Drumheller’s Dandy Dinos
It seems appropriate, on a day marked in many parts of the developed world by blatant and unrelieved commercialism, to talk briefly about dinosaurs and kitsch. Ever since dinosaurs were first understood in the mid 19th Century, there have been popular depictions of what these strange antediluvian creatures must have looked like. These imaginings have often descended to remarkable depths: think of the pet dinosaurs in The Flintstones, or the creatures in One Million B.C. But what could be the most egregious offences against taste and nature fall into the category of “tourist attractions.”
About a year ago I was lucky enough to visit Drumheller, Alberta, home of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. The Tyrrell is famous for its fossil collections, wonderful exhibits, and leading scientists. I spent a couple of days wandering through the museum and its back rooms, studying and savouring fossils public and hidden.
At the end of each day I had some time, so I took my wandering to the town. Now, many small towns would consider it a great honour to host a world-renowned museum, and would try to develop features to complement it. In the case of Drumheller, they seem to have decided that what is needed are more dinosaurs, preferably larger and more spectacular than the real ones you can see at the Tyrrell. Here in the middle of town is the world’s biggest dinosaur:
If you wish, you can climb up into this Ubertyrannosaurus superrex through the, ahem, backside. And to accompany it, there are many other prehistoric beasts spread around town. Some, created long ago (perhaps in the 1950s or 60s), are of extremely questionable accuracy and parentage:
Other, newer ones are not quite so bad, if perhaps a bit “vaudeville”:
And some are, well, examples of nothing but naked commercial opportunism:
After making the rounds I was preparing to leave town with a bad taste in my mouth, but then I saw that some of the dinosaurs had been repainted with a tongue-in-cheek postmodern approach. Instead of just being bad North American kitsch, they had (to my eye) been made so bad that they became good:
Perhaps, on this rampantly commercialized day, if someone somewhere is drinking a toast in green beer, to a giant leprechaun perched on the back of a stegosaur of uncertain antecedents, the rest of us should just lighten up and enjoy the spectacle. At least for today.