Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Seems like the perfect time for this. First, it's almost Shark Week. Second, there are sharks in Boston and now also on Nantucket.

I grew up in Massachusetts. I spent my summers at the beach on Cape Cod. I have studied the ocean and its critters. I love the ocean and its critters (yes, even molluscs). I think sharks are incredibly cool. I know that people are far more likely to die in a car accident than by being attacked by a shark. But still, every time I go in the water or take my kids to the beach I can't help but think of Jaws. EVERY time. Now, it doesn't stop me (normally) from going in the water or letting my kids have fun splashing around and throwing seaweed at each other, but there it is, always in the back of my mind, tickling my amygdala. Don't get too deep, kids. OK, that's far enough. Maybe we should build a sandcastle now.. My wife likes to tell a story about a time when we went swimming near dusk and I kept getting more and more anxious, refusing to go any deeper - she used to think it was silly until she heard about great whites being reported off Cape Cod. Part of me thinks it's silly too, but a bigger part of me likes all my limbs, thank you very much.

Irrational? Yup. But not terribly surprising either - being attacked by a shark seems to fit all four types of things we fear:

  1. We fear what our ancestral history has prepared us to fear. As a survival tactic, fear of being eaten has served us well.

  2. We fear what we can’t control. I don't care if you're Michael Phelps, you ain't in control. I'd feel more in control being attacked by a grizzly bear.

  3. We fear things that are immediate more than the long-term. Sharks don't nibble.

  4. We fear threats readily available in memory. Thanks for nothing, Mr. Spielberg.

So, as much as I enjoyed Jaws, and all its memorable quotes ("You're gonna need a bigger boat"), I think I'd rather my kids never see it.

1 comment:

Doug Taron said...

I grew up on Cape Ann. I remember the summer that Jaws came out. There were beach closings all up the eastern seaboard due to shark sightings- in many cases for the first time in anyone's memory. It's amazing how much that movie captured peoples' imaginations about sharks.