Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Something fishy

Monitoring of the media for movie references as a way to help better understand current events continues.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd opened her commentary last week with this paragraph: “The federal government is starting to remind me of the Amity town council in Jaws.”

That’s a good line, although Ms. Dowd may be overstating the case. Her comparison was meant as a dig at the government’s performance in dealing with the anthrax-in-the-mail attacks, which has in fairness not always been totally reassuring. But then I’m not sure that reassurance is exactly what’s been called for.

You remember how the Amity town council performed in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 monster hit when presented evidence by Chief Brody (played by Roy Scheider) of attacks by a massively huge shark. They closed their eyes to the evidence in favor of supporting the town’s tourist economy. I suppose this kind of uber-boosterism is kind of reminiscent of the Bush Administration’s exhortation to the public to fight terrorism by going out and doing a lot of shopping. But at least the administration acknowledges that there are terrorists.

The mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn, was played by the late character actor Murray Hamilton. If Hamilton, who made a ton of movies in his 36-year career, is not remembered mainly for his role in Jaws and its first sequel, then it is only because he also played the clueless suburban husband whose wife, Mrs. Robinson, seduced young Dustin Hoffmann in The Graduate. Let’s face it. Mayor Vaughn was so inept that, if he was president of the United States right now, he would still be saying that there was nothing to worry about and that the “accidents” of September 11 were freak events that were unlikely to reoccur and nobody should be afraid to come spend their holidays in America. And he would also be saying that it was only a coincidence that people handling mail with white powder in it were getting sick.

I mean, we’re talking about a guy who not only refused to believe there was shark on the rampage despite overwhelming evidence in the first movie, but somehow clung to office and was still the mayor in the sequel three years later and still refused to believe it when another shark started attacking people. On the other hand, I suppose cynics could argue that if the Bush administration had been in charge of Amity, they would have been saying things like, be vigilant for any shark fins in the water, but don’t change your normal swimming pattern.

Actually, the silly Jaws 2 may have had its own lasting impact on movies in that it immediately preceded the arrival of such horror films as Halloween (by four months), Friday the 13th (by two years) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (by six years). What all these movies have in common is their formula of introducing a set of attractive teenagers, many of whom have lust on their minds, and then watching most of them die horribly violent deaths, one by one. That’s right, Jaws 2 may have been one of the first, if not the first, teen slasher (or, in this case, gnasher) movies.

But back to the original Jaws and its view of politics. Like most movies, this one reflected one of the two major complaints most Americans have about government: 1) government is a slick, fine-oiled machine that secretly spies on and manipulates its citizens without accountability and we are all at its mercy (cf. The X-Files), and 2) government is inefficient and incompetent and cannot do anything right.

Which reminds me: My fellow Americans, I seem to recall that we have an Election Day coming up. Don’t forget to vote.

-S.L., 1 November 2001

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