Are you like me? Do you get traumatized when harm comes to a dog in a movie but feel nothing but “Meh” when the same thing happens to a kid?
Face it. We love dogs more than children. It’s just a fact. Oh, I know we appear to invest more in our children. After all, modern society frowns upon the idea of shelters where we could drop off unwanted children, and we legally still regard dogs as property (while children are afforded human status), but those are aberrations in societal views.
In truth, we believe that dogs rule and kids drool.
Take the movie Jaws, for example. I recently had dinner with someone where the conversation turned to sharks (as it often does with me) and I mentioned that I had seen this film at least thirty times. He laughed and said he couldn’t see it more than once because as a child he was traumatized by the dog-killing in it.
Oh yes. I remembered it well. The dog’s name was Pippet, as in the man calling out “Pippet? Pippet?” on the shores of Amity Island.
It was not so much of a dog-killing scene as a dog-not-returning-to-stick-thrower scene. We never see anything bad happen to Pippet. All we know is that the dog owner was engaging in some fun fetch with his black lab, and then a few minutes later, Pippet did not come when called.
The implication, of course, is that Pippet was snatched as an hors d’oeuvre by the mean Great White before moving on to a child.
Here’s what gets me through it without crying: we can never be certain that Pippet was hurt. All we know is that he does not return to his owner in the three seconds we were shown. For all we know, Pippet may have safely swum to shore, gotten a whiff of a taco truck pulling up in the beach parking lot and made a run for it. Anyone who’s owned a lab knows how food-driven they tend to be. Pippet could be just fine. The filmmakers knew that however awful the ambiguity was, it left enough of a possibility of non-awfulness that we were willing to watch the rest of the movie.
That’s not the case with little Alex Kintner.
Ten-year-old Alex is the main course for the shark, and unlike Pippet’s possible fate, this is not implied. It is explicitly shown on the screen just so we are completely aware of what a total bastard this shark is.
It unfolds like this: Chief Brody sits uncomfortably in a chair in shorts with already tense shoulders because he knows in his gut that he should not have reopened the beach. A naked teenage girl was just killed out there after all. He knows that there are sharks in these here parts, but nobody wants to believe him.
Then he sees his worst nightmare presented to us in Hitchcockian form: a dolly zoom shot of Brody watching the attack on Alex and knowing he can do nothing to stop it.
But rather than merely suggesting to us that something awful is happening, the movie then cuts and turns to the water. The site where Alex was sitting peacefully on a raft behind a gaggle of children is now an eddy of blood spurting everywhere. People scream and the blood continues to shoot out of the water because Sharky McSharkson probably hit an artery. We are watching a ten-year-old boy get eaten alive. Just for oomph, we see him thrown out of the water for a few seconds before getting pulled back under.
That is the first time we see the shark attack someone in broad daylight, and it is the stuff of nightmares: a monster that grabs your children right in front of you and eats them, occasionally very sloppily.
But as bad as that was, the dog scene is what my friend remembers. The dog scene where there is no blood or splash or yelp. Just a missing dog. My friend is not alone in this sentiment.
A missing dog is usually enough for me. It took me nearly a year to read the book Little House on the Prairie because Jack the dog goes missing, and the family doesn’t look for him. This made Ma and Pa Ingalls monsters in my mind and there was no way in Hell that I was going to see them through on their journey. My mom convinced me to pick the book up again and I felt a little sheepish when Jack returned to them, however I stand by my original decision.
And before anyone asks, I will not even touch Old Yeller here. My PTSD is so deep from that movie that I cannot even describe it to another adult without my throat catching.
Any story where a dog is imperiled is overwhelming. Any story where a child is harmed might be uncomfortable, but I’d get through it. Just don’t touch that dog unless you are going to give him belly rubs.
An informal and hugely biased poll on Facebook shows that nearly 100% of my friends who bothered to respond agree with me. While I know that they do not represent mainstream America’s views politically, my gut tells me they are awfully close to mirroring American views on dogs. Had Alex been any type of dog, people would have stood up and walked out of movie theaters en masse and Steven Spielberg’s career would have been over. But while the sight of a ten-year-old boy getting devoured was jolting, it wasn’t quite enough to make us reach for the pitchforks.
We expect and demand full love of our dogs. Nobody has ever written for Huffington Post saying, “I love my dog, but taking care of her is too exhausting for me.” Or “I just cannot connect emotionally to my dog! Does this make me a horrible person?” Now exchange the word “dog” for “baby” and you have yourself a good chunk of HuffPo content. Anyone who’d write this about a dog would be rightfully shamed as a pariah and pushed out to sea in a small rowboat, forced to find a new village in which to dwell.
Dogs win every time. And that’s really the way it should be. If you care to discuss it, I’ll be here feeding tacos to Pippet.