Heart of Sharkness: Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
I fought the shark and the shark won.
First, the big news: Beginning this September, my first comic, MAW, will be available at comic shops. It's coming from BOOM! Studios, whose track record with feminist and queer comics is deeply impressive. The artist is A.L. Kaplan, of Full-Spectrum Therapy, meaning (and I'm really grateful for this) that you are going to enjoy looking at the thing, even if you don't enjoy reading it. The covers, from Ariela Kristantina and several other artists, are also unearthly beautiful – just look at this.
I do hope you enjoy reading it, though, because I've been working on MAW for about two years now. It's a horror story about bodies, and trauma, and how cycles of violence repeat themselves; it's got '70s feminists, and witches, and sea monsters, because every good story should have at least one of each.
Beyond that, I don't want to say much. But, as MAW makes its way up into the world, I'll be covering some classic horror movies that are related to it. This newsletter is your first clue.
It's still scary.
Jaws shouldn’t work in 2021, but it does. It works on me, and I’m a tough crowd. My great philistine shame is that I am bored by most movies from the 1970s. I was born in the ‘80s, so all the media I consumed growing up was at least a little bit hyperactive, and it got more so over the course of my adolescence. The leisurely pace and gold-toned cinematography of ‘70s cinema registers to me as subdued and sleepy, the visual equivalent of being stuck in your Grandma’s den all afternoon.
Jaws is also impossible to spoil. It feels like we were all born knowing the plot. There’s a really big shark off Amity Island, and experts want to close the beaches so it doesn’t eat anybody, but the mayor doesn’t want to, so tourists get chomped. That’s it. You’ve encountered this entire movie in meme form, from the dialogue — “gonna need a bigger boat,” etc. — to the score, which has come to stand in for the very concept of “sharks.”
Jaws is relatively slow, it is shot in a style that I typically don’t find appealing, it has little to no shock value, and most of its scares have been turned into jokes, and yet, whenever I watch Jaws, I recoil in physical terror on multiple occasions. The jump scares still actually make me jump, even the ones that I first encountered as reaction GIFs.
I have no idea what it would have been like to watch Jaws on its opening weekend. I’m amazed anyone survived the initial screenings. What I do know is that even now, its premise — that there is something always out there, always hungry, always waiting for you, right under the surface of the water, where you can’t see — is a tremendous horror.
Jaws, like its large adult son Jurassic Park, tells a universal story: Man, in his arrogance, presumes he can master the natural world. Terror ensues.