Sunday, July 03, 2005

A distinct visual memory of the theatre lobby itself. Gold trim running along the candy counter and up the staircase to the balcony (there were balconies in movie theatres back then). A giant cardboard cutout of the movie poster on our right as we enter. Oddly, Alfred E. Neuman on a dinghy has replaced the naked woman (some kind of National Lampoon tie-in?) Who cares, this is it. The film has been playing all summer, and I've been campaigning relentlessly to see it. Faced with the announcement that it is in it's last week, mom relents.
A rush of adrenalin as the theatre darkens and the soundtrack begins. Several seconds of underwater ambience, then the pulse.
The next two hours will see me and my mother engaged in a strange, silent combat. Her trying desperately to shield my eyes from the disembodied limbs, spouting arteries, shrieking victims- me doing my best to push my way through her flailing arms and see what is going on, like a jungle explorer hacking his way through heavy brush. Something important was happening up on the screen, I just knew it.
And it's something I've never changed my mind about.
"Jaws" was and is a great film. One of the better american films of the 1970's, and easily Spielberg's finest hour. You could argue with it's ambition, but not with it's execution.
Fast forward 25 years into the future, and the (un-intentional) fallout from the film is only beginning to be fully understood. We still hate sharks. We still pay hundreds of dollars to go out in boats and kill them so we can have our photo taken with the corpse (who doesn't want to be Quint for a day?). We still slaughter them by the millions for their jaws and cartilage and fins.
Imagine the moral outrage if it was discovered that someone was hunting dolphins for their jaws, or cutting their fins off of them for "dolphin fin soup" and throwing them (still alive) back into the ocean. The earth would shake. Supermodels the world over would faint in protest.
Not so for sharks. We don't like sharks.
So the statistics continue to pour in (north atlantic populations at 40% of what they used to be and shrinking, 20 species worldwide slotted for extinction by 2017, etc, etc.) and to no effect. Dolphins, whales, and seals seem to be the only sea animals worthy of our respect. Is this simple anthropomorphism? Do animals have to be cute and harmless for us to value their role in the ecosystem?
When all the makos and blues and whites are gone will we applaud these men or arrest them?