Now We Really Need a Bigger Boat
This year marks the 45th anniversary of Jaws, the original summer blockbuster movie. And in that immortal film, the late, great Roy Scheider — as Martin Brody, Police Chief of the shark-besieged Amity Island — utters one of moviedom’s most immortal lines…
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Reportedly, this line was not in the script, but a brilliant on-the-fly ad-lib. Scripted or not, it proved to be the perfect expression of the shock audiences felt at first glimpse into the toothy maw of the 25-foot villain that would change America’s perception of the beach vacation.
The line worked so well because it succinctly conveyed the instant realization of being gravely overmatched. For those who don’t entirely dismiss the coronavirus as a political boogeyman conjured by The Left to oust Trump, this may be an all-too familiar feeling these last few months.
To that point, a number of articles have appeared in the mainstream media this spring and summer about the parallels between the plotline of Jaws and the coronavirus crisis here in the United States. And those parallels are many…
In both the fictional Jaws and the real-life SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, there’s an invisible killer stalking the masses. There’s friction between economic interests and public safety priorities. There’s conflict between scientists and politicians. Bureaucratic morass, messaging spin, and abuse of power are at play in both as well.
But it seems to me that most of the commentary about the similarities between Jaws and the coronavirus crisis in America is only skimming the surface. And frankly, a lot of it seems mainly bent on painting Trump as the Washington version of Amity’s sleazy Mayor Vaughn, rather than informing us about anything useful…
It’s all missing the big picture, though, in my opinion. Because there IS a valuable metaphorical takeaway in Jaws that can help guide our country through this crisis. The “bigger boat” we’re going to need to beat this thing is right there on the screen, if you look closely.
Whether we’ll get in that boat as a nation, however, remains to be seen.
Many see the Jaws parallels — but nobody seems to see the deeper (no pun intended) message in the story
Let’s transcend for a moment the obvious ways in which America’s situation mirrors Amity’s in the movie — and all the cheap shots at Trump, warranted or not…
When you really drill down on it, Jaws actually shows a system working pretty well to marshal available resources and solve a problem. Once the gravity of the crisis becomes apparent to everyone, the various players swing into action and settle into roles that are targeted, effective and act in concert with one another toward a common goal for the welfare of all.
The Mayor authorizes payment to Quint (the incredible Robert Shaw, in his defining role), a grizzled, veteran big-water shark hunter. Oceanographer Matt Hooper (the exuberant Richard Dreyfuss) joins the team, bringing more shark-specific expertise, new techniques and equipment into the equation. Chief Brody provides authority, oversight and a dedication to the public good, whatever the cost.
Separately, they represent ideals of three very different worlds: Government, the scientific community, and the capitalist private sector. Together, they take on the giant shark. And in the end, they kill the beast through a combination of teamwork, courage, resolve, sacrifice, know-how, innovation, improvisation and luck.
Those are the exact same things — and same sort of cooperation — we’re going to need to beat the coronavirus.
The difference is that Jaws is a movie. And in a movie, things work out.
In Jaws, the politician gets shocked to his senses, stops deceiving his constituents and does the right thing — votes, publicity, and “summer dollars” be damned. The ultimate shark hunter just happens to live in town, and is crazy enough to fight to the death with a lethal beast that’s nearly as big as his vessel…
The scientist brings along a bunch of extra gear that seems superfluous, but proves critical at the moment of truth. And the Chief is somehow able to overcome his fear of water, keep a clear head, improvise a plan when all seems lost, and execute a perfect (lucky) shot that blows the shark to smithereens.
Like I said, things pretty much work out in Jaws — but the coronavirus isn’t playing out on the big screen
Unlike in the movies, the loose threads and seemingly random factors of this crisis aren’t likely to suddenly come together in an instant to solve it. That’s not the way real life works. In real life, the major players in a crisis often work at cross-purposes to one another, instead of toward a common benefit…
Politicians use science as an ideological cudgel, overstating or understating risks based on how it affects their ability to maintain or increase their power, not how it affects the public’s well-being. And they double- and triple-down on bad decisions to avoid admitting they were wrong, or to pander to their core voting blocks.
Big Media does the same thing, releasing or withholding facts and controlling or distorting the flow of information to suit a particular narrative — which is always skewed toward both sensationalism and political activism. Because like politicians, their success depends on people being fearful, hysterical, and divided into disparate camps of belief.
The scientific community is far from pure, too, in my opinion. In large part, they’re singing for their supper. Some reports suggest that university scientists could spend as much as half their time writing grant proposals rather than doing research, and that the grant racket itself stymies true innovation and creates biased results.
For my money (and federal grants ARE my money — yours, too), I trust scientists with a profit motive over throngs of white-coated academics gaming the system with a bunch of grant-bait “safe science.” In real life, just about the only force that can be counted on to act in the public’s TRUE best interests in a situation like this is the greedy private sector capitalists…
That’s because only true breakthroughs and innovations that actually save lives and help the public are going to make their inventors or discoverers rich.
Bottom line: The formula for beating the coronavirus is pretty obvious, and it’s all right there in Jaws. Government at all levels from the Oval Office on down needs to wise up and remember that its fundamental duty is protecting us — especially from each other. It also needs to take its cues from science and experts, rather than polls and partisan pundits.
Those scientists and experts need to get loud about what they know, and admit what they don’t. At a time like this, they can’t cower in the corner, carefully couching their language to avoid offending the political masters who pay their salaries. If the data is at odds with policy, the policy needs to change, not the data.
The private-sector capitalists need to keep doing what they’re doing — going for broke in the quest for profit and glory, like Quint…
And above all, the people need to be smart and stay out of the water, so to speak.
Some of these things are happening, to some degree. But to beat this thing — or at least keep it at bay — they ALL need to happen, to a much greater degree. Otherwise, we’re pinning our hopes on a “lucky shot” vaccine to blow up this shark. There’s no guarantee we’ll get that, or get it soon.
Meanwhile, coronavirus continues to explode in the U.S. We had over 75,000 new cases on Thursday, the biggest single-day case count by a wide margin. It’s not a freak occurrence, either. In the last month, that daily record has been broken 11 times. Ten states set single-day COVID-19 death records this past week, too. A full 45% of America’s counties are now experiencing epidemic-level outbreak trends.
State and local policies in many critical areas are inconsistent, contradictory, in constant flux, or in total disarray. In some states (like Georgia), there’s even open combat between authorities over coronavirus policies. And Washington’s now tightening its grip on the disease data — which should raise a major red flag to anyone who’s paying attention…
Bottom line: It’s time to face this shark, folks. And we need a bigger boat. That boat exists, sure enough. But we’ve all got to get on board.
Farewell and adieu all you fair-minded readers,
Freedoms Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder