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Political Animals

News of the Natural World

Alec Charles

Newspapers have long been enthralled by accounts of cute, cuddly, strange, dangerous and endangered beasts, and by extraordinary and sometimes apocryphal narratives of natural phenomena. This study explores the incidence of several such stories in the British press: from reports of the "ethnic" conflicts between different species of squirrel to the tragedy of Cecil the slaughtered Zimbabwean lion. It takes in, along the way, the celebrity of Knut the polar bear, the Tamworth Two and the Exmoor Emperor. It surveys the media representation of the natural landscape from the crocodile-infested reaches of the River Thames out as far as the bleak wastes of the former planet Pluto. In doing so, and in conversation with reporters and players in these tales, it investigates the political subtexts and social meanings of such stories, and seeks thereby to reveal the real value of such soft, sentimental and sometimes silly news.
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Chapter 3: Crocodile


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There are many possible theories as to why the shark in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) resonates as it does with the phobias of its audiences. Some may suppose that it represents the monstrous Leviathan of Soviet Communism – others that it symbolizes the unbridled momentum of industrial capitalism, consuming everything in its path. It boasts the indiscriminate killing power of a nuclear weapon (like Godzilla, it is a monster of the nuclear age); and this association is flagged up in the scene in which Robert Shaw’s character recalls the sinking of the naval vessel which delivered the Hiroshima bomb. It is uncanny in the way the submerged Freudian id rising towards the surface of consciousness is uncanny; and, at this atavistic level, it pulls strongly upon our species’ ‘fight-or-flight’ instincts (Donnelly 2015). Or it could just be (as Spielberg himself is reputed to have suggested) that people are simply scared of being eaten alive by a massive shark.

Lewis Teague’s 1980 horror movie Alligator draws upon similar sets of fears. But while Jaws explores the impact of the resurgence of atavistic monstrosity in the recreational space of the beach, Teague’s film locates this source of societal disruption at the heart of the urban-domestic space: the modern American metropolis. This chapter will explore another case of an urban crocodile – one at the same time also associated with the recreational spaces and activities of Spielberg’s film.

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