Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jaws

Last night we crammed our six bodies onto the couch, filled bowls with popcorn and watched a movie together.  We usually do one movie night a week with the kids, and almost always let them choose the film.

Usually, we end up watching something we have seen a million times.  Something in heavy rotation in the house already.   The only real rule about the movie is that it can't be something that Tom and I can't stand.  So, you know right there that Shark Boy and Lava Girl will never be screened at family movie night. 

A few weeks back the kids picked Forrest Gump.  We'd been to one of the Bubba Gump shrimp restaurants in California, and they were intrigued by all the references to the movie.  They wanted to know who Forrest was, who Bubba was.  Aidan was fascinated by the historical references in the movie, he wanted to know how they edited everything to make it look like Forrest was really at the White House.  The real pieces of history in the movie have been a jumping off point for all kinds of conversations with the kids, about important things.  Like what war is, why drugs are bad, why it's okay to be different.   Things that it is our responsibility as parents to teach them about. 

I'm sure there are people who will be shocked to know that we let our kids watch that movie already. 

Compared to the movies I saw when I was their age, though, this is mild. 

Last night, I cringed a little when Tom picked the movie.  He wanted to watch it, asked the kids if they wanted to see a movie about sharks.  Jaws.  Yes, it's violent and graphic in parts.  Yes, there is a decent amount of foul language.  I was hoping for something mellower, but Jaws it was. 

The kids got a little scared after the first few attacks.  Ally just kept asking where the little boy on the yellow raft went.  She spent a lot of time hiding halfway under a blanket.  They all calmed down after I told them that almost the entire movie was filmed in a pond in Universal Studios using robots.  It isn't real.  AJ just thought the shark was cool, and kept roaring at it every time it came on the screen.  (Maybe he is a little like his mommy after all.)

I have issues with the movie, but not for most of the reasons that other people do.  It didn't freak me out.  It didn't make me scared of going in the water.  It didn't make me irrationally afraid of sharks.  It did the opposite.  I fell in love with them.

I fell in love with sharks.  Yes...you read that right.

So much so that in college my senior thesis was on the overfishing of sharks in international water, and the harm such unregulated fishing would have on the ecosystem of the entire ocean.  I wrote about how imperative it is that we find a way to get a handle on the situation before the damage done is irreversible.  I wrote this long before it became a topic that was covered much in the news.

Most sharks are fished only for their fins.  The remainder of the animal often thrown back into the ocean.  Shark fin soup is a very high priced delicacy in many countries around the world.  And there aren't enough people out there rallying for the protection of sharks....partially because we humans perceive them as a threat.  They aren't worth protecting, because they want to eat us.  Right? 

Wrong.

Sharks are one of the apex predators of the ocean.  If we mess with that balance, who knows how much we may ruin in the process?  Someday, I fear, we may find out.

Peter Benchley, the writer of the book Jaws, the man behind the movie and the fear that followed, understood that he had given sharks an unfair reputation.  He spent most of the end of his career writing non-fiction about saving the ocean ecosystem.  Two of his quotes follow.

I know now that the mythic monster I created was largely a fiction.

[T]he shark in an updated Jaws could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim; for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.

This movie, a work of fiction, did quite a bit of damage.  It made people afraid of the ocean.  It painted a picture of a dangerous man eating predator.  It made sharks indefensible.  And in doing so, it made them quite vulnerable. 

There are people who believe that movies are just movies and only represent entertainment.  I'd argue that they can be more than that.  Much more.  And in this particular case, a movie very well may have changed the course of how an entire ecosystem is treated. 
 
Rather than allow my children to be afraid of this movie, I told them from the beginning that the shark was a robot in a pond.  I taught them that real sharks, though they may be dangerous, need our help to survive.  And we need them just as much as they need us. 
 
Even if they are a little scary.

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