The Empire of Spines


The headline that appears this week, “Giant Jellyfish Invade Japan,” familiarly positions something in nature as an external force, an enemy that crosses an established truce line and runs riot in zones that are presumably free of such abominations, zones that are thought to lie entirely within the guarded empire of human regulation. However, this kind of rhetoric does not apply in all such cases. Whales, as I mentioned below, also have a tendency to beach themselves, to enter “our” space, but such entries are never referred to as “invasions.” The difference, perhaps, is the spine. The Nomura jellyfish are invertebrates, and therefore alien, untoward, unwelcome. I recall an artist’s conception, from many years ago, of the surface of Jupiter, which included speculative life forms: giant jellyfish that drifted in the planet’s heavy atmosphere, tentacles hanging down toward the Great Red Spot. Typically enough, the aliens in the current film, District 9, have a distinct underwater invertebrate look to them, and I believe are even referred to derogatorily as “prawns.”

My own answer to this issue is to recognize and renew my affection for my own vertebral column, which keeps me safely enrolled in the more privileged and, sadly, much more invasive of the two kingdoms. As They Might Be Giants ruefully puts it, Spines/Gonna make you cry/Gonna make you crawl/Gonna make you fall in love again/Spines/Gonna make you beg/Gonna make you plead/Gonna make you fall in love with spines.

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