July
8th 2014
We’re gonna need some bigger laws: Jaws and changing notions of acceptable risk and child safety

Posted under: American history, art, bad language, childhood, happy endings

JawsDid you see this hilarious chat between journalists Emily Dreyfuss and Ben Dreyfuss, the children of Richard Dreyfuss, about their recent viewing of Jaws, the movie that made their father a famous actor?  It’s really funny–they agree that the movie “makes no sense.”  My fave part (SPOILER ALERT!):

ED: I also forgot that [Richard Dreyfuss's] character was the rich kid! I guess I basically forgot everything.

BD: Oh yeah, with his tony, rich boat that they should have taken to avoid the whole death/sinking thing?

ED: I mean, they don’t even address that, which is ridiculous. Like, his boat had all the things they needed! Like sonar.

BD: Right? And Quint demands that they take his rickety piece of shit which is just an insane thing to do. The only reasonable thing to say to Quint when he makes that demand is, “Sir, you are insane. We are not putting our lives in the hands of an insane person. You’re fired. Good day.”

ED: “Also, we should add, you can’t catch a shark this big with a fishing pole. It had to be said.”

BD: HAHAHAHAHA.

ED: Like, his big plan is that he is going to REEL it in with his human man arms.

BD: I was under the impression that he was using some sort of contraption to leverage the weight of the boat or something? But that might not be how science works.

ED: I don’t think so. I think he was using the power of a metal cup to help hold the fishing rod and that is that and then it shows him reeling in and letting out and then being like, “This shark is so smart! I can’t pull him in!”

There’s a reason that Fonzie jumped a shark later in the 1970s, and that we use the term “jumping the shark” to commemorate the moment when an entertainment feature becomes so stupid that it’s over.  In fact, in our home, “sharky” is our shorthand for “too stupid/it’s over,” an adjective that can be applied to pretty much everything (for example:  Sauvingon Blanc, knitted caps worn in summer, gluten-free anything.)

As it happens, I saw Jaws for the first time Sunday night.  What struck me was not just the silliness of the “World War II Vet/USS Indianapolis survivor with a crappy boat and a big fishing pole” method of shark removal, but the shocking but apparently (in 1975) plausible decision of the town of Amity to keep their beaches open after the deaths of not just one but two children!!!  I mean, the story about venality and the need for beach towns to cash in on the big three weekends of the season (Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day Weekends) makes sense, but was it really just the cost of doing business to have two local children chomped to death in shallow water, one very dramatically amidst a crowd of beachgoers?  Wouldn’t that be flagged in a screenplay these days as utterly implausible, even in a stupid summer blockbuster?

The movie gave me hope that the shocking massacres of school children and university students by young gunmen, armed to the teeth (sometimes by their own parents), will be regarded in the future as evidence of the scandalous callousness of the 2000s and 2010s, seeing this is just the cost of doing business because of historically novel interpretations of the Second Amendment.  Just as we use seatbelts more commonly and smoke a lot less than we did in 1975, perhaps future generations will be appalled by our cavalier attitude towards public safety at schools and universities.  Here’s hoping that our descendents will have more sense than we have.

23 Comments »

23 Responses to “We’re gonna need some bigger laws: Jaws and changing notions of acceptable risk and child safety”

  1. koshembos on 08 Jul 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    We aren’t the first or the only culture that insanely plods along. War always kills children despite our fake pretension that only soldiers and structures be the casualties. (Ignoring magically that soldiers are kids too.)

    If sanity is the mainstream, we are the insane.

  2. undine on 08 Jul 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    On acceptable risk: we have playgrounds with no slides, merry-go-rounds, and even no running due to terror over risk, and yet we don’t regulate the biggest public health risk to children (even if the CDC isn’t allowed to study it).

  3. Historiann on 09 Jul 2014 at 6:42 am #

    I was shocked to see a shiny, smoking-HOT metal slide on a playground in Newton, Mass. of all places last week. Seriously, the thing was giving off shimmering heat waves and looked like it would cause second-degree burns on contact.

    (But the rate of household gun ownership is probably pretty low in Newton.)

  4. Nick J on 09 Jul 2014 at 7:55 am #

    Good morning! Glad you finally saw that one! The worst part about Jaws for me was that it was the single worst thing to happen for sharks in about 300 million years. Think people cared much about about shark overfishing after this movie? (Admittedly, they probably didn’t care a whole lot about it before)

    It also especially demonized white sharks, some of the most important apex predators in the ocean (not to mention beautiful), even though Benchley’s novel was based on an incident involving a smaller, more aggressive species of shark. Thanks to JAWS we now have umpteen documentary specials on white shark attacks every summer. It’s not that complicated. People sometimes look like turtles and seals. Stop making documentaries about it already.

    Oh, and totally agree with your parallel to gun regulation. The whole “that’s just the cost of our freedom” nonsense really has got to stop.

  5. Linden on 09 Jul 2014 at 8:34 am #

    I’ve taken to asking people who say that unfettered access to guns is just the price of freedom from tyranny — what have you done to protect me from tyranny lately? How are they going to use their guns to protect all of us from NSA surveillance, for example? How about the Supreme Court’s whittling away of Fourth Amendment protections and their assertion that corporations have free speech rights that supersede those of people? What about the militarization of domestic police forces? If dead children are the price of freedom, then I expect to see some return on investment. And soon.

  6. quixote on 09 Jul 2014 at 9:03 am #

    Hah. You’ve hit one of my hot buttons. (Must. not. start. rant. Must. not… Oh, hell.) Risk in these Yoo-nited States. No merry-go-rounds or slides higher than your thigh or trampolines, or anything fun, ever. (Dr. Grumpy says what I mean better than I could, describing a parent-teacher planning meeting for a kids’ field trip.

    Mom 1: “It’s very important that I be aware of where Sherman is at all times, 24/7. I’m his mother, you know.”

    Mr. Allegro: “He’ll be with us, and you’ll be notified if there are any problems.”

    Mom 2: “Wait a minute. You’re not driving the bus?”

    Mr. Allegro: “No, the bus is chartered from Pinto Transportation, who supply the driver.”

    Mom 2: (getting out paper and writing notes) “Who is the driver? What are his home and cell phone numbers?”

    Mr. Allegro: “I don’t know. They…”

    Mom 2: “You don’t know? Do you know anything about him? Does he have a police record? Is he in good health?”

    Meanwhile, they drive, in cars!, on the highway!! Falling is the most dangerous thing in most people’s lives. (cdc.gov. Followed by car accidents. The most dangerous thing people commonly do, who don’t live in a gang-ridden neighborhoods, is commute. But that’s okay because we get to hold a steering wheel.

    Too many people in the US have zero, zip, zilch ability to assess risk. And, yes, enough guns to outfit Somalia doesn’t help matters. But let’s not do anything about any of the real risks. It’s much easier to be frantic about whether the bus driver might be carrying peanuts.

  7. Historiann on 09 Jul 2014 at 9:19 am #

    If dead children are the price of freedom, then I expect to see some return on investment. And soon.

    Right on! Amity got its shark, eventually. With apolgies to Nick J. who will surely recognize this as a metaphor, but: Where’s our dead shark?

    Quixote: what can I say? Most American parents are total dip$hits, but that’s because they’re American (not because they’re parents.)

  8. Doctor Cleveland on 09 Jul 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Actually, the victims aren’t local. That’s part of the point.

    “A summer girl goes swimming, goes out too far, gets tired … It’s happened before.”

  9. Indyanna on 09 Jul 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    “Historically novel interpretations…” That’s a very gentle way of putting it. :)

    I prefer to “jump the trout” in the Endless Mountains. The worst you can expect to get that way is skinned shins and mucked sneakers that you might have to squish around in all day. If I ever have to flee this town like those poor folks at Roanoke, I’m going to scratch “Down Tha Shore” over my door lintel, and then sprint like crazy to the northeast!

  10. Indyanna on 09 Jul 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    Northwest. Whatever.

  11. Historiann on 09 Jul 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    Cleveland: you’re right about the first victim, the teenaged girl. But the second kid is a local–the mother shows up in mourning clothes to slap Roy Scheider in the face for his cowardice in not standing up to the business community.

  12. Doctor Cleveland on 09 Jul 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    She does show up, but I’ve never read her as necessarily being local. She’s always struck me as a summer resident (and, oh my goodness, is that distinction taken seriously in small New England towns).

  13. Doctor Cleveland on 09 Jul 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Hence the discussion:

    “When do I get to become an islander?”

    “Ellen — never.”

    The townsfolk don’t consider you local unless you were born there; even year-round residence isn’t enough. And that, in my experience, is sociologically accurate.

    There are even parts of New England where BEING BORN THERE isn’t enough to make you a “real” local if your parents weren’t born there too. Hence the Down East saying “Your cat can have kittens in the oven, but that doesn’t make them muffins.”

  14. Tenured Radical on 09 Jul 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    I am truly not shocked that Amity kept the beach open. Was it not *Amityville* where they built a housing development over a graveyard, forcing the angry, undead spirits to come out and burn the whole durn thing down (but only after making everyone’s life miserable for a very long time?)

    This is the suburbs for you. Venal. Utterly venal.

  15. Indyanna on 09 Jul 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    So, TR, you could almost say, it’s better to get eaten by a shark than to Suffolk-ate? :) That’s my old Island, but the wrong county!

  16. Historiann on 10 Jul 2014 at 8:11 am #

    Check out Dr. Cleveland’s post on Jaws and climate denialism. He’s the true scholar of Shark Studies, for sure.

  17. Comradde PhysioProffe on 10 Jul 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Where do you get the looney idea that this movie needed to be “plausible”?????

  18. Shelley on 11 Jul 2014 at 8:08 am #

    I agree with Undine.

    I also read somewhere that Jaws marked a disheartening turning point in the film industry. After that, the more cerebral movies were gobbled up by the big-budget screamers.

  19. Historiann on 11 Jul 2014 at 8:35 am #

    Shelley, the funny thing about Jaws is that in spite of the silliness noted above, it’s much smarter than just about any summer “blockbuster” bullcrap that’s come down the pike in the following 39 years.

    The shark is super-fake looking, but it’s kind of cool seeing non-CGI “special effects.”

  20. Sweet Sue on 12 Jul 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    What in the Sam Hill is wrong with Sauvingon Blanc?
    Not a seafood lover, heh?

  21. Historiann on 13 Jul 2014 at 8:31 am #

    It’s just become ubiquitous, and has crowded out other really nice white and rose wines. SB tasted really good 10 years ago, before everyone started making wines in the same style. Now, I’m kind of over it.

  22. Indyanna on 13 Jul 2014 at 9:33 am #

    Rose-AY has been sort of dead for a generation now. I liked it back when you didn’t really have to pretend to know anything about wine to drink it. It’s made a few stuttering comebacks in recent years under such various denominations as “blush” and “blended” wines. My rule of thumb has been red sitting down (meals), white standing up (receptions, etc.), sangria out-of-doors, and rose-AY when you could get it, which wasn’t often.

  23. Flannery Bro'Connor on 14 Jul 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    Sauvignon Blanc pretty much tastes like an Orloff and grapefruit with some melted ice cubes up in there. Blech.