Humanities Highlights: From Jawsmania to Shark Week
In 1974, a novel was published, called Jaws. A year later, that book became a movie. And so thinking about Jaws got me thinking about sharks, and thinking about longer histories of human-shark entanglements and how we can think about our changing relationship to the ocean through these entanglements over the centuries. So, I actually am starting way back in the age of sail with whaling ships. But with whaling, essentially, a dying industry by the late 19th century and the rise of tourism, leisure, those whaling towns inevitably become tourist towns. So our engagements with sharks are tied to these kind of changing relationships with the ocean as well. And so, I am really interested in that question, especially in relation to a attacks in 1916 off the Jersey shore that were, essentially the subject of a virtual national emergency. And the idea of a killer hell-bent upon coming back really took hold of the American imagination. And what happens after JAWS comes out as a movie is a kind of frenzy of shark interest: tournament fishing for sharks, shark fear, but also shark love.
All of these forces collide to create an order of animals that we think of as being terribly dangerous to us; but then the question turns back on itself: What kinds of dangers to we pose to them? Take care of these animals. They are among the most ancient creatures on this earth and they are really a bellwether for us.