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    1990s Dinomania: Public and Popular Cultures of Palaeontology from Jurassic Park to Friends

    Chambers, Amy ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3801-3582 and McCahey, Daniella (2022) 1990s Dinomania: Public and Popular Cultures of Palaeontology from Jurassic Park to Friends. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. ISSN 0308-0188 (In Press)

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    Abstract

    In the 1990s, the English-speaking world was swept up in a deluge of popular cultural content on paleontology. Dinosaurs were featured in programming ranging from B-movie horror to children's cartoon franchises to popular novels. In some ways, this widespread public interest in paleontology was mirroring broader public and scientific conflicts such as the Alverez hypothesis, the “birds are dinosaurs” debate, ownership rights over dinosaur fossils, intelligent design and creationism in schools, and major DNA sequencing projects. But in other ways, this popular culture material existed beyond these specific debates, and speaks to the ways that depictions of paleontology fostered public understanding of science in this period. Perhaps no two depictions of paleontology frame different, and in some ways conflicting, aspects of the field better than two of the biggest popular culture phenomena of the 1990s: Jurassic Park and Friends. Jurassic Park (1993), for which we are approaching the 30th anniversary of its initial release, spawned two sequels within a decade, and three more since then. The heroes of the original movie were two paleontologists, Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). Friends, which aired 1994-2004, was certainly the most successful sitcom of the period and one of the most popular television shows of all time. One of the six main characters, Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), is a paleontologist, who at the beginning of the series works for the American Museum of Natural History and by the show’s conclusion, has received tenure at New York University. The depiction of paleontology in these two programs could not be more different. Drs. Grant and Sattler are competent action heroes, whose expertise regarding dinosaur morphology and behavior are central to both their survival and their identity. Notably, the filmmakers for Jurassic Park centered the science of paleontology in its story, working close with paleontologist Jack Horner. They were also helped by the fact that their source material, Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel of the same name, closely engages with scientific ideas and ethics. For Ross Geller on the other hand, his career as a paleontologist is only on the outskirts of the TV series. Viewers occasionally saw Ross in professional settings (the classroom, the museum, a conference, a fellowship interview), but are not provided with enough information to even determine what sort of research he even does. The focus is always on his personal life; his interest in dinosaurs is just one aspect of his personality, one that does not even get mentioned in many episodes. It thus offers an unusual representation of scientists and science as fully integrated into society and the lived experiences of non-scientists. The paleoscience occurs off-screen as a facet of the character rather than their defining characteristic. In this article, the authors will situate Friends and Jurassic Park within the dinosaur-mania of the 1990s, while analyzing the different versions of paleontological study that they projected to the public. It will draw connections between how paleontology was depicted on-screen to the major real-life debates and discoveries in the field at the same time.

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