6.05.2005

Jaws and what's wrong with local TV news

If you've been watching the local TV news over the past few days, you probably have noticed the wave of fluff about the 30th anniversary of the movie Jaws.

Now, I like Jaws as much as the next guy. A group of older kids took me to see it at the old Newton Corner movie theater (the Paramount? My mind is fuzzy on this point) when I was just six or seven and I was absolutely terrified. I had to leave the theater 4 times, prentending to go to the bathroom. I don't think I went swimming in the ocean for two or three years after that.

But I have to ask: Is the decades-long passing of a big movie cause for celebration? Are we going to mark "anniversaries" for Star Wars, E.T., and Raiders of the Lost Ark?

And why 30? Isn't 25 the big anniversary? If so, was this celebrated in 2000? I don't remember seeing anything about it.

But then I notice that Edgartown on the Vineyard has set up a fake shark, and some cast and crew are there for the event. It seems like this has been organized by the town or someone in the town, and the news media are going along with it. But that's not the way it's being portrayed on the TV reports -- lots of shots of people wearing Jaws shirts, some of the actors and crew reminiscing about the movie, clips of the film, people sticking their heads in the fake shark's mouth, and a general portrayal of a spontaneous or nearly spontaneous celebration, bordering on tradition.

But it's not. The media is being used, willingly, and they are not being honest about it. This free advertising benefits a few select groups: the tourist industry on the Vineyard, the ferry service, the makers of the DVD ... but these groups' role in getting the TV crews to the island is not mentioned. It should be.

I have no problem with towns showcasing their history. Waltham, after all, has a great historical museum in the old mill next to the Charles, as does Newton, at the Jackson Homestead. But remember that these two museums showcase the people, businesses, and things that made lasting impressions upon the two communities. Jaws did nothing of the sort for Edgartown.

A very tenuous pop culture connection is hardly worthy of museum, or its own anniversary. But the trend these days is to make a big deal about these connections, look at the "Bewtiched" statue they are making in Salem. That actress was in town for one episode in the early 60s that hardly anyone remembers, and now she gets a statue?

Yet TV news crews seldom come down to the historical museums in Waltham or Newton, or for that matter, Edgartown or Salem. To producers, editors, and reporters, local communities' shallow connections to pop culture history are always more newsworthy than the centuries of real history that form the foundations of these communities.

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