How The Movie Jaws Predicted The US Pandemic Response

In the United States, it is the second month of quarantines and shutdowns. Technically it’s only been three weeks for my day job and me but it has gone from March to April.

Despite our state and local governments taking action, the federal one is, as expected, less than impressive. It reminds one of the movie Jaws. The 1975 movie got a lot of facts wrong about sharks, but it seems more relevant to how governments handle a crisis.

Deaths Are Ignored Or Denied

It’s pretty obvious that Mayor Vaughn in the movie is concerned about keeping tourists happy. Chrissie dies and the medical examiner rules it as a shark death. The mayor overrides him because he says if a shark is in the town of Amity, then the tourists won’t come in the summer.

Let’s note that we never meet Chrissie’s family. The mayor treats her as a statistic, a hazard of swimming at night. As a result, victim-blaming is implied here.

Chrissie shouldn’t have been swimming with a drunk date at night. Even if the shark weren’t there, she could have easily drowned by a rip current, been attacked by barracudas, or injured by sea urchins. Because she’s a woman, and a “girl” really, the mayor just wants to attribute her death to recklessness. Which, it was reckless but that’s beside the point.

Brody doesn’t believe that Chrissie’s death was an accident after hearing the medical examiner’s report, and especially after a boy gets killed. He calls in a biologist to examine her body. Hopper confirms that the death wasn’t an accident in the sense that she randomly got mangled by a boat. Instead, a shark mauled her, based on the wounds and damage to her body.

Did a similar response to coronavirus happen in real life? Actually, yes. The White House knew in February that the pandemic was a problem. There were several cases of people testing positive. Do you know what happened?

They covered up what was happening and growing for a month. The meetings involved were classified, which slowed down the lines of communication. If not for the coverups — which were unnecessary — then we would have had a faster response. The Washington Post reports that the government was in denial about what was happening. Also, they defunded the exact response that you need in a pandemic two years ago. In short, they made Mayor Vaughn look competent.

Profits Are Prioritized Over People

One of the reasons that the mayor doesn’t want to close down the beaches is because he points out that the local businesses will suffer. With no tourists, the town will have to shut down and apply for welfare. He convinces the medical examiner to change Chrissie’s death to a boating accident for this reason. In the book it’s because of his Mafia ties; in the movie, the business owners agree with him in denying there’s a shark because they don’t want to lose their revenue.

Chief Brody is having none of this. His job isn’t to maintain business for the long-term but rather to aim for the short-term. He wants to save lives and ensure that people can swim. It doesn’t help that the mother of a young boy smacks him for letting her son get eaten. The mayor ought to tell her that Brody wanted to close the bench, but he simpers and apologizes to his chief in private rather than take responsibility. Brody refuses the apology. He takes his protector role seriously.

Ultimately, the mayor’s decision ruins Amity’s reputation and credibility. He realizes that it will be lucky if anyone returns after the disastrous Fourth of July fracas, where the shark kills a boater and nearly eats Brody’s son. We are not counting the sequels here, obviously. No one counts the sequels.

We saw the same issues in February, and worse, with the pandemic. Some senators when they got wind of the coronavirus decided to sell their stock, rather than warn the public. A few even have invested in companies that would see their products thriving during the quarantine. The money was all that mattered before actual actions were taken.

Experts Are Ignored When They Give Warning

We have three experts in Jaws: Martin Brody, Matt Hopper, and Adrian Quint. Brody is afraid of the water but committed to his job as police chief of Amity. Hopper is a marine biologist who has studied sharks all of his life. Quint derides the other folks before establishing himself as a fisherman who can and will hunt down the beast.

All three of them tell the mayor that the town has a shark problem. Brody wants the beaches closed. Hopper bluntly says that a shark killed Chrissie and it will continue to kill people. Quint offers his services and promises to bring back Bruce, as the production team called their robot fish, as a new trophy.

Does the mayor listen? Not at first. Vaughn overrides Brody because the beaches must stay open. He says that Hopper must be wanting the glory to appear on National Geographic.

The White House knew about the pandemic back in January. As mentioned, they ignored the reports. What’s more, they tried to deny what was going on and lied to the public about its severity. Trump fired the coronavirus experts out a fear that they weren’t loyal to him.

People Go To The Beaches

This is the most mind-boggling yet accurate part of the film. The Mayor declares the shark killed and has the beaches opened on July 4. People arrive, with a fake shark in tow, only to see the beast strike again and kill a boater.

CinemaSins made an accurate point when reviewing this film; they said that surely after hearing about shark attacks that no one would want to get into the water. Yet people do. They dive in, with some kids even pulling a prank using a plastic shark fin. They’re lucky to not get shot. Other people are completely unprepared when the real fish arrives and chomps down on a boater.

Here in Florida, tourists did just that. As we locals stayed at home — most of us are working and we don’t want to get sick — people on their spring break came down to party by the water. On March 10, the news noted that people were still coming despite the concerns. Some tourists said they didn’t care if they got sick and received backlash on social media. Some have also tested positive for coronavirus.

Now, governments have closed the beaches. The police are now in places like Miami Beach and enforcing a curfew. We need these measures because sometimes common sense and fear won’t keep a person out of the water. You can’t just keep yourself safe; other people need consideration.

The Experts Risk Their Lives On The Front Lines

Ultimately, no one in town can stop the shark. They can pull people out of the water and wrap them in blankets, but the tourists and locals are under-equipped. They aren’t prepared emotionally to handle the actual hunt. That’s left to Quint, whom Brody insists on hiring.

Brody and Hopper then make up the rest of the dream team. They know the shark is a problem, so they go to handle it when the mayor refuses to do squat. Quint’s reasons are to avenge his trauma and earn the bounty money; Brody wants to protect the town and his sons. Hopper goes because he feels it is his duty to put his shark knowledge to good use.

Quint knows sharks. He reports that he was a survivor from the Indianapolis. While he has flaws — wanting to force a confrontation and sabotaging his own boat to avoid anyone calling for help — he’s got the firsthand experience. Quint also helps Brody learn how to tie knots for the ropes and helps him cope with his fear of the water. He says he appreciates how Brody is the only reasonable person in Amity.

Hopper is the smartest person in the film. He may be a biologist and academic, but when the chips are down he decides to go and save people from the shark. The scientist has mettle and courage despite being wealthy and a “city boy”. Quint even comes to admire him for willingly going into the water to poison the shark, as a last-ditch effort.

Many doctors, nurses, orderlies and hospital workers are treating sick patients and running the ERs. They are risking their lives to ensure that we can rest more easily at night. Some are falling sick in New York, while others die around the country. The medical people are the reason that we may stop the pandemic. And yet they have no choice but to fight.

The Shark Isn’t The Real Problem

Yes, Bruce the mechanical great white was apparently tough to work with because he kept malfunctioning during production. The shark in the movie was also a problem by preying on people. This is why you don’t go swimming at dusk, people. Also, it’s why you should trust the marine biologist brought in to examine the situation.

Here is the thing: by the time Brody realizes this is a problem, two people died thanks to Bruce the shark. He wants to prevent more deaths proactively, and the Mayor overrides him. It’s Vaughn’s fault that at least two more died, and Michael Brody nearly bit the dust. Brody says as much when ordering the mayor to hire Quint. The tragedy could have been averted in the film if the mayor had listened to the experts. It’s his failing, as well as the denial of the business owners, that leads to the moral hazard. Ultimately, people are responsible. The shark is just a hungry fish.

The coronavirus isn’t the real issue. What’s more important is that in the United States, we don’t have an effective system to handle such a crisis. People are panicking or trying to abide by the rules to avoid dying or passing on the virus to family members. This could have been avoided if the White House hadn’t defunded the exact body needed for containing a new disease.

What is the lesson? If experts are telling you to stay inside or stay out of the water, then it’s best to listen. A government that takes too long will get people killed. Sometimes a shark can’t be ignored.

How about for us ordinary people? Little actions and gestures matter. Just as going swimming can lead to other tourists panicking, getting your friends and family out of the water is a matter of life and death. Brody’s son gets rescued by his sailboat friends, while parents pull their kids out of the water.

Do what little gestures you can to help others out. We all need to stay out of the water for a while. As Brody once said famously, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

A 2016 MBA graduate and published author, Priya Sridhar has been writing fantasy and science fiction for fifteen years, and counting.

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