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08 May

Paper at "Sea Creatures" Symposium

Written by Michael Fuchs
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Becoming the Shark and/vs. Controlling the Shark: Jaws Unleashed and the Animal Avatar

The great white shark in Jaws and its sequels may be the most prominent sea creature in all of popular culture. As several scholars (e.g. Fredric Jameson, Nigel Morris, Graham Benton, and Antonia Quirke) have pointed out, the shark has proven a powerful vehicle for all kinds of (partly conflicting) interpretations. Similarly, the (purported) ecological subtext of the movie series has received quite some attention. In his book Green Screen, David Ingram, for example, suggests that "evil […] nature is eventually mastered through male heroism," as the film concludes with a re-establishment of the (not so) natural order. Leading ecocritic Greg Garrard takes this argument a step further in his reading of Jaws: The Revenge by stressing that Mike's "environmentalist concerns are effectively ridiculed." On the other end of the spectrum, Elisa Aaltola has noted that the animal horror films of the 1970s spearheaded by Jaws question "the superior status of humans."

My proposed paper will start from these different interpretations of Jaws and its sequels and relate them to the video game Jaws Unleashed, in which players take control of a great white shark and go on killing sprees that may include various nonhuman species as well as human beings. While this lack of a differentiation between human and nonhuman victims may be considered a step toward erasing the dividing lines between the human and the nonhuman (despite the anthropomorphization of the shark), the very nature of video gaming complicates matters, for avatars simultaneously function as vehicles for player identification and mere tools that allow players to act in the gameworld. While it may thus be claimed that these seemingly contradictory functions only further complicate the ecological messages communicated by the video game, in my proposed paper, I will argue that it is exactly the tension-loaded play between identification with and control of the digital shark that the meaning of Jaws Unleashed truly comes to the fore, for it is in this liminal space—this "narrow abyss of non-comprehension," to quote John Berger—between becoming-the-shark and controlling-the-shark that the game text's use of the animal body reaches its full semantic potential.