Creationists will tell you that society brainwashes your children into believing in evolution. This is not entirely true. It is true that there tends to be a certain assumption in media that evolution is real—there’s a lot to do with prehistory, and of course you get dinosaurs a lot. There’s the Ice Age franchise. The “Rite of Spring” sequence in Fantasia. And, naturally, The Flintstones. There is, in a lot of media, a casual assumption that you’re just going to accept all this instead of special creation. It’s just that the way these things are presented only occasionally touch at all on the reality of science.
Oh, it’s not Fantasia’s fault that the state of science moved on. It is actually to the best standards of 1940s science. They couldn’t have predicted the Alvarez hypothesis and the discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater. I personally lived through the era of that discovery, and Fantasia is older than my mother. Who was not exactly a teen parent. And it’s certainly true that The Flintstones is more interested in satirizing ‘50s cultural mores than presenting any kind of accurate view of our ancestors’ existence. Much more recently, Dinosaur actually tried to get science right and . . . kind of did?
But people not much younger than I grew up on The Land Before Time, which among myriad other issues features a couple of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs among the Late Jurassic ones. (Sorry, Land Before Time and Fantasia; Tyrannosaurus rex is closer in time to us than to stegosaurus.) Jurassic Park is another “yeah, there’s no point picking on the science” in a lot of ways, but the science is getting worse and worse as the movies get made, and let’s not even get started on its portrayal of raptors.
Our own ancestors don’t fare much better. The Croods seems to be . . . a lot. To be fair, I haven’t seen it—because it looked terrible—but its Wikipedia plot summary, if accurate, suggests that it includes one of those “people who invented everything,” like Ayla in Clan of the Cave Bear. (Well, more in the later books; in the last one, she invents the patriarchy!) Early Man and One Million Years BC are both in the “humans and dinosaurs interacted” school. I further haven’t seen Quest For Fire, but it also seems like a lot.
Gary Larson, in The Prehistory of the Far Side, mentions his persistent feeling that he should go to confession and say, “Father, I have sinned—I have drawn dinosaurs and hominids together in the same cartoon.” He knows it’s wrong, and he does it anyway because he knows it can be funny. Indeed, Larson contributed to paleontology; the spiky bit on the end of a stegosaurus tail is now called a “thagomizer” by real paleontologists, because they realized it didn’t actually have a name before he made a cartoon about it. As I told my son, I don’t really have a favourite dinosaur, but this is my favourite dinosaur fact. And it is a pop culture contribution to real science.
The two modes of presenting our ancestors seems to be “make them as primitive as possible” and “make them exactly like us but in the past.” Now, again, that’s the joke with The Flintstones, so you get a Stone Age suburbia, where tract houses are made out of slabs of rock. But even when it’s not explicitly the joke, there is that casual “and this is how we’re doing it” involved. Jean Auel mostly managed to avoid the temptation, but you can see certain modern attitudes sneaking into her characters.
Evolution? Sure, sort of. At any rate an assumption in the great age of the Earth and the incredible history of life on it. Sometimes a genuine attempt to make entertainment out of it. Just not a real go at science, most of the time—and I do think it’s possible to make a story that’s accurate to the best knowledge of current science that is also entertaining. Oh, Dinosaur isn’t it, but everyone knows that’s not the fault of the science. And don’t even get me started on Pokémon again.
Do, on the other hand, help keep my son in Pokémon merchandise by supporting my Patreon or Ko-fi!