lack thereof, in accordance with status hierarchy. Those higher on the hierarchy are thus perceived as being “justly” “entitled” to more privileges and benefits, while it is only “just” that those lower on the hierarchy be distributed more disadvantages and burdens. According to this logic, within the criminal justice system, retribution is demanded from those lower on the hierarchy, while one of the benefits and privileges those higher on the hierarchy receive is leniency. My suspicion (and anger) is directed toward the injustice of such paradigms that masquerade themselves as justice, thereby perpetuating the willful ignorance and denial of the “entitled,” and thus are a threat to justice everywhere.

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Human Modification, Control, and Use of Nonhuman Animals: Human and Nonhuman Animal Relations in Jurassic World

Jurassic World has reached audiences in more than 70 countries and has grossed more than $1.6 billion dollars in revenue worldwide (IMDb). The impact of the movie’s sociological message is potentially significant due to the extent of the movie’s worldwide viewership. This paper is a content analysis of the movie Jurassic World. The paper begins with a brief summary of the movie’s storyline. The paper then analyzes the main theme of the movie, namely the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. Next, the paper analyzes the Mercedes-Benz and Samsung product placements in the movie. It is argued that the product placements and theme of the movie convey a very specific message about the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. It is argued that the message of the movie overall is, even as humans are at the top of the natural hierarchy, in order for humans to effectively modify, control, and use nonhuman animals, humans need to be knowledgeable about nonhuman animals as well as the limits of humans’ abilities to modify, control, and use nonhuman animals. As a sociological analysis, this paper only focuses on a description of the message conveyed in the movie, and therefore, it does not make any claims in regard to the morality of the message.

Jurassic World is a dinosaur theme park located on Isla Nublar. The entire tropical island is a zoo and amusement park where dinosaurs are genetically modified, cloned, and held in captivity in order to be used for educational and entertainment purposes. One of the main protagonists of the movie is Claire, the park’s Operations Manager and aunt of Gray and Zach, brothers who travel to the island in order to visit Claire. Another protagonist is Owen, an ex-Navy service member and lead trainer of a pack of Velociraptors named Blue, Charlie, Echo, and Delta. Much of the movie consists of the various protagonists fleeing from numerous dinosaurs, including the main nonhuman animal antagonist, an escaped Indominus-rex. Interspersed between the flight scenes, the audience finds Owen in conflict with the main human antagonist Hoskins, Head of Security for InGen who wants to weaponize the trained Velociraptors. Owen, who trains the Velociraptors for human educational and entertainment purposes, finds it objectionable that Hoskins wants to train them to be weapons of war. When the Indominus-rex escapes, kills several park employees, and in the process releases other dinosaurs who then proceed to destroy the park and attack and kill park visitors, Hoskins convinces Owen to use the Velociraptors to hunt the Indominus-rex.

The summary highlights the main theme of the movie, namely the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. Claire, Owen, and Hoskins each portray different relationships to the dinosaurs. Claire views the dinosaurs as commodities and “assets.” In a scene in the park’s control room, Claire is speaking with Lowery (control room employee). Claire states she “closed the deal” and introduces the movie audience to the Indominus-rex by saying “Verizon Wireless presents Indominus-rex.” Lowery states, “That is so terrible. Why not just go the distance, Claire, and just let these corporations name the dinosaurs.” When Claire questions Lowery about relocating more quickly a tranquilized Pachyderm, Lowery asks Claire, “why don’t we show a little sympathy? I mean, you do understand these are actual animals, right?” Claire ignores the question. Later, Claire and Masrani (park founder and CEO) are flying over the park in a helicopter when Masrani asks if the dinosaurs are happy. Claire states that they have no way to measure the dinosaurs’ emotional well-being. Masrani responds that you can see it in their eyes.

Claire views the dinosaurs as essentially unknowable “assets” to be controlled for human profit while Owen opposes controlling the dinosaurs as commodities and views the dinosaurs as living beings that can be known and trained. In one scene, Claire asks Owen to check the Indominus-rex’s containment area for vulnerabilities because he is “able to control the Raptors.” Owen responds, “It’s all about control with you. I don’t control the Raptors. It’s a relationship. It’s based on mutual respect.” The discussion becomes diverted. Claire brings it back to the issue of the Indominus-rex, asking “Can we just focus on the asset, please?” Owen responds, “The asset? […] It’s probably easier to pretend these animals are just numbers on a spreadsheet. But they’re not. They’re alive. […] You might have made them in a test tube, but they don’t know that.” Owen states what the dinosaurs know are their natural instincts, implying humans must understand the dinosaurs’ instincts in order to respect the dinosaurs.

The relationship between human and nonhuman animals based on respect as knowledge appears again in a later scene when Claire and Owen are speaking about the Indominus-rex’s genetically modified creation. Claire states the corporation needed to increase the “wow factor” with the creation of a new, more dangerous, dinosaur. Owen responds the corporation made a new dinosaur, “but you don’t even know what it is?” Owen asserts all the Indominus-rex knows is a small enclosed area and “animals raised in isolation are not always the most functional.” Owen concedes that the Velociraptors are born in captivity, but they are siblings who learn social skills and are bonded to him at birth, which creates a relationship of trust. Owen states the “Only positive relationship this animal has is with that crane” as the Indominus-rex is fed a decapitated and skinned dead cow dropped from a crane. Claire’s character portrays the idea that nonhuman animals are merely commodities to be modified, controlled, and used by humans for profit. Owen’s character disagrees with the modification of nonhuman animals when humans do not understand what they are doing. His character asserts nonhuman animals can be trained to be of use to humans for education and entertainment, but humans must be knowledgeable of nonhuman animals’ natural instincts.

Hoskins’s character portrays another type of relationship between human and nonhuman animals. Hoskins states the dinosaurs have instincts that can be harnessed as weapons of war. Owen asks, “What if they decide they wanna be in control?” Hoskins responds, “Well, then we remind them who is.” Owen states to Hoskins, “You come here and you don’t learn anything about these animals except what you want to know. You made them, and now you think you own them.” Hoskins responds, “We do own them. Extinct animals have no rights.” Owen states, “They’re not extinct anymore.” Hoskins responds, “Exactly. We’re sitting on a goldmine. And Masrani is using it to stock a petting zoo.” Owen states, “He just wants to teach people some humility. He doesn’t make weapons.” Like Owen, Hoskins seeks to know and train to the dinosaurs’ instincts, but similar to Claire he seeks to control and use the dinosaurs as a means to human ends through selective modification and without regard to gaining fuller knowledge of the dinosaurs.

Hoskins’s character also portrays the relationship between human and nonhuman animals by equating nonhuman animals with nature. In the same scene, Hoskins states, “Every living thing in this jungle is trying to murder the other. Mother Nature’s way of testing her creations. Refining the pecking order. War is a struggle. Struggle breeds greatness.” In this quote, Hoskins’s character is portraying the idea that nonhuman animals are of nature, nature is inherently violent, and humans must control the violence by being violent in order for humans to remain at the top of the hierarchy. When Hoskins speaks of his bond with a wolf pup he raised, he views himself as able to control the pup and thus as superior to it. Opposed to Hoskins, Owen’s character asserts dinosaurs should not be used in war because they cannot be fully controlled and could unpredictably turn on their handlers. The following scene shows Owen almost being eaten by the Velociraptors he was previously training and feeding after racing into the Velociraptors’ cage in order to save an employee who had fallen in.

All of the characters in the movie portray humans as being at the top of the natural hierarchy, even though nonhuman animals display human-like qualities. The disagreement between the characters is over the proper way humans are to relate to the nonhuman animals below them. In a scene in the Indominus-rex’s confinement area, Owen observes how the dinosaur had marked up a wall in order to make them think the dinosaur had escaped. Claire states, “We are talking about an animal here.” Owen responds, “A highly intelligent animal.” Later, park staff discover the Indominus-rex had clawed out the tracking device that had been surgically inserted into the dinosaur’s body. The dinosaur “remembered” where the device was inserted. Owen states the dinosaur “is learning where she fits into the food chain,” and then says the dinosaur should be killed immediately because the dinosaur is dangerous to humans. Later the Velociraptors are described as “communicating” with the Indominus-rex. The dinosaurs are portrayed as displaying characteristics traditionally associated with humans, namely intelligence, subjective remembrance, and communication. In another scene, Masrani is speaking with Wu, the lead scientist who purposely created the dinosaur with “exaggerated predator traits.” Wu recalls that Masrani wanted a “bigger” and “scarier” dinosaur with “more teeth.” Masrani responds, “I didn’t want a monster.” Wu states, “Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We are just used to being the cat.”

All of these examples imply that no matter what level of intelligence, subjectivity, or communicative ability a nonhuman animal may have, humans are at the top of the hierarchy and are justified in modifying nonhuman animals so as to use nonhuman animals for human ends. However, the movie also contains a cautionary message that humans can be knocked off the top of the hierarchy by their own arrogance and ignorance. Owen’s character repeatedly criticized the other characters for modifying nonhuman animals’ physical traits through genetic modification and their psychological traits through lack of understanding and neglect of their instincts. However, he did so only to the extent that humans were arrogant and ignorant of their ability to control these modifications. In the scene noted above, Owen stated Masrani wanted humans to learn humility. Owen’s character implies that humans cannot effectively control nonhuman animals if humans are arrogant toward and ignorant of nonhuman animals. Owen’s character had knowledge of the Velociraptor’s instincts and modified the Velociraptors’ instincts through training. While his character argued against controlling the dinosaurs, he himself sought to control them in the sense of modifying and using the dinosaurs for human ends.

While his character is portrayed as the nonhuman animal protector, such as in a scene where he comforts a dying Brontosaurus, he still assumes a position of superiority and seeks to control the pack of Velociraptors. Hoskins and Owen use the Velociraptors to hunt and kill the Indominus-rex. When Owen uses the Indominus-rex’s scent for the Velociraptors to track down the nonhuman animal antagonist it is because the Velociraptors’ instincts were trained and modified through a “hide and seek” style game Owen had devised. In a later scene, Owen rides a motorcycle with the pack of Velociraptors, as if he is a part of the pack. When the Velociraptors break away from the humans and begin to follow the Indominus-rex, Owen states the Velociraptors “have a new alpha,” implying he was the alpha previously in control of the pack. Later when Owen is surrounded by the Velociraptors, he calms Blue and removes a device from the dinosaur’s head. Blue then communicates with the Indominus-rex and the Velociraptors defend Owen, Claire, Gray, and Zach from the Indominus-rex. The message is that humans can modify, control, and use nonhuman animals for human ends as long as humans are not arrogant and ignorant of the limits of their abilities to do so.

The movie implies that if humans try to arrogantly and ignorantly modify, control, and use nonhuman animals, then the consequences will be disastrous. At the end of the movie, the Tyrannosaurus-rex and Indominus-rex tear through the park during their climatic fight scene. By the time the Mosasaurus comes out of the water and eats the Indominus-rex, the park is nearly destroyed and an uncountable number of humans have been killed. The Tyrannosaurus-rex walks onto a helipad as the dinosaurs reclaim the park from the fleeing humans. The overall message of the movie is, even as humans are at the top of the natural hierarchy, in order for humans to effectively modify, control, and use nonhuman animals, humans need to be knowledgeable about nonhuman animals as well as the limits of humans’ abilities to modify, control, and use nonhuman animals.

Mercedes-Benz and Samsung product placements enhance this message. Claire drives a silver Mercedes-Benz throughout the movie, rushing from one area of the park to the other along island dirt roads. Many of the park vehicles are Mercedes-Benz 4x4s. The Mercedes-Benz logo is prominently displayed, up-close and center screen, several times in the movie. The Samsung logo is also clearly displayed in an early scene when Claire is talking on her Samsung cell phone to her sister about her nephews while driving. Claire is on her cell phone throughout the movie. She uses her phone to alert the park staff of the Indominus-rex’s escape, to ask her assistant to find her nephews and get them to safety, and to call for a helicopter to rescue her and her nephews as they flee from the Velociraptors in her Mercedes-Benz. All of the television monitors in the park’s genetic modification and cloning lab, education center, control room, and surveillance stations are Samsung. All of these products are displayed as being useful to humans in gaining knowledge about, modifying, and escaping from the dinosaurs. Claire is often seen using these technologies in these regards. These product placements not only support the theme that humans are hierarchically superior to nonhuman animals, but also the message that humans can use these products to learn about, modify, and protect themselves from nonhuman animals, thus giving humans a level of control over nonhuman animals.

In conclusion, this paper has argued that the Mercedes-Benz and Samsung product placements along with the theme of human superiority over nonhuman animals in Jurassic World convey a very specific message about the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. The human protagonists and antagonist all imply that humans are hierarchically superior to nonhuman animals. The hero of the movie exemplifies the message that humans can effectively modify, control, and use nonhuman animals for human ends so long as humans are not arrogant and ignorant in doing so. The heroine of the movie uses technologies displayed in product placements throughout the movie in order to learn, modify, and escape from nonhuman animals. Together the hero and heroine convey the sociological message that, even as humans are at the top of the natural hierarchy, in order for humans to effectively modify, control, and use nonhuman animals, humans need to be knowledgeable about nonhuman animals as well as the limits of humans’ abilities to modify, control, and use nonhuman animals.