I’ve always loved Steven Spielberg’s 1975 movie “Jaws.” It is a textbook for how to tell a terrifying story. Revisiting it in the past week, however, what has struck me is one character, and how chilling it is to recognize that he has shifted from satire to someone I might see at Hannaford.

The man is Mayor Larry Vaughn, played to the perfect level of smarmy self-obsession by Murray Hamilton. While his constituents are mauled by a killer shark, he pontificates about the need to reopen the beaches, flanked by the belief that nothing can stop the freedom of visitors to enjoy the water in their tourist town and, most importantly, spend money so he will get reelected. It takes the endangerment of his own children for him to finally take action.

I’ve never had an issue considering Vaughn with contempt. But in this second summer ravaged by COVID-19 and the multiplying variants, I find Vaughn’s disregard for human life newly nauseating because I see him in the actions of people all around me and throughout the country. Every American who refuses vaccination or won’t mask up around vulnerable populations echoes Vaughn’s shocking indifference to humanity. His obsession with self over society is the logic of an extraordinary swath of Mainers and Americans.

All of this leaves me with one lingering question: If our neighbors locally and nationwide continue to choose selfishness and misinformation over caring for human life, will it ever be safe to go back in the water?

Devin McGrath-Conwell

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