Jaws’ Gaping Maw of Complacency: How the Film Mirrors the Infection of the Coronavirus
There’s a poignant scene in Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster Jaws. In case you’ve been living under a rock the past forty plus years, the premise follows a killer shark being served up a smorgasbord of human swimmers off the coast of a summer beach town. The residents at first do not take the matter quite as seriously until a panic ensues.
The scene I was referring to at the beginning of this article has our Chief of Police hero, Martin Brody, swagger across marine biologist Matt Hooper’s million dollar research boat, keeping his bottle of wine firmly grasped. Attempting to bury the pain of being responsible for a boy’s death, having failed to properly close the beaches when he should have, Brody’s already taken to becoming a wino as his speech slurs. He lets his guard down and confides to his shark expert the only information that brings comfort to him, “But in Amity, one man can make a difference. In 25 years, there’s never been a single shooting or murder in this town.”
It is perhaps this comforting statistic that our protagonist attempts to shield himself from the knowledge that extreme threats to safety don’t necessarily come from human nature but outside it, below the surface of a dense, dark sea.
Up until now, Brody had been persuaded, lied to, and blamed for keeping the peace, while simultaneously accused of inaction. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, our protagonist must learn to adopt proaction in a town that simply reacts.
For many weeks the media has tried to spin information regarding the Coronavirus epidemic. I’ve observed that denial is man’s worst enemy. While media loves to deride and focus on central figures to blame or focus on silly arguments about what they call the virus, Italy fell into a 6.4% rate of death with the health industry completely overrun with limited supplies.
Now it’s in the United States, my country, where Politics has eroded our since of belonging and tribalism has marked lines in the sand. We’ve grown comfortable together in our bliss of civil war, complacent in our own sense of righteousness to the point where we cannot perceive a real threat when it arrives to our shores.
We can now see for ourselves in real time what lethargy brings to places that don't feel the need to properly prepare. Jaws is a powerful metaphor for how society tends to deal with extreme change. This monster that’s surfaced is new. Capable of anything. Readily able to turn the tables against a public that isn’t willing to learn. Sound familiar?
Just like the Coronavirus, little information can be gathered to understand the threat and usually these events cut our ego well enough to reveal just how vulnerable and unprepared we really are, like a naked, drunk lady who decides to take a dip in shark-infested waters.
Here in America, as the Wuhan Coronavirus, COVID-19, inconspicuously spread across our fifty states, Jaws’ Amity Island is full of ignorant townsfolk who worry more about their business and inconvenience than the safety of their lives. It’s close to the Fourth of July, the busiest time of year and the Mayor reasons against closing the beaches for an unconfirmed shark attack because they “need those summer dollars”. Here, communication is threatened by a lack of willingness to take facts seriously or even at face value. Even Chief Brody, the tough cop from New York, finds himself easily manipulated into a rigid false sense of security when up against bureaucratic nonsense.
Spielberg deftly allows the town drama to propel the danger of the shark, showcasing every bad decision that is made and the consequences that follow. No character comes away unscathed, not even Hooper, who sea dog fisherman Quint wryly notes “doesn’t have the education to admit when you're wrong".
Mayor Vaughn’s lack of judgment. Chief Brody’s slave mentality to red tape and fear of drowning. Hooper’s over-reliance on education and technology. Quint’s vengeful, selfish need to get paid his dues against those who never lived his tragic backstory. These factors all contribute to the problem, consisting of individuals not understanding the gravity of the situation, lacking communication, and not living in the present moment.
We’re over a month behind in testing for COVID-19. During this time, we have undiagnosed cases that could statistically range through thousands. 80 percent of those cases will be mild, but the remaining 20 percent could fill our hospitals to the brink. We don’t have enough masks. We don’t have enough beds. We don’t have enough ventilators.
And we’re bitching about what to call the virus?
Jaws is a great film, but it has a Hollywood ending. If we are to learn to work together right now, we may learn to mitigate its effects, buying us good time to deal with a multi-faceted problem. With misinformation and miscommunication having spread in these waking hours from our slumber, do we dare turn the tide toward cooperation?