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Dinosaur Popularity (was Re: Semper Die(again))



Okay, I do NOT have time to reiterate all my posts on Jurassic Park.  To sum
up: JP & TLW are not Shakespeare, or even Babylon 5, but (on the other hand)
the beat the crap out of movies with lizards in rubber falsies and they are
the only two movies in the last several years to which I have gone to see
twice (full admission) at the theaters.

That being said, I want to clear up a major misconception tossed around:

At 02:25 PM 9/12/97 -0500, Chuck Prime wrote:
>
>Despite the errors in those movies (and the misanthropic motives and
>"ideals" expressed so constantly and adamantly in them and in the books),
>they have provided tremendous publicity for paleontology. They put Bakker
>on TV;

Nope.  Sorry.  Bob Bakker has been on TV longer than some of the readers of
this list have been alive (ooh, I feel old now).

See, way back when, before commercial cable TV and satellite TV, there was
this thing called "broadcast".  And there was this branch of TV called
"public televsion" where all sorts of shows aimed at audience who could sit
for an hour without commercials were broadcast.

Now, among these shows were nature and science documentaries.  Some were
really, really good: NOVA and Nature and Cosmos and The Nature of Things and
several others.  (Rumor has it that some of these still exist... ;-)

And some of these shows were about dinosaurs, and featured paleontologists
and zoologists familiar to many here: Bakker, Ostrom, Horner, Alexander.
Some of these shows were popular enough that the major networks put together
primetime specials on dinosaur science (not "The Making of...", but actual
dinosaur paleontology), featuring the same familiar faces.

These guys (Bakker & Horner in particular) were very famous: they had
best-selling books, did talk shows, the lecture circut, etc.  Even lay
people were familiar with their ideas.  Why, when a certain listserve group
started up (shortly before the release of the movie of Jurassic Park), there
were many people here who could (and did) quote the Dinosaur Heresies
chapter and verse.

In fact, some of these paleontologists were famous enough, and among the few
contemporary scientists whose names were practically household names (okay,
a bit behind Cousteau and Sagan), that major movie directors sought one of
them out to consult on a project he was working on.

{Or, the short form: the paleontologists who worked on Jurassic Park, etc.
were already famous, which is why they were hired.  The movie did not make
them famous.}

Now, it may be that some of the readers on this list were not aware of
Horner or Bakker before Jurassic Park came out.  However, many more were.

Berkeley's dinosaur course for undergrads had a membership in the hundreds
per class by the late 1980s.  Adrian Desmond's _The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs_
was a best-seller back in the mid-1970s, and was only the first modern
best-selling dinosaur book.  Dinosaurs were commonplace features of the Far
Side since the early 1980s, and Calvin & Hobbes since it began.

I would submit that the reason Jurassic Park was popular was that dinosaurs
were popular, rather than the reverse (i.e., that Jurassic Park somehow
increased the popularity of dinosaurs).

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Vertebrate Paleontologist     Webpage: http://www.geol.umd.edu
Dept. of Geology              Email:th81@umail.umd.edu
University of Maryland        Phone:301-405-4084
College Park, MD  20742       Fax:  301-314-9661