What Will The History Books Say?

If you’d turn to page 342 we will briefly examine that calamitous time in history at the start of the 21st century. It was a time of economic instability, ecological collapse, war and the end of the Great British Bake Off. It was a difficult time and it’s a minor miracle that we made it into 2116 at all. Nevertheless, what I want to focus on is the period known as the Rise and Fall of the Middle Classes.

So, who were the middle classes? Well, after the Second World War of 1939 – 1945 the largely flooded landmass formerly known as the United States of America realised that the machines they’d use to mass produce weapons and vehicles for fighting in battles could also be used to mass produce household items and other more peaceful commodities. Twin this with the continual ascent of money and we have what was called consumer capitalism: people got paid to make stuff and then the same people paid to buy stuff. All sorts of stuff: fast food, cars, trips to the Amazon, inflatable sex dolls, the works. But the religion of money was never a fair one and some people started off with lots and lots and others started with none. Usually things stayed like that and those who had got given more whilst those who did not have, lost. But in between the rich and the poor a new group emerged, the middle classes. These were the sorts of people who got paid a bit more for the work they did so they could buy more stuff but they didn’t get paid so much more that they could take on the role of the idle rich.

Now, the middle classes were fed a very important lie and it is because they believed this lie that Western Civilisation ultimately fell apart. They were told that if they worked very hard and got lots of money they would achieve stability, status and happiness. Thus, as they were distracted in the pursuit of money and the consumption of things so they forgot that what really tied people together was being nice to one another and trying to do good. Meanwhile, the superrich carried on waving the carrot of success at the middle classes and hitting the poor with the stick of failure, whilst rigging the system to ensure nothing was fairly distributed. But the middle classes were not content with believing just one lie they also chose to believe in another: the lie of progress. Namely, that by sending their kids to school and getting university degrees and buying houses the world would become a nicer place. It didn’t occur to them that the cost of their land of milk and honey was poverty and struggle for so many others. They were far too nice to think on such horrible things.

Unfortunately, to make matters worse the duped middle classes committed another vital mistake: they made a culture. Within this culture there were an awful lot of films about aristocrats and Queens and hardly any on miners’ strikes and civil rights. There were many television shows about buying houses and fashion but also lots about ugly and stupid poor people. There were many articles in newspapers that ridiculed, mocked and tokenised the poor, and transformed any one who spoke on their behalf into some sort of monstrous, loony party pooper. This culture used fancy words learned during fancy degrees at fancy institutions that took themselves a little too seriously. Middle class culture became a kind of club that many were excluded from. Now, I know, it was hard for the middle classes, they just wanted to get by, they just wanted a house, they just wanted security for their kids but in the end wanting a nice life for themselves made fuck all difference.

The catalyst that toppled this world of milk and honey (built on an empire of blood and suffering) happened in a very little country, what we know as England but back then was called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In that country there was an important vote to be held about whether England would stay in the European Union…sorry…yes, um, to be honest I’m not entirely sure what the European Union was but it had something to do with keeping bananas straight and trains filled entirely with gravy. Anyway, all those nice middle class people, full on milk and honey, were very surprised when the poor people, who didn’t have any milk and honey, voted to leave. They were also surprised when all those very rich people they had aspired to be like also voted to leave. They couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t believe that the poor people hated them and the rich people didn’t care about them. And so those nice middle classes got squeezed and whilst they tried to keep their nice lives together it seemed the pillars of what made their nice lives possible kept tumbling down. Soon the poor of the former United States of America revolted but accidentally voted for a superrich person who cared about them even less than the middle classes. Then the French did the same. And it was like a row of dominoes tumbling down. With everything the middle classes held dear vanishing it wasn’t long before the world was just divided between the rich and the poor, and sadly the former had all the weapons. For a while things had been good and for a while the middle classes believed things could only get better. But soon all those dreams of mortgages, salaries and nice suburban lives far from nasty poor people but closer to those brilliant rich people became just that: dreams. As for those middle classes? Well, they wished they’d woken up earlier. Now, if you look at the holo-screen you’ll see the recordings of a wise sage Queen of that era who recorded all these things in a catchy song. Enjoy.

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Would You Like A Side of Locusts With That Deportation?

Britain doesn’t strike me as a very happy place at the moment. For example, you might not have read that burger chain Byron regularly employs staff who do not have the correct documentation with regards their migrant status and then recently ran a fake training event at which the same staff were met by immigration officers and deported. It seems Byron is more than happy to have its burger and eat it when it comes to exploiting a cheap and vulnerable workforce and then getting rid of them should the government decide to ‘crack down’. However, what you may have read is that following the deportations a group of activists protested outside Bryon in London and threw cockroaches, locusts and crickets into the restaurant. They apologised for any “irritation” caused but said “we had to act as forced deportations such as this and others are unacceptable, we must defend these people and their families from such dehumanised treatment.”

It’s a funny world when deportations only get news coverage once swarms of locusts are involved but then it’s also a world where we prioritise cheap burgers over human rights. Of course, it’s not actually funny, it’s tragic. The political-economic system we live under, namely consumer capitalism, encourages us to be self-interested and self-absorbed and to spend more time consuming stuff rather than building meaningful relationships. Now, I’m not judging anyone for doing this, I do it all the time and, until recently, was a fan of Byron’s burgers. But what also annoys me is when people try to justify this lifestyle. For example, I’m often told that the system is like this because human nature is inherently selfish. Oh! So suddenly everyone is an expert in psychology and knows the fundamental motivations of the human being? Actually no, human nature is not merely one thing but a diversity of drives, motivations, conditions, genes, hormones etc, many of which we know nothing or little about. I’d say if anything were inherently selfish it’s capitalism – I mean, Diet Coke or Coke Zero is presented as a dilemma whilst trampling on someone’s human rights isn’t.

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It doesn’t even look that good.

So, yeah, of course it’s annoying to have a whole bunch of crickets hopping over your chips but what’s worse is how we treat each other so the food can get on the table in the first place (and even if Bryon are being honest, which I doubt, when they say the relevant members of staff used forged documentation, they are still very much part of the exploitative system). Our everyday world of consumerism is completely untenable  – it is built on historic and present legacies of exploitation and abuse, and it’s undermining the future. It is unjustifiable however we try to rationalise it. But I’m not writing this to try to make you feel guilty. I regularly consume but one thing I don’t do is pretend I can justify it. Of course, in an ideal world, I’d be a vegan human rights activist and I hope one day I get there but in the meantime I would urge us to reprioritise. I dare you to forego that burger and go join that protest instead. I dare you to step outside of your usual social groups and make some new friends. I dare you to get beyond the repressive and limited conditioning of our society and explore more of your human nature. And you can do that tonight at 6.30pm outside the Byron at Holborn. Facebook event details here!

The Men Behind It All

It’s been about a year since I started this blog so I thought what better way to celebrate than to reveal the truth behind the lies, to reveal who really is pulling the strings of the global system. Who manipulates politics, economics and business at such a high level that even presidents and prime ministers will do what they ask. Who tips the balances of the capitalist military industrial complex in their favour and reaps the rewards. Who has the odd billion stored in one of many offshore tax havens. Who somehow remain hidden in the shadows.

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Perhaps, like me, you turned to The X-Files to learn the truth – that there is a cabal of wealthy, white men in grey suits who function above the law and collude with aliens to plan world domination. These men are known as the Syndicate – they’re in the picture above – just a bunch of guys in suits hanging out in shadowy rooms smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, the stuff of global conspiracy (fyi, a few X-Files spoilers on the way). The men of the Syndicate work with a bunch of aliens who want to take over the world. The men do all they can to ensure the public never knows about this: they plan and enact elaborate conspiracies to ensure abductees, alien sightings and even alien attacks are all covered up and explained away; they have the military at their disposal; they bribe and threaten government officials; they kill anyone who knows too much and often try to kill FBI agent Fox Mulder (who is always one step away from revealing their dastardly plans). In short, they pull an awful lot of the strings of power. But, the thing is, they do it very badly.

Over and over again these silly, old men make mistakes and let things slip. So many of their secret experiments using alien DNA and alien tech go awry and result in many people needlessly dying. Then they have to clean up the mess and kill anyone who spotted the mess, usually Fox Mulder. To conceal their mistakes they have to spend an awful lot on bribes and concoct exceptionally elaborate cover-up stories (often more ludicrous than the actual alient-based truth). Then they have to kill a few more people, including JFK and Martin Luther King, who threaten the balance of power. They also make a very bad team – they don’t trust each other and frequently lie to one another when they fail to successfully ‘manage’ a ‘situation’. So yeah, they’re the ones behind it all, but they’re also a bunch of idiots.

And there are times when I can’t help but think this is quite a good analogy for the real people behind the real system (unless there is actually an alien-government conspiracy and The X-Files was a documentary, not sci-fi). There’s a certain comfort in believing that a group of super-ruthless intellectuals are playing puppet master to the world’s problems and tipping the capitalist military industrial complex in their favour. And yes, there are certainly people doing this – creating/using multiple tax havens, subsidising environmentally destructive industries whilst undermining sustainable energy, investing/trading in weapons. They often do this because they’re greedy and/or it makes “business sense” (i.e. maximise short-term profit at any expense). But is it a joined-up, super smooth system of conspiracy and collusion, I doubt it, I often just think it’s greedy, insecure, selfish people with far too much power doing what greedy, insecure, selfish people do, namely look out for number one. I can’t imagine it’s actually fun being one of these people (“Hey, darling, how was your day?” “Oh, you know, the usual – I hid lots of our money in an offshore account to avoid taxes and I sold a load of weapons that will be used to kill innocent people.”). Certainly, the Syndicate don’t seem to have much fun as they’re constantly paranoid their nefarious ways will be revealed and they spend a lot of time planning how to kill one another. So, maybe those shady characters in that shady room aren’t quite so clever as the conspiracies would have us believe and, in a way, that makes it worse – such a shame that it’s a bunch of idiots bringing about doomsday far too far in advance.

Suffragettes, Lipstick & High Speed Internet

Seat found, popcorn in hand, fizzy drink in the other. I was ready to enjoy Suffragette, the new movie about the women’s rights movement in the early 20th century, when Emmeline Pankhurst was rallying thousands to the cause, when Emily Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse, and when bricks were being thrown through windows and wires were being cut because women did not have the vote. I couldn’t wait. I love feminism, I think it’s awesome, and a whole movie about it is a right treat. But before the film, the adverts…

First there was the make-up one. John Legend takes a seat at a piano and starts singing La Vie En Rose. Then in comes Julianne Moore followed closely by Naomi Watts, Blake Lively, Leila Bekhti, Eva Longoria and a whole host of famous women. They gather around the piano in their pink dresses and friendly smiles. The camera lingers briefly on their lips, hair, chins and breasts. Legend carries on singing and sometimes the women offer a word or two, you get the impression they don’t really know the lyrics. And it’s all for Color Riche Collection Exclusive, a new line of pink lipsticks from L’Oreal. The advert ends with Moore telling us “we’re worth it” and the impression I was left with is that everyone involved with the advert (hopefully) got paid a lot of money. Ok, famous women using their celebrity status to help promote a product and a brand, it’s hardly new. I mean, it’s not quite on a par with what the Suffragettes did but it’s great that these brilliant women have made it…made it onto the set of a L’Oreal advert. It’s fine, I won’t think too much about it, can’t wait for the movie.

Then it’s Heineken and Daniel Craig. James Bond nicks a speed boat to escape some bad guys except a female water skier is attached to it. Dragged along by the boat she deftly navigates waves, rocks, a wedding, a bar (she even has time to grab a tray of beers) and one of the enemy speedboats. Jumping aboard the boat she throws a top hat at the baddy currently attacking Bond. It doesn’t do much. Bond then prompts her to tie the bad guy up to a parachute who then gets dragged away. Bond then asks her if she’d like to join him for a boozy lunch. Ok, quite funny, yes the woman is unnamed and wearing a swimming costume the whole time whereas we all know Bond’s name and the men are all wearing suits but it’s a beer advert, what can you except? Maybe a little more, maybe? Anyway, nearly time for the film!

And just before it begins a truly inspiring advert, finally! A mum and her young daughter are watching clips of great women doing great things, people like Emmeline Pankhurst, Paloma Faith, Billie Holiday, Steph Houghton, and they’re all winking at the young girl inspiring her to join the movement and become awesome. And what an inspiring way to advertise…Vivid, the new high-speed internet connection service from Virgin. Right, because that’s how we celebrate feminism throughout the years by truncating the narrative and shoehorning it into an ad for broadband. And lipstick. And beer (although I doubt Heineken has even thought about co-opting feminism into their beer-selling cause).

So there was I, excited for the movie, but a little perplexed. As I watched these adverts I couldn’t help but feel like I was at the receiving end of an agenda – an agenda that appropriates amazing moments in our history/present to inspire us, not to try and replicate these events or even celebrate them, but to buy stuff. Consumer capitalism is really rather brilliant at reducing everything to an act of consumption. It also objectifies the female body and uses it as a vehicle for selling make-up and alcohol. None of this is new but it is exceedingly boring especially when it’s juxtaposed with the ensuing film, namely one about women who risked their lives and died so women could have greater equality. And the advertising agenda wasn’t even subtle. I mean lip stick and a feminist themed broadband. It’s clear these brands did some lazy ‘market research’ before crassly targeting their presumed captive audience with the ‘appropriate’ products. But the minutes before a film like Suffragette make for prime time virtual estate. So as I finished my popcorn long before the film started I couldn’t help but feel that despite all the amazing gains that have been made there is still a very long way to go. Time to smash some beer bottles, stamp on some lipsticks and cut some fibre optics.

Amy

Every moment of happiness that the documentary Amy portrayed was foreshadowed by the knowledge of her sad and premature death. We watched as a young women who loves singing and writing poetry was transformed into a 21st icon, a global superstar and a figure of hate. Learning of Amy Winehouse’s alcoholism, bulimia and drug addiction I felt ashamed for having judged her in the past – I remember reading about the gigs she cancelled and I remember thinking that she had let her fans down and been selfish. I had no idea of the context. As I watched I also felt complicit in the diabolical system that contributed so heavily to her death. And as the film shows it all began with her ability to sing.

A short clip of Winehouse as a teenager singing Happy Birthday to a friend begins the film and immediately demonstrates her talent. She states on numerous occasions how much she loved singing. Of course, her love of music was what made her and broke her because a voice like Winehouse’s is the perfect voice for commodification. Without ever stating it the film shows what happens to a successful artist in a consumer capitalist society. It began by assigning Winehouse’s voice a price tag. Be it as recorded songs on a CD or as a ticketed performance these were all ways people could make money from her voice. As she became more successful so her voice became worth even more – her album Back To Black sold millions of copies worldwide. Her increased popularity tied in perfectly with the underlying logic of capitalism, namely growth – keep exploiting a resource for profit until it’s depleted.

So Winehouse’s art was continually exploited. The film shows bleak clips of various people close to her using her celebrity status and wealth for their benefit. Her father, ex-husband, managers and production companies (Universal Music Group included) are all shown pushing her to perform more and produce more music. Her rise in monetary value coincided with her increased addiction to drugs and alcohol yet so many of the people around her did not stop to ask too many questions – why would they when they were getting so rich? Meanwhile, the press and her fans treated her as an idol. They garnered her with almost mythic status and placed her on a pedestal that she never deserved to be on. Of course, the paparazzi were all to happy to wrench her down from this plinth when her addictions and suffering meant she could no longer perform as a commodified celebrity is expected to. One moment that sticks out from the film is when she’s onstage at Belgrade and as she stumbles and falls the band look on and laugh. Meanwhile, the audience cheer her and then, when she doesn’t sing, boos her. “Sing or give me my money back” chants some of the crowd.

Commodity, idol, hate-figure, voice, character in a documentary – it seems one of the things Amy Winehouse was rarely treated as was a human.

I contributed to this process. I bought her album Back To Black, thereby adding another figure to her record sales, further assuring her success. I did not look to the woman behind the music – a woman suffering from depression, bulimia, substance abuse and abusive relationships – I heard her only as a beautiful voice. This process continues today. Her death will have significantly boosted her sales figures and the film Amy will make Universal Music Group an awful lot of money. As the credits rolled I saw that even Winehouse’s teenage rendition of Happy Birthday caught on a video camera by her friend is owned by a record label – even that brief song has been commodified. Under capitalism nothing escapes the profit motive and all is governed by a certain form of addiction – the addiction to money.

Amy the film is not the final say – it’s a carefully edited version of events that tries to tell one particular story. It paints her ex-husband and father as simple villains and never really tries to understand their behaviour. It also turns Amy Winehouse’s life into a slick narrative with a clear beginning, middle and end – her life is contextualised by her music and her tragic death. Of course, the one person who had no say in this process was Amy Winehouse – once again she is robbed of a voice and presented as a certain sort of person – the sort of person whose ‘story’ will attract lots of people to cinemas. This is the numbers game of consumer capitalism – a game that can cause climate change, facilitate resource wars, initiate global recessions and, most certainly, relentlessly capitalise on a vulnerable but talented young woman far beyond her death.

This system will change but for now I’ll leave you with one of Amy Winehouse’s brilliant songs:

Tinder In The Time Of Mass Extinction

The sixth mass extinction has begun and this time the cause is not a giant asteroid colliding with the earth, it’s us, human beings. And as the animals, plants and sea life die at a rate 200 times greater than if humans did not roam the earth my smart phone buzzes to reveal I have a new Tinder match. Shall I message them or ‘keep playing’? I’ll keep playing.

Tinder first, then the mass extinction. Tinder is a dating app that lets you view a few photos of people as well as a short paragraph about them. If you like them you swipe right, if not, left. Then onto the next one. If you both like each other you match and then you can start messaging one another, so at least you won’t have to send speculative messages to people who aren’t interested. So, it’s a simple way to connect with possible hook-ups, dates and lovers utilising the latest smart phone technology. But I think it’s more than that.

I think it’s an app that could only have come about in a time of great loneliness and isolation. As our means of communication increase so our means for community diminish. Local pubs, shops, clubs and libraries, to name but a few community centres where you might bump into a potential mate, are vanishing as rampant consumer capitalism punches its marks all over our cities, towns and villages. And these consumerism hubs aren’t about spending time they are about spending money – as many paying customers in the shortest time possible please. Public space is being privatised to facilitate shopping, making it increasingly hard to ‘bump into’ a potential lover (instead there’s Happn, another dating app that uses GPS technology to introduce you to people you’ve crossed paths with). In essence, these apps are trying to fill the gaps that are left behind when community vanishes. So I comb my hair in the best possible direction, turn to the light and angle my camera phone to take as flattering a picture as possible, hoping someone’s going to swipe right.

And now for the mass extinction. Well, it’s linked to that relentless consumer, capitalist society that I mentioned earlier. Not only does it depend on people being lonely and dissatisfied so they buy more things to compensate, it also depends on an endless supply of natural resources to make the things from. Resources including clean water, clean air, rare minerals, fossil fuels etc. So as we chop down forests, eviscerate mountains and pollute our oceans and atmosphere it’s no surprise that things keep dying – animals, plants, fish, etc. Consumer capitalism doesn’t just threaten human communities it undermines biological communities as well, whole ecosystems are razed to the ground for profit. Where exactly will the Amur Leopard hang out so she can meet a potential mate if her home is being destroyed? There’s no Tinder for endangered species.

So, it turns out that Tinder and the sixth mass extinction do have something in common: they both reflect a loss of community. Whilst the former is an attempt to deal with this loss, the latter is a very tragic consequence of living in the Anthropocene – a time that began when human activities started having a big global impact on the earth’s ecosystems (probably when industrialisation kicked off). Of course, there’s much to criticise Tinder for – namely, for reducing love to a smart phone app. But I think beneath the simple swipe of a finger there is a deep yearning to connect beyond the brands, logos and selfies and meet someone or someones we can truly come to know, someone with whom we can build community. We yearn to connect with others and I believe, so long as this yearning persists, there will always be a desire for more than this, more than the world of consumer capitalism. A world in which humans flourish as part of larger, thriving biodiverse ecosystems. So I swipe right hoping to find someone I can share the highs and lows of the sixth mass extinction with…

Tinder

Jurassic Out-Of-This World

All willing disbelief suspended, all fond memories of the original shelved and all expenses paid for an average seat at the Odeon – yup, time for Jurassic World. And my Gobisaurus, there was not a lot that film didn’t do – a blazing example of anti-capitalist, Marxist, feminist critique. Here are a few of the highlights.

Jurassic World

Consumerism Will Destroy Us: So, the two young white male protagonists arrive at Jurassic World, twenty-two years after lots of people got killed at Jurassic Park, and it’s basically a giant zoo. Screaming kids are riding baby Triceratops, screaming crowds are watching great white sharks being fed to Mosasaurus and profits are screaming (in delight) as the park rolls out its latest asset – a genetically engineered new dinosaur, the Indominus Rex. The film paints a pretty grim picture of humans as greedy, selfish consumers. Meanwhile, it swiftly becomes apparent that the money behind the park is corporate, so much so that the companies want their brands to form part of the dinosaurs’ names – the Nokiasaurus, iRex etc. The dinosaurs are also referred to as ‘assets’ and seen as profit-making objects rather than real living creatures. Put this alongside the film’s own product placement, what with Mercedes, Coca-Cola and Samsung all getting an appearance, and there’s a pretty strong anti-consumer capitalism message going on here. Not to mention that the entire park actually forms part of an elaborate military project to breed dinosaurs as weapons – so it’s not just the greedy business types pulling the strings it’s also the war generals, quite the military-industrial complex going on here.

Of course, this would not be part of the Jurassic Park franchise if the dinosaurs did not escape and kill lots of people – which they do. We see one woman get chomped by the Mosasaurus, multiple people get flayed by Pterodactyls and the Indominus Rex goes on a feeding frenzy.  The moral of this story: consumerism will destroy us – in a wonderful irony, befitting of even the most esoteric of French philosophers, the very products of consumerism (namely, genetically modified dinos) will turn on those that consume them by…consuming them. Ouch.

Nature Does Not Exist: First there was the earth – a barren lump of rock, then there was nature – trees, rivers, animals etc, then there were humans. We labour under the belief that humans are not part of nature, hence our endless quest to reveal nature’s secrets and dominate it. Simultaneously, we idolise the time of pre-human nature and in Jurassic World they try to recreate it by breeding extinct dinosaurs. However, as one of the chief scientists in the film reminds us, “nothing in this park is natural” because the humans have been tinkering with the dino DNA right from the start. But that still begs the question “what is natural?”

That’s an incredibly difficult question to answer if we still believe in the binary of pristine, nonhuman nature versus dirty, human artifice. We can never win if humans are the ones that render everything unnatural simply by existing. So, I suggest we give up this confused notion of nature and accept that that sort of nature never existed. Instead we can place humans alongside animals, rivers, plants etc, in a broader understanding of the natural world. This can also include all the mechanical and technological contraptions that humans like to create. Thus, rather than having degrees of ‘natural’ we could have degrees of ‘engineered-by-humans’ – i.e. a rock-as-hammer being a less engineered human technology than, say, a car. Of course, this says nothing for how humans treat the world they form part of, pretty badly basically.

White Men And Families Will Save Us: Jurassic World is a 12A, it’s a film for all the family. Thus, it’s only right that Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire Dearing – the park’s white, single, overly organised, female stereotype operations manager, ends up with Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt), the white, rugged, dino fighting, sexist, male stereotype Indiana Jones knock off. Meanwhile, Zach and Gray (yes, he is called a colour) the two white, siblings who start the film squabbling end up fulfilling male and fraternal stereotypes thanks to numerous near death experiences with dinosaurs. Also, the implication at the end of the film is that their possibly-divorcing parents will stay together now the dinosauar attacks have put everything in perspective.

Indeed, the majority of characters that do positive things in this film are white, whilst the evil scientist is of Chinese descent and the dubious billionaire that owns the park is Indian. However, there is one white baddy – a gun-toting  military man who wants to use the dinosaurs as weapons, he ends up getting eaten by a Velociraptor. At least the film passes the Bechdel test as Claire talks with her sister, Karen (the mum of Zach and Gray), about something other than men…how to raise children.

In brief, the moral of this story is that it helps to be white, male, heterosexual and part of an atomic family, or planning to start one. That’s how to survive the dinosaur apocalypse.

Redemption: Just when we thought all was lost and the Indominus Rex was about to eat everyone the T-Rex, Velociraptor and Mosasaurus all come to the rescue and render the Indominus Rex very much dead. So, there is a happy ending of sorts as the friendly dinosaurs  help the white, heteronormative humans restore some form of order. It’s a confused message perhaps but it does imply globalised consumer capitalism does not have to spell the end of humankind. There may well be hope for us yet, thank you dinosaurs.