In college I got some food (don’t remember what) at a Taco Bell on 9th street in Provo at the bottom of the hill. I scarfed it down, and probably got on to the exciting business of making the World’s Best Emotionally Wrenching Mix CD. Not too much later, I remember thinking something wasn’t right and headed to the bathroom to reverse engineer that deliciously inauthentic Mexican food right outta my mouth. And kept on reverse engineering all blessed night long.
Here’s how that’s not like Jaws.
I saw Jaws when I was 3 or 4, I’m told. I remember seeing it at a friend’s house, down in the basement. He was rich and had a VCR, which was the requirement for having a VCR back then. They’d taped it from TV, because Rory Schneider’s final words to the shark were “Open up you shudabup!” We watched that shudabup line again and again. Classic.
What effect did watching Jaws have on a 4 year old? Scarred for life, I think, is the term. Maybe you were too. Lots of people were. Have you seen it lately? Give it a try. It holds up pretty well. I remember genuinely believing the shark painted on the bottom of the local swimming pool (WHY did they paint a shark on the bottom of a pool? WHY did he taunt me with his goofy grin and sailor hat?) was going to eat me when I jumped off the high dive as a kid. To be honest, I still look over my shoulder a little when I do my bi-annual laps at the YMCA.
Movies are intricately made emotion machines.
Media can hit in a deep, lingering, impactful way. If we ingest media we regret, we cannot ‘work off the pounds’ or use our biologically wired ingestion refusal system. It’s in there. We can avoid thinking about it, we can temper it by filling our minds with other things, but it is in there. Even if we don’t think about it, it influences our thinking. Except those movies about tooth decay or the order the states, those don’t seem to have done jack for me.
Another example: at a friend’s house again, I remember watching satellite TV. We were flipping through and saw a horror movie. Some teens hid under a stairway in an empty room in a large house. They were whimpering and cold and wet. A gal started to go up the stairs. A vampire flew at her, knocked her to the ground and started chewing on her neck. When he was done he left or flew away or something. The teens under the stairs screamed and ran. The gal on the floor tried to crawl away unsuccessfully, what with her open neck. Rain came down from holes in the ceiling.
It wasn’t from anything I know – and I have a pretty good working sense of all but z-grade vampire cinema – but I’ve never tried to look it up. It may have been the combination of creepily realistic attack and aftermath, with selfish weepy friends thrown in, but that 30 second clip I watched 20 years ago still makes me feel cold. But I can still see it vividly. I can see the stairs, and the teen on the ground. We probably all have something like this. It was like a punch in the gut, a shift in the tone of the lights in the room. My buddy was as scared as I was – we quickly turned to something like Care Bears or something to take the edge off. Literally, I think we watched a light and fluffy cartoon to wash the bad taste out of our mouth as we sat there numb on a warm summer’s day.
My point is this: I’m a giant wuss who can’t handle watching scary movies. To which I say, he who hath watched Psycho in a packed midnight showing can cast the first stone. No. My point is this: we’re better off taking care with what we watch, with what we allow our kids to watch. We’re better off being a bit worried about it. Our brains are really good at remembering stuff we don’t want to remember. And, like food, it’s not the same for everyone. It’s good to know what makes us sick, and how to avoid it – what media you’re allergic to. It’s also good to know what works for you – what goes down well, what works. I’ll talk about that more later. Right now I’m hungry for Taco Bell.
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