Twenty-Five Foot Shark Devours Movie Profits; June 20th 1975
His nickname was a benign Bruce and he was the rubber, steel and hydraulic prop in the hands of movie maker Stephen Spielberg that changed the way a generation of Americans looked at the ocean.
It's easy to attest to this because it changed the way I looked at the ocean and except for my scuba diving lessons and one qualifying open water dive, I haven't entered the ocean any deeper than my knees since JAWS premiered on June 20th 1975.
We grew up at the beach, large family trips, ten to twenty relatives with a then legal 100' seine yielded giant fish fries around bonfires amid tarp tents constructed between cars parked next to each other. But after the summer of 1975 all that changed. For one thing, seining ultimately became illegal, but primarily and for a long time most people wouldn't venture out into the water because of Bruce, and all the dark evil and horror he represented.
Today we have warnings, even along the I10 beach in Lake Charles about bacteria in the water, other areas of the coast endure red tides, high fecal content and flesh eating bacteria. Maybe those things have always existed but we didn't know or think about them. The ocean was always a cheap family outing and a way to stay cool in southern summers. Jaws changed all that.
Everyone just knew that out there lurking, unseen and unheard lay a great monster, the devil himself swimming silently dressed in a grey and white sharkskin suit waiting to select a victim completely at random for a nightmarish flailing mangling grotesque screaming death.
Their mouths presented a sawmill collection of razor sharp teeth, more horrific we learned that even if a shark lost a tooth a new one would grow in it's place by dinner time.
To say the movie changed society's opinion of going into the water is an understatement. The film encouraged a cottage industry of going onto the water on shark fishing expeditions. Galveston charters went out loaded to the scuppers with chum. Media of the day breathlessly documented every creature from pups to the sand sharks and hammerheads that used to be around the upper Gulf Coast, photographed hanging by their tails bleeding, dockside, with the proud fishermen.
It may seem barbaric now but we all celebrated in those days. Revenge on anything resembling a shark was fair and encouraged game. Revenge for the innocent make believe characters terrorized in the Peter Benchley novel. Revenge for the victims of the USS Indianapolis. Shark fishermen assumed they were saving lives, they were celebrated. Another round for Jack! He landed a four footer today!
Looking back it's hard to explain how a national psyche went berserk over a movie prop and a scary story. But it happened, a mob mentality, just like with 1938's War of the Worlds.
And it started 44 years ago today, when Jaws hit theaters and took a bite out of our pockets.