the actual anniversary was in June but it ain’t too late to find a bigger boat!
By Karen D’Souza, Bay Area News Group
Posted: 07/01/15, 4:32 PM PDT
Roy Scheider, left, and Robert Shaw star in ‘Jaws.’ (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)
A young woman went skinny dipping by moonlight on Amity Island 40 years ago this summer, and the zeitgeist has never been the same.
As the swimmer glided through the water, something ominous tugged at her leg, dragging her under, screaming. It was the chilling opening scene from “Jaws,” a horror movie that cleverly eschewed fictional monsters for a real source of terror — sharks.
“It wasn’t so much the notion of a limb-lacerating shark or even a relentless great white, but that instinctual fear one feels when your dainty, dangling toes have disappeared in the murky depths, and then they brush against something unexpectedly solid.”
— Steven Seid, former film curator at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive
In an eerie twist of fate, the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s iconic 1975 thriller has coincided with a rise in the number of shark attacks on American shores. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the sharks have taken a bite out of your complacency. There have been at least seven attacks along North Carolina beaches this summer and another two off the coast of Florida. Most of the victims have been children and teenagers, and most were bitten or struck while swimming in waist-deep water not far from shore.
Although attacks have been steadily rising since 1970, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, experts maintain that shark attacks remain rare. A swimmer runs a one in 11.5 million chance of getting crunched, but that fact has done little to quell the American cultural obsession with the monsters of the sea. Indeed, the fear of the shark’s gaping maw and glassy black stare may be deeply embedded in the human experience. It’s a response to predators that has been with us since the days of the caveman.
“There is something incredibly powerful and distinctive about the shark as a cultural symbol, putting it in a special class by itself in American pop culture,” says Scot Guenter, professor of American studies at San Jose State. “The shark is primordial and primitive while visceral and deadly; he is a remnant of a prehistoric past when man lacked power.”
Psychologists note that we are hard-wired to dread the thing just out of sight, from the monster under the bed to the creatures of the deep. Once you wade into the surf, you are out of your element as a human and plunged into a realm where sharks and octopi and jellyfish reign supreme. Underwater you run the risk of being stalked by an apex predator quite capable of eating you alive.
“It is a primal fear, like many people have with snakes, spiders and the dark,” says Thomas Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University. “We are likely wired to be fearful of sharks due to our evolutionary past.”
Long before the feeding frenzy of the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” and the bottom-feeding camp of “Sharknado,” “Jaws” became an iconic flick. Not only did it become the highest grossing film of its time, setting the bar for the genre of summer blockbuster, but it aso tapped into an enduring terror of the unknown. That’s what gives the movie such staying power four decades after its release.
“Steven Spielberg was really onto something,” says Steven Seid, former film curator at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive. “It wasn’t so much the notion of a limb-lacerating shark or even a relentless great white, but that instinctual fear one feels when your dainty, dangling toes have disappeared in the murky depths, and then they brush against something unexpectedly solid. The fact that it happened to be a ruthless, body-chompin’ shark is a just bonus attached to that built-in fear.”
Of course, the irony is that it’s the ocean creatures that have long been under siege. There are massive die-offs occurring, and sharks are actually endangered, but our fear of them is alive and well. Experts insist that the rise in attacks is caused by the fact that there are more humans than ever before, and that means more bodies in the water.
The media can also take its share of the blame for making such a big splash around every shark attack, leaving the public with a distorted view of the risk of getting chomped.
“Shark attacks make headlines, yet they are very rare, similar to airplane crashes,” says Plante. “Over 30,000 flights go up and down each day in the U.S.A., and it is obviously a very safe way to travel, yet one horrific story about a crash, and people freak out … . This is true for sharks attacks, too.”
Ironically, the more scientific knowledge we amass about the evolution and dynamics of the shark, from its prehistoric roots to its endless roaming of the seven seas in search of food, the more petrified we get.
“The shark is at the top of the food chain,” says Guenter. “There is a mystery about him that reminds us there are great unknowns we can’t control.”
and from that film legends were born which will live on for centuries!
Živjeli to the irascible Captain Quint…you set the bar very high for this moral mariner to ever hope to clear but not gonna quit trying either chief!