Gen Z and Jaws

It’s time to name the real victims

Paul Greenberg
2 min readMar 5, 2024

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A real as opposed to a plastic white shark. Photo by Carl Safina

Pop quiz: Can you name all five human victims in the 1975 film Jaws? With a little googling you probably could. Because those five mauled or fully swallowed Homo sapiens have probably had more influence on the sub class elasmobranchii that contains the 500 species we loosely term as “sharks” than any other humans who ever lived. Can you name the 500 species of shark with whom we share this planet? Probably not. And you probably wouldn’t even bother to look them up.

That namelessness leads to increased victimhood is a truism in any mass killing. So that brings us to the essential question: who is the victim in Jaws, the great white shark or the people it eats? For the last five years I’ve been teaching a course in New York University’s Animal Studies Program called The People Versus the Sea and this question ends up being squarely in our sights every time it comes up around mid-semester.

Today as Jaws approaches the ripe old age of 60 it’s necessary to point out that the deaths of five fictional people (and a dog — remember Pipit?) pale in comparison to the number of real sharks killed in the period between when twenty-six-year-old Steven Spielberg (yes, twenty-six) directed the film and today. In 2021 the authors of a paper available via the National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration concluded “since…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org