21 November 2014
The Great White Inequality
In the summer of 1975, something incredible happened, but only those who witnessed it will understand it. A cultural revolution was created, it was a revolution that hit home for many people, one that encouraged fear and created what is known today as the summer blockbuster. After all, this was the year when the White Shark finally became known as “Great”. It was the year of Jaws.
The movie Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg, may have incited a global fear and a cultural transformation, but it was a change that resulted from a structural inequality. When looking at the film industry, the Representation Test is a way for Hollywood to determine a movie’s structural inequality. The Representation Test is a media tool used to score a movie’s overall diversity through a variety of different criteria. According to Andrea Lunsford in her book Everything’s an Argument, “authority can be conveyed through fairly small signals that readers may pick up almost subconsciously”(Lunsford 59). It should be noted that this test does provide a level of authority even though some of its points may be hard to recognize and comprehend.
The first category of the Representation Test concerns the issues and ideas associated with women in the movie. The first criterion associated with women asks if the protagonist is a woman and if so, is the protagonist a woman of color? The protagonist is in fact not a woman, but rather Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider. Chief Brody, the chief of the Amity police department is a typical American white male who is married with a family. In addition, there aren’t any women of color with speaking roles in the movie. However, Jaws does score one point in the women category because it portrays women as something more than “objects for the male gaze”. For example, in one of the first scenes of the movie, we see Chief Brody with his family sitting on a public beach. His wife and the other women in the scene are wearing sunglasses, a sunhat, and a one-piece swimsuit causing them to seem pretty covered up when realizing that they are at a public beach. The director seems to have wanted the audience to focus more on the beach environment and the mood of the scene. This allowed the movie creators to develop an emotional appeal as the blissful mood is instantly destroyed by the eruption of the shark into the scene.
The second category for the Representation Test involves the determination of structural equality concerning men. According to the test, Jaws receives two of the four possible points because it avoids glorifying violent men, and it avoided perpetuating an extreme and unhealthy body ideal for me. Take Robert Shaw’s character, Quint for example. Quint is a master fisherman who is hired by the council of Amityville to hunt the shark, and he is probably the only violent character in the movie. Yet, his violence is not glorified because of the fact that he is killed in a rather vicious manner by the shark. This also allows the movie to generate a slight feminist perspective since it is the so-called “best man for the job” that is devoured by the shark.
The next two categories include whether or not the film avoids celebrating racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotypes, and if the protagonist or other characters are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Unsurprisingly, Jaws doesn’t really display any racial stereotypes, possibly because the director and producers did not want any racial stereotypes to take away from the storyline and cinematography in the film. But it is important to point out the fact that the movie is centered in a town dominated by Caucasians with the city council being made up of only white males. In addition, there are no lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender characters in the movie that would result in an overall increase in diversity. The film continues to show a decrease in equality as the last category for the Representation test is approached.
The last section refers to the inclusion of people with disabilities, and when considering the circumstance that the protagonist is not a person with disabilities and that there are no characters with disabilities, no points are rewarded. The film also neglects to earn any bonus points when cogitating about the fact that the movie was written and directed by white males. By the end of the Representation Test the movie Jaws was able to score a 4, resulting in a C grade in terms of equality. This brings up a point of conflict, because it doesn’t make sense how such a critically acclaimed (8.1/10 on IMDb) and historically classic movie can be considered structurally unequal. Yet, American society continues to accept inequality in film as a socially tolerable ideal even if a movie is of sub-par achievement.
In the end, the results of the Representation Test do not seem that surprising because the film and production industry is a business engendered by white males. It’s also important to recognize that Jaws is a 29-year-old movie and while gender and racial inequality were an issue in 1975, they are nowhere near as big of an issue as they are today. Therefore, it’s understandable that an older movie would not score well on the test for fundamental equality. However, that’s not to say that the Representation Test isn’t a fair scoring system. At a first glance, the test definitely appeals to a more “feminist” type and genre of film, but on deeper investigation it is just checking to see if a movie portrays women as less intelligent, worthy, or sensible than men. After all, the test allows 24 possible chances to score a point when only 11 points (~46%) are required for an A grade.
The Representation test provides a movie with an incredible amount of opportunities and practically serves a passing score on a silver platter. So the fact that a large proportion of popular movies fail this test is absolutely shocking. In addition, Jaws should only be awarded 3 pickles for its average, passing grade. The argument can be made that we live in a world where the “screens are dominated by soulless movies full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”(Giannetti 35). As a result, directors and producers of various movies may place less importance on equality if the “sound and fury” is what is going to make the most money. This leads to the continuation of inequality as a problem in current film, because society will still gather at movie theaters to watch blockbuster hits like Jaws. Sometimes inequality is the price we must pay for invention and creativity.