Virtual Tour (2017): C. Travis Webb (Ph.D., Executive Director CultureHum Foundation)
Just off the I-10, in the middle of the southern California desert, and down the road from one of the swankiest outlet malls in America, are the Cabazon Dinosaurs. The site was originally intended as a road side attraction to draw patrons to Claude Bell’s Wheel Inn Restaurant.
The dinosaurs found fame in 1985 when they were featured in the film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. At that time, they were still a commercial curiosity, but by the mid 1990’s, after Bell’s death, the dinosaurs were sold, and the attraction was converted to its current purpose: a creationist museum.
There are not one, but two gift shops on the property: one located inside the walled garden that is available to patrons who pay the $12 admission fee, and one located inside the Apatosaurus, adjacent to the parking lot that is free to the public.
The garden itself imagines an Eden in which “cave men” and dinosaurs dallied together in earthly delight. The walk is marked by a variety of signs advertising paleontological factoids: the etymology of Tyrannosaurus Rex, the location of the discovery of the first Triceratops, and this mashup of Hollywood entertainment with scientific discovery.
Blending entertainment with hands-on “scientific” experimentation continues in the garden’s “dino dig.” Attendees are encouraged to dig in the sand and “discover” the fossils that are buried there. If they find a specially marked fossil they can exchange it for a souvenir in the gift shop.
The Cabazon Dinosaurs, similar to interactive displays at Kentucky’s Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, offers patrons the chance to “play” with a replica mining sluice. The experience, complete with bags of pre-packaged dirt loaded with “gems” and “fossils,” encourages participants to (as Ark Encounter's website describes it) “learn about the science of paleontology from a biblical perspective.” Here, the activity of science (evidence based empiricism), is divorced from one of its most troubling consequences (overturning anthropogenic origin stories).
There are definite parallels between these religiously deployed entertainments and wider entertainment networks. To divorce activity from consequence is one of the most potent aspects of modern entertainment—thrill without threat—and it is the very definition of play—activity without consequence. Transforming an activity, such as sluicing, into entertainment, makes that activity fungible. It can be re-deployed to different ends. It is removed from its threatening scientific context, and transformed into a fun-for-the-whole-family biblical activity. Rather than contradictory, there is a natural collaboration between 21st century entertainment and 21st century creationism.