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17 Oct

Paper at "Literature & the Environment" Conference

Written by Michael Fuchs
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Seeing through the Shark's Eyes? Complicating the Shark's Point of View in Shark Night

Studies on literary texts narrated from an animal's point of view have proliferated in recent years (see, for example, Margo DeMello's edited volume Speaking for Animals [2013]). These investigations have shown the various ways in which animal narrators highlight our plural sense of being on this planet. However, explorations of nonhuman animals in film and television all too often still rely on John Berger's influential observation that "animals are always the observed." As he continues, "The fact that they can observe us has lost all significance" (27).

My proposed paper will take these ideas as a starting point to explore the ways in which horror movies have depicted the shark's gaze. Of course, this gaze is embedded in the technological apparatus; a highly mediated look, shaped by technology, made by human beings. While my proposed paper will first briefly address Jaws (1975), in particular how its iconic opening scene produces an affective bond between human and nonhuman while simultaneously disconnecting the human from the nonhuman, my presentation will primarily focus on a more recent movie, Shark Night (2012).

As I will demonstrate, Shark Night plays with some of the conventions Jaws established nearly forty years earlier. In particular, Shark Night lures viewers into thinking that specific underwater shots depict the shark's point of view. However, instead of looking through sharks' eyes, the movie stresses that viewers do not get the shark's view on the world; instead, cameras are mounted on the animals' bodies (in the diegetic world, that is). Accordingly, the high-definition cameras become both the material manifestations of advanced technology and an immaterial channel that promises not only insight into the other, but rather what Donna Haraway has called "the full sensory experience of the critters themselves" in her discussion of critter-cams (252).

Although the camera fails to fulfill these promises, the movie's conscious use of these intradiegetic cameras to represent the animal's point of view reveals the complex interrelations between technology and the depiction of animal bodies. Yet Shark Night goes a step further by making explicit that the technological configuration of the body concerns shark and human alike. While highlighting these similarities between the animal and the human may be dismissed as simply another example of how the animal is reduced to a symbolic function, Shark Night thus underlines how technology binds human and nonhuman in our age of mass surveillance.