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Jaws Turns 45 and Remains as Relevant as Ever

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If you’re ranking the greatest summer films of all time (or just greatest films full stop) you’d be hard pressed to find a list that doesn’t include Steven Spielberg’s iconic 1975 film Jaws. The thriller about a great white shark attacking beach-goers in the resort town of Amity Island is largely regarded as the original summer blockbuster, and has remained indelibly printed on the American psyche. And on the 45th anniversary of its release, the film remains as timely as ever.

Whether its the Academy Award-winning score, the often-spoofed artwork, or the eminently quotable dialogue, the film continues to have its teeth firmly sunk into popular culture. But as we head into summer 2020, we can’t help but be reminded of the hubris and ignorance of the film’s main antagonist.

And no, we’re not talking about the shark. We’re talking about Amity Island Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton). The town’s mayor is informed that there is a killer great white shark on the loose, just as tourist season is in full swing. But despite warnings from police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) and marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), Vaughn refuses to close the beaches.

Sound familiar? Ever since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, people have been comparing the mayor’s irresponsibility to Donald Trump’s incompetent response to the pandemic. And it’s easy to see why: both men ignore science and evidence because it doesn’t fit into their narrative. Both men are obsessed with optics. and Both men are more than willing to sacrifice human lives for the sake of the economy.

And it isn’t only Trump. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis refused to close the beaches because he didn’t want to put a dent in his state’s tourism (and he also wanted to suck up to Trump.) Now, Florida is seeing a massive spike in COVID-19 cases.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who himself was hospitalized with COVID-19, has a similarly ineffective view of the pandemic. Johnson was even quoted praising the mayor from Jaws in 2006 saying, “The real hero of Jaws is the mayor, a wonderful politician. A gigantic fish is eating all your constituents and he decides to keep the beach open. OK, in that instance, he was wrong but in principle we need more politicians like the mayor … There was one laudable thing about him, and that was his refusal to give way to hysteria. I loved his rationality. Of course, it turned out that he was wrong. But it remains that he was heroically right in principle.”

As tempting as it is to resume life as normal, we can’t pretend there isn’t still a pandemic happening. And while we long to go to the beach, COVID-19 is still very much in the water. If quarantine boredom has got you down, I can think of no better entertainment than dimming the lights, grabbing some popcorn and watching Jaws.

(image: Universal Pictures)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.