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Jaws; The Shark



Sharks are often seen as terrifying creatures in the modern
age, and while not unfound, the history and culture around
sharks are much more complicated then simple fear.
This fear isn’t unjustified as there are many events which
fuel this fear, such as July 1916, when a series of shark
attacks on the jersey shore killed 4 people and left one
injured, which later became known as the ‘Jersey man-
eater’, and the story of the USS Indianapolis, which is
mentioned in the film, where only 316 out of around 800
people survived the five days at sea.
Fig. Michael Schleisser and ‘Jersey
This fear is also encouraged by films like ‘Jaws’, ‘Deep Blue man-eater’
Sea’ and many more by their scenes and by being portrayed
as the villain.
Myths “No other animal elicits such fascination and fear as the shark”
- Dean Crawford

There are many cultures that see sharks as protectors rather

then the terrifying creature they are seen as.
The cultures with the most shark myths are the island regions
surrounded by water.
In the Marshall Islands, tribes had their own sacred sharks,
according to Crawford’s book, and if someone showed
disrespect to another tribe’s shark, they would need to
apologize — or go to war.(Chen, 2017)
The Hawaiians had some of the more complex mythology
around these animals they have also been included in the
mythology of the Australian Aboriginal people as well as the Fig. Crawford’s book, ‘Shark’
Indonesian tribes and the Indians of North America. There are
also accounts of sharks in Greek mythology.
Hawaiian myths
In Hawaiian Mythology, there are several main shark gods. The leader
was Kamohoali’I, who was thought of as the king of the sharks gods
and a guardian of the Hawaiian Islands. He could transform into both a
human and a variety of different sea creatures to help people.
Ka’ahupahau was a shark goddess that was born human, after being
transformed into a shark god, she dedicated her life to protecting
people from shark attacks. These came from one story where she
ordered a girl to be kidnapped and killed. When she realized the girl
actually died, she regretted her actions and said that sharks should
never attack humans in the pearl harbour region.
All the shark gods in this culture all protected or entertain people.
Dakuwaqa: The Fijian Shark God
Dakuwaqa was a major god of the Fiji Islands.
He was half shark, half man. He would help
fisher avoid danger at sea, protect people from
sea monsters and would help ensure a
In the Cook Islands, he is know as Avatea and
was also the god of the sun and moon. And on
other Island, was a warrior god that would
protect people from other vicious gods.
However in other cultures, they believed that
he was a shark god that fed off lost souls.
Fig. Wooden figure of Dakuwaqa
In Greek mythology, Lamia was the daughter of the sea
god Poseidon. she was a beautiful queen who ruled over
libya, and had two sons. Lamia was having an affair with
Zeus, the King of gods. When his wife found about this
affair, she stole and murdered Lamia’s children, and then
turned her into a child-eating sea monster(or as she is
often portrayed as a shark). In other versions of the myth,
it was Zeus who turned her into a child eating monster so
she could get revenge. While in another she gauges out
her eyes during her madness and started eating other
people’s children out of envy.
However in each version she ends up eating people as a
vicious man-eating sea creature/demon. Fig. The Kiss of the
Her name is the basis for the Lamnid sharks, including the Enchantress (Isobel
great white. Lilian) depicts Lamia as
a half-serpent woman
• In conclusion, there are many myths about shark portraying them in
many ways, either as protector or predator, and these have go on to
influence how we view these creatures. Either with fascination or
fear, as Crawford said.
Shark- Impact on Sharks
• Shark attacks are not common.
• Many sharks are incapable of harming humans.
• Most sharks are smaller than your arm.
• Humans don’t taste good to sharks.
Fig.# Shark Facts [Online]
• Sharks only usually attack because we’re on their turf.
• As a partial result of Jaws, we kill more sharks than they kill us.
• Shark hunting inspired by Jaws led to diminished shark

‘"Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today," he said, years later. "Sharks
don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges." He spent much of the rest of
his life campaigning for the protection of sharks. Burgess suggests the number of large sharks fell
by 50% along the eastern seaboard of North America in the years following the release of Jaws.’
(BBC, 2015)
Shark- Impact on Audience
‘First off, the mechanical shark doesn’t look real. At all. That’s not a knock
against Art Director Joe Alves, whose animatronics were revolutionary back
in 1975 and still hold up in their own special way. It’s just that when stacked
up against an actual great white shark, Bruce is slower, fatter, clunkier, and,
if we’re being fair to shark conservation, meaner.’
The shark in Jaws didn’t have to look real to scare anybody, its lack of organic
movement makes it even scarier.
‘these inaccuracies end up enhancing the horror of the film rather than
detracting from it. The villain of Jaws shouldn’t move like other sharks
because it’s not like other sharks. Contrary to popular belief (at least in the
’70s), most sharks don’t embark on an insatiable quest to consume as many
humans as possible. The shark in Jaws, on the other hand, is a machine’
Shark- Impact on cinema
‘"Jaws" launched Hollywood into a killer shark feeding frenzy. At
least 50 monster shark movies followed, including three more "Jaws"
movies. Unfortunately this trend wasn't left in the 20th century and
over half of the 50 movies listed were released after 2000. In fact, a
new killer shark movie has been released every year since 1998. 2016
continues this trend, with "The Shallows”’ (Reddout, C. 2016)

Fig. A Fig. B Fig. C Fig. D Fig. E Fig. F Fig. G

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Jaws; Thalassophobia
The Science of Fear
Fear, and Anxiety
First of all, there is an important distinction to be made about between fear and anxiety.

“Scientists generally define fear as a negative emotional state triggered by the

presence of a stimulus that has the potential to cause harm, and anxiety as a negative
emotional state in which the threat is not present but anticipated. We sometimes
confuse the two: When someone says he is afraid he will fail an exam or get caught
stealing or cheating, he should, by the definitions above, be saying he is anxious
instead.” – Leodux, J; NY Times

Fear is the emotional state we find ourselves in when faced with a real, measurable threat. We feel anxiety when we can’t
detect an imitate threat of harm, but we anticipate one due to our current circumstances.

The reason this is relevant to Jaws, is that for the majority of the movie, the shark is not directly visible to us. Its presence
often only suggested by audio and visual motifs set up by Spielberg, which makes us feel a sense of anticipation, which makes
us anxious.
Anxiety; Learned and Inherent
There’s two major types of fear/anxiety which govern what we are afraid of, both of which are generated in the amygdala; an
ancient part of the brain responsible for many of our most fundamental survival instincts, and shared by much of the animal

Inherent anxiety is a hard-wired negative response to circumstances which put us in danger, and evolved to help us avoid
finding ourselves in strategically unfavourable positions that might leave us exposed to attack.

For example, ‘fear of the dark’ is an almost universal example of an inherent fear, which makes a lot of sense practically

“Being afraid of the dark isn’t irrational or childlike; it’s a natural human impulse. It turns out that the
feelings of anxiety and uneasiness we feel when the lights go out are a reflection of an evolutionary
impulse to remain safe. The darkness impairs our vision, first and foremost, which is a huge part of our
ability to understand and manage our surroundings. Darkness blinds one of our most important senses,
and leaves us with a lack of control and vulnerability.

We’ve been forced to make up for our lack of night-seeing ability by our use of candlelight and
ultimately the invention of electricity. When these things go out, we’re once again faced with our
primal flaw: lack of night vision” – Bushak, L; Why we’re afraid of the dark, Medical Daily
Compared to the threat of many other of Man’s ancient natural predators, Sharks stand out as particularly dangerous, as in its natural habitat
it really holds all the cards. Floating in turbulent the sea, it’s often impossible to see what’s more than a few feet through the water, and we
can’t hear or smell anything either. The water acts as a powerful sensory barrier that prevents us from detecting a threat from below until its
practically right on top of us.

Sharks also have a major mobility advantage, and our own mobility and offensive/defensive mechanisms are severely inhibited when floating
in the water.

The sensory inhibiting effects of the water, the shark’s mobility advantage, and the sharks ability to detect humans movement at long
distances as established within the movie combine to make the Shark seem an almost Omnipresent (Always there) and Omniscient (All-
knowing) threat.

The shark also has little to no expression or body-language, which is a major strategic indicator which humans rely on in order to make fight
or flight decisions, which ties into the concept of the ‘uncanny’ and why expressionless entities can make us feel so uncomfortable.

So, the fact that Jaws is a film about a killer Shark, as opposed to some other land-based natural predator such as a Lion or a Bear, is quite
important, because being alone in the water with a shark is, strategically speaking, one of the worst situations a human could find themselves

This takes the most advantage of our inherent fear. As we empathise with the characters on-screen, even when there’s little to no evidence of
the Shark’s presence, our amygdala is screaming at us that we’re in a strategically bad position, and heavily exposed to attack, which makes us
anxious. (Although Jaws is a film, for the vast majority of Human existence, there were no films, and little man-made imagery. If you saw
something terrible happening, you were in close proximity to it, and in just as much danger.)
Learned Anxiety
The other major form of anxiety is what’s known as ‘learned anxiety’, and this is a form of anxiety that we are conditioned to
feel in response to a stimulus.

“Fear can be expressed, transmitted and acquired in various ways. For example, you might fear a
particular neighbourhood because you were assaulted there, because you saw someone being assaulted
there, or because someone told you an intimidating anecdote about a similar crime there. Thus fears
can be acquired through direct experiences or indirectly through social transmission.” – Olsson, A &
Phelps, E; Social Learning of Fear

This article by researchers Andreas Olsson and Elizabeth A Phelps, explores the ways in which humans and primates learn and
transmit anxiety. They establish that humans can learn to be afraid of things indirectly, through experience, anecdote, and
through conditioning, similarly to the famous Pavlov’s dog experiment.

“Conditioned stimuli acquired their threat value through being paired with a shock, with observed fear expression
in another person or with the experimenter’s verbal instructions.” – Olsson, A & Phelps, E; Social Learning of Fear

In their experiment, in order to condition someone to feel anxiety when presented with a certain stimulus, a shock is
administered in combination with a certain expression or phrase. This results in the participant’s amygdala beginning to show
an anxiety response when the participant is later shown the same stimuli, but without the shock.
“The ultrasocial environment of humans provides ample opportunities to watch others’ emotional responses to
stimuli. Children with subclinical animal phobias or extreme fears toward certain situations, such as darkness,
often report having observed parents fearful in the same or similar situations. Normal children can acquire a
strong and persistent aversive response to a fear relevant object (such as a toy snake) after seeing it pared with
their mothers fear expressions.”
– Olsson, A & Phelps, E; Social Learning of Fear

Here, the researchers establish that when people are exposed to fearful human reactions such as bleeding, screaming, or in this example,
horrified expressions, they can pick up conditioned responses. This could be similar to the way in which Spielberg sets up motifs by showing
un-related audio/imagery (People’s legs from below, the Jaws musical motif), and then ‘Shocking’ us with unpleasant images that play on out
primal instincts, such as people screaming, horrified expressions, and blood.

This conditions us to fear these stimuli, and allows Spielberg to generate a strong sense of anxiety later in the film, and have us anticipate
something terrible, without actually showing anything.

(Fig 2 – 6)

The simple choice of a Shark as the film’s antagonist plays into

many of our deep-rooted primal fears.

To further this unease, early on in the film, Spielberg takes

advantage of fear conditioning by establishing motifs and
solidifying them with distressing imagery that condition us to
anticipate similar unpleasant experiences when we hear/see these
Final Conclusions
• In conclusion, there are many myths about shark portraying them in many
ways, either as protector or predator, and these have go on to influence
how we view these creatures. Either with fascination or fear, as Crawford

• The shark in Jaws had a massive impact on Cinema and the real world
despite being very unrealistic.

• We find the Shark scary because it plays on our most primitive fears, and
Spielberg enhances this by conditioning us to feel anxious through his use
of visual and auditory motifs.
V Referencing V
Reference (Science of Fear)
• Joseph Leodux, NY Times; Searching the brain for the Roots of fear
• Andreas Olsson and Elizabeth A Phelps, Social Learning of Fear

• Lecia Bushak, Why we’re afraid of the Dark, Medical Daily


• Image List;
• Fig 1;
• Fig 2 – 6; Jaws 1975 (Film)
• Title Card;
BBC News. 2015 [Online Article] At: Accessed on:
Caffery, D. 2015 [Online] At: Accessed
on: 14/02/19
Reddout, C. 2016 [Online] At:
jaws-effect Accessed on: 14/02/19
Fig. #- Shark Attack Facts [Online] At:
Fig.a- 2012 [Online] [Poster] At:
Fig.b- 2013 [Online] [Poster] At:
Fig.c- 2014 [Online] [Poster] At:
Fig.d- 2015 [Online] [Poster] At:
Fig.e- 2016 [Online] [Poster] At:
Fig.f- 2017 [Online] [Poster] At:
Fig.g- 2018 [Online] [Poster] At:
Fig. Michael Schleisser and ‘Jersey man-eater’. (2019). [image] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].

Fig. Shark by Dean Crawford. (2019). [image] Available at:
[Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].

Fig. The Kiss of the Enchantress (Isobel Lilian). (2019). [image] Available at: https://www.1st-art- [Accessed 14 Feb.

Fig. Wooden figure of Dakuwaqa. (2019). [image] Available at:
DSC00435-black.jpg/440px-Dakuwaqa-71.1969.51.25-DSC00435-black.jpg [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].
Chen, A. (2017). Before sharks became movie villains, they were celebrated in myths across the
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Meyer, A. (2013). Sharks in Mythology. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].
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