On Watching Out of Cultural Obligation


For as long as I can remember being made fun of, the insult that hurt the most has always been, “What do you mean you haven’t seen that?!” Whether it was being left out of some passing inside joke that swept the playground, or a greater feeling of missing some chunk of the collective cultural consciousness, it hurt. It made me feel “other.”

I’ve done this to people myself; there are no clean hands here, but it sucks. To show such surprise at a missing piece of a person’s life, to attack them with the shock you feel at the idea that someone has somehow not had exactly the same life as you, and for what? A movie? Seems a little silly. But we all feel it, don’t we? And that fact, while pretty shitty in its judgement of another person, is also kinda cool. Because it proves just how important film is to our lives and our culture.

The point I’m getting to is that I finally watched Jaws. I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that the thing that finally pushed me to do so was Neil Cicierega’s plot summarizing song of the same title. It’s a good song. Let’s go ahead and embed that here, yeah?

Steven Spielberg’s seminal shark flick is absolutely one of those movies that — as Cicierega reminds us — everyone has seen. If E.T. themselves were to descend and ask for a list of essential human culture, it would certainly make the cut. While I could reasonably get a pass on this one — it having been released 18 years before I was born — it is nevertheless iconic in the broader history of film. And since I’m a film guy, I’m not allowed to feel good about myself if I’m not at least making an effort to catch up and become aware of some “Greatest Hits.”

An astonishing number of those hits belong to Mr. Spielberg. I’ve also never seen Jurassic Park. I’m working on it.

While I’m writing this post in favor of catching up on your cultural icons, I want to make sure I’m clear about the fact that you shouldn’t make someone feel ashamed of what they haven’t seen or experienced. That’s a pretty general rule, really…just don’t be a dick.

Right. Jaws. I immensely enjoyed Jaws! Really lived up to the hype. While I was familiar with the basic plot, and all the major moments (“We’re gonna need a bigger boat”), it didn’t feel like a film I’d already seen. Having prior knowledge of all the major beats didn’t give me the entire film, which speaks to how well-crafted a story it is. This is the exact opposite experience I had with Mean Girls, which I saw for the first time last year. I just didn’t get it; it was not good. Not here to talk about that, though. Please don’t hate me.

Jaws is the first major film in Spielberg’s filmography, and it’s easy to see why it did so well, and why it stands the test of time. Despite being such an early film of his, Spielberg’s mastery of visual storytelling is already apparent. He uses the camera to tell his story rather than over-explaining through dialogue, a trap many modern films tend to fall into. Spielberg treats his audience as though they have brains. It may sound odd to call watching a film from 1975 “refreshing,” but unfortunately, for that very reason, it was.

I won’t dive any further into the plot of Jaws; my intent here isn’t so much to analyze. Though I could, and believe me, you’d still want to see it, and you’d still get a fulfilling experience out of watching it for yourself.

Jaws is here

Here is Jaws

He is a shark who fights the law

He was in a movie that everyone saw

The words that finally pushed me to watch this cultural touchstone. Hopefully, they push you to do the same, and maybe even catch up on more culture!

— Mike Egan, Film Blogger

2 thoughts on “On Watching Out of Cultural Obligation

  1. Editor November 16, 2015 / 6:07 pm

    Beautifully written, Michael Egan! Welcome back!

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