Stephen Spielberg ruined the ocean for me.
If you don’t know who he is, he is the guy who made the movie Jaws and a couple of other films you may have heard about. It’s funny, because he’s made so many great films people forget that Spielberg initially broke into the mainstream with a little scary-ass movie about a shark. I didn’t even know he had directed it until I’d seen the movie a million times. I might have been 12 or even 15 years old before I realized it. See I grew up before the internet, so you couldn’t just IMDB anyone you were interested in and find out every movie they’d ever been involved with. I think I I read it in a movie magazine article and it blew my mind that he’d made it. This was the guy who’d made E.T. and Raiders and a bunch of other light-hearted romps. He made Jaws? The most terrifying movie of all time? It didn’t compute.
I know people think Jaws is just a taut, well-acted thriller of some sort but you cannot underestimate the impact it had on kids of my age. It may be a nice little thriller to you but it’s also a really gory, really effing scary horror movie about a shark that eats people alive. And because Spielberg is such a good director, the movie had and still has a power to scare the living shit out of anyone who’s ever seen it. In the hands of a lesser auteur, it would have just been a schlocky film about a giant, killer shark. Hell even the title “Jaws” is kind of cheesy when you think about it.
But it’s not a schlocky film at all. Far from it and that’s why it’s so damn scary. It seems like it could happen. The reality that Spielberg was able to ground it in is the reason a movie about a rabid, killer shark consistently ranks in the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time. Jaws has the same gritty, realistic 70’s vibe that The French Connection, The Godfather, Midnight Cowboy and a whole bunch of other more “serious” movies of that era have.
The difference is that Jaws is not interested in revealing anything about humanity to you the way those films are. It’s just trying to scare you to death with menacing shots of a dorsal fin and bloody limbs floating in the water and boy howdy does it do a damn good job. And let’s not forget that classic John Williams “Dunh, dunh, dunh, dunh” score. Jesus, you could use that score for the next Toy Story movie and it would scare the shit out of people.
A good horror movie can ruin things for you. Friday the 13th messed me up about the woods for a little while. After I saw Psycho (thank for letting me watch that movie when I was 9, Mom!) I was a hesitant to take showers for a while. For a few weeks after I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street I was legitimately afraid of going to sleep because “Freddy” might get me. After I saw The Ring I didn’t like soaking wet pre-pubescent girls crawling out of my TV.
But I’ve gotten over all those fears. I can walk in the woods alone at night and feel pretty okay with it. I’ve taken thousands of showers in hotels and motels and not worried for a second that a guy dressed as his mom is going to murder stab me. And it’s probably been over two decades since I gave a thought to Freddy Krueger other than one of amusement.
But I am still messed up about the ocean. Deeply messed up. Really I don’t like any body of water that’s large and where I can’t touch the bottom. Even a deep swimming pool can be intimidating to me. Whenever I get in there’s always a few seconds where I am sure a Great White Shark that no one else has seen in my neighbor’s backyard above ground pool is going to bite my leg off and I’m going to die a bloody mess. Literally every time I jump in I have an adrenal surge of this ridiculous fear.
What other movie has had this lingering effect on me? None. And it’s gone on my whole life.
For instance I never learned to surf even though I lived in Southern California for 17 years. That was a big time “no way” after I found out paddling on a surfboard makes you look like a seal to a Great White. What other sport does that, by the way? Playing racquetball doesn’t increase your odds of being devoured by a tiger, but surfing statistically and measurably increases your chances of being eaten by a shark, yet people still do it!?? WTF?
I haven’t been in the ocean in probably 10 years now. I’ve tried to enjoy it and I just cannot. I’ve done mental relaxation exercises. I’ve gone with friends I enjoy and swam close by them the whole time. I’ve sung favorite songs out loud. I’ve faked bravado in the hopes that it would turn into real bravado. I’ve done immersion therapy (which is basically just immersing yourself in the ocean) and I was still an unhappy wreck. I even tried to simply remember my favorite things like Maria Von Trapp said to do. It didn’t work. I forgot my favorite things and just thought about sharks.
No matter what I do, every time I’m in the water my internal monologue is this, “OMIGOD THERE ARE FREAKING SHARKS IN HERE EVERYWHERE WHY AM I IN HERE CAN I GET OUT YET I’M GOING TO DIE”. This does not make for a relaxing afternoon.
And you can’t reason me out of it. I know the stats! Hardly anybody that gets into the ocean ever gets eaten or attacked by a shark. In fact the number of people who have been eaten or attacked is so small as to be considered statistically insignificant and does not warrant my fear, blah, blah, blah. I realize that. However I have a better stat for you. NO ONE who didn’t get in the ocean has ever been eaten or attacked by a shark. That number still stands at zero. So I win that little game.
Now if you don’t mind, I’ll be on the beach playing Frisbee while you risk your life in a giant, wet tub of death.
Oh, did I mention I’m going to Australia soon and that I’ll be swimming with Great White Sharks? I guess I should bring that up. You know, while we’re talking about all of this.
I really, really want to swim with Great White Sharks and I’m really, honestly going to do that. Yet I have no idea why this is. I’m not an adrenaline junkie. In fact I’m on several medications that specifically lower my levels of adrenaline because I make too much of it. I don’t actually like or even enjoy adrenaline. Creating more of it seems like a bad time.
So why the hell am I going to get in a cage and swim with Great White Sharks in the middle of the ocean?
Other than, why wouldn’t you want to? I mean, seriously, if you were in Australia like I’m going to be, and you had the opportunity to swim with sharks like I’m going to have the opportunity to, why would you not do it? Even if you were afraid, wouldn’t you want to do it? Wouldn’t you want to see if you could?
I think part of me isn’t worried too much because this activity is clearly a one-time thing. If people find out you like the beach, then vacations start getting planned there, people start assuming you’ll want to go swimming in the ocean, maybe surf with them, etc.
If I do this shark cage thing I don’t think people will inundate me with more offers to get in shark cages. I could be wrong but I think this will be a one-shot deal and I’m fine with that. And if they say, “C’mon, get in the water! You swam with Great Whites!” I can always reply, “I was in a goddamn cage, dumb ass!”
I feel like it will be safe, at least as safe as the zoo. At the zoo the animals are in cages. This time it will be the other way around and I will be relying on the bars to keep the animals from getting in as opposed to getting out. That makes sense, right? I hope it does. Very little about swimming with Great White Sharks makes actual sense so I’m going to hold on to that as one thing that does.
Also people have been doing this in Australia forever. Well not forever but at least long enough that there are a bunch of companies that will take your money and take you out to do it. If tourists were getting eaten every other day I imagine we’d be hearing about it. Then again I don’t pay attention to the news and for all I know last year 50 people were killed and eaten by Great White Sharks because they thought they were being awesome eco-tourists but really they were just being bait.
I do admit I have a small, nagging worry that I will chicken out. I can see myself paralyzed on the edge of the boat, watching dorsal fins pierce the water (just like in Jaws!!!). The sharks will be following the chum to and fro (will there be chum? I am imaging chum) as I prepare to make my leap. I do no honestly know what I will do when the time comes to actually get in the cage.
But while I can’t guarantee I’m going to do it, I would put my money on my sweet ass getting in that water and having the time of my life.
Am I scared? Hell yes. Am I going to be facing one of my biggest (if not my biggest_ fears? Hell yes.
Do I think this will cure me of my fear? Hell no. I’m not that simplistic and neither are my phobias.
But I have a feeling that this will be an adventure and a true and awesome experience. In my life I have always tried to let the potential for having awesome adventure and an amazing experience conquer and outweigh my petty little fears. Fear is the enemy of personal progress. Fear is the enemy of personal growth.
Yet fear is the friend of the ordinary, the mundane and the dreary. Fear is the drinking buddy of mediocrity. Fear is an asshole. Fear sucks. I reject fear. I choose adventure.
I’ve done this many times in my professional life, in my love life, in my artistic life. Over and over again I have refused the smooth contours of the safe path and instead have taken a leap of faith into the unknown and lived to tell about the consequences of my bravery (some would say stupidity).
Time and again I have been rewarded for this method of madness. For I have never looked back on my life and been glad of a moment when I let fear conquer me or guide my choice.
So in a life like this, where normalcy is anathema, where ennui is the enemy of the divine – what’s one more little leap of faith?
Even if it’s into a shark cage?