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There's Nothing in the Water...

Author: Micah Zenko, Douglas Dillon Fellow
August 10, 2012
Foreign Policy

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In 1973, 26-year-old director Steven Spielberg was hired by producers at Universal Studios to make a movie out of what they described as "the most exciting thing that they had ever read," Peter Benchley's novel, Jaws. The film's production would eventually cost more than double the original budget and go 100 days over schedule, with a malfunctioning mechanical shark and a director who later admitted, "I was pretty naive about mother nature." Nevertheless, Spielberg's instincts for cinematic storytelling and shrewd editing, along with composer John Williams's haunting two-note theme (a tuba playing the notes E, F, E, F), came together to create what is considered the first summer blockbuster, breaking all domestic box-office records at the time.

Spielberg told reporters, "I shot the movie to both entertain and to be fearful," thereby both terrifying and fascinating Americans about sharks. Jaws was selected as the second-most thrilling movie of all time, behind Psycho, on the American Film Institute's "100 Years…100 Thrills" list. But not everyone has been thrilled about what Jawsspawned. As a shark biologist noted, "It perpetuated the myths about sharks as man-eaters and bloodthirsty killers." Movies such as Jawsand the annual summer sensational media coverage of sharks swimming near public beaches or snatching the catch of panicked fishermen have helped create what mental-health professionals call a "specific phobia" -- a "marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation."

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