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Friday, November 1, 2013

Who's Biting Whom? Jaws and An Enemy of the People

By Nathan Gelgud

Set your DVRs! Jaws 2 and Jaws 3 are on cable this weekend (channel 161 on Sunday), and you're probably in the mood for them because you just watched Jaws. We know you just watched Jaws because you just bought tickets for An Enemy of the People at BAM and you're doing your homework.

Oh, did you miss class that day? Let us catch you up.

While the most obvious literary predecessor of Jaws, the movie about the great white shark, is Moby-Dick, the book about the great white whale, another acknowledged influence on Spielberg's masterpiece is Ibsen's 1882 play

"Student rush tickets are available!"

A little Googling and the similarities practically jump out of the water and bite your legs off, threatening the local economy:

  • In Enemy, a seaside town has contaminated hot springs, the town's cash cow.
  • In Jaws, a seaside town has a beach, primary source of tourist dollars, contaminated by a shark.
  • In Jaws, Roy Scheider kicks up a fuss about the killer shark but the mayor won't close the beaches, so Scheider has to go rogue.
  • When the doctor who discovers the contamination in Enemy tries to hip everybody to the problem, he loses his job.

Most importantly, they both feature chalkboards:

Robert Shaw, shark expert and noted illustrator, in Jaws
Stefan Stern in An Enemy of the People
In his book on JawsNigel Andrews even underlines the importance of the cast's literary background, guys "who could see that Jaws was part An Enemy of the People, part Moby Dick, part The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

Hey, come to think of it, BAM is offering a production of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner next month, and an adaptation of Moby Dick author Herman Melville's Billy Budd in February. And later this month the play Water will deal with ecological themes as they relate to the stuff that sharks swim in and hot springs bubble with.

We should have considered a package deal for people working on their thesis on the intersection of pop culture, contemporary theater, and classic American literature as they relate to the economic ramifications of climate change and pollution. The Next Wave Post-Grad special. Maybe next year.

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