When Jaws was first released, first as a book then as a movie, my teenaged self said “No way am I reading/seeing that! I’ll never be able to swim in the ocean again.” As a Miami kid, that was a legitimate concern. But despite the fact that I never saw it, I was still to afraid to go swimming in the ocean, or really anywhere.

I am very suggestible. A publisher’s jacket designer can plant an image of a huge shark with all the gnarly teeth about to gulp down a teeny tiny swimmer, and it stays with me forever.

My pals at The Incomparable network chose this for the Old Movie Club podcast series, and I decided to join in. Since I am already too afraid to swim in the ocean, I may as well see it. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit and it was a fun discussion. [Listen here.]

Once I watched Jaws, I decided I may also as well read a book that piqued my interest years ago, Close To Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks Of 1916 by Michael Capuzzo. “Jaws” was influenced by this story, which took place in the era when bathing in the ocean became acceptable as an activity, an era when men felt supremely confident in their ability to subjugate the natural world (despite the Titanic sinking four years earlier). Mass culture and communication could create mass uproar. Natural history mixed with cultural history is fascinating.

(Doing the podcast reminded me that I had goldfish named Jaws my senior year of college. The fish was completely orange except for a little white marking around its mouth, like lipstick. I won it at a carnival. Poor Jaws. We had a massive ice storm and freeze in North Carolina, our pipes froze, so my roommate and I decamped from our rural rental house to stay with friends closer in for a couple days. Jaws didn’t survive. 😢)