Mayor Larry Vaughn: A Critical Retrospective

 

Early in the COVID pandemic snarky left-of-center types often compared leaders who tried to balance the costs of NPIs (“non-pharmaceutical interventions”) against presumed benefits in stopping the spread of COVID benefits to Mayor Larry Vaughn of Amity in the movie Jaws (1975) and Jaws 2 (1978). He is used as a kind of meme to represent blind allegiance to business and profit at the expense of public welfare according to the zeitgeist that possesses enlightened persons.

I think in fairness, we should review Mayor Vaughn’s record in detail at each stage of the crisis.

Handling of the initial report of the shark attack: Much like the scope of COVID-19 itself, fatal shark attacks (much less multiple such attacks in one location) are an exceedingly unusual phenomenon. Fewer than 14 attacks occurred along all US coastlines in 1974, the year before Jaws was released in theaters. The last fatal shark attack in New England before the Amity incidents was in 1936. After the first Amity attack (which was not confirmed until the arrival of an expert), Mayor Vaughn chose not to reveal the unconfirmed possibility of a shark as the cause of the fatality so as not to cause a panic about a risk he probably rightfully regarded as minuscule.

Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell “barracuda”, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell “shark”, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.
-Mayor Larry Vaugh, July 2, 1975

This is similar to the initial response by Dr. Anthony Fauci and the (China-influenced) World Health Organization to COVID-19.

This is not a major threat to the citizens of the United States and this is not some that the citizens of the United States should be worried about. -Dr. Anthony Fauci January 21, 2020

While not unreasonable overall, we should perhaps fault Mayor Vaughn for not ordering some additional fact-finding and for not informing other elected officials on Amity. Ordering Sheriff Brody to remain silent was inappropriate in retrospect but perhaps not as bad as CDC higher-ups denying permission to their experts on the ground to test the returnees from Wuhan and the Diamond Princess, a denial done to quash the frightening notion of asymptomatic spread.

Mayor Vaughn: B-

Response to Alex Kintner’s death: A boy on a raft in shallow water in a crowd is killed by a shark. It is not unheard of for great whites to attack persons paddling on rafts, boogie boards, or surfboards but not in shallow water (less than 5 feet) or in a crowd of bathers. A decision is made to place armed watchers on small boats and in the observation tower on the beach but to keep the beaches open otherwise. Note: There were no additional beach shark attacks for the rest of the movie.

In retrospect, the decision not to warn of this risk, however unlikely, appears to have been a mistake.

Mayor Vaughn: C+

Response to the Ben Gardner death: Mayor Vaughn’s position is unchanged by the report of a fatal attack on Ben Gardner’s fishing boat in that no proof was recovered (Matt Hooper dropped the tooth) and an open-ocean adverse event probably has little bearing on beach risk assessment. This was on balance, not an unreasonable reaction.

Mayor Vaughn: B

Response to the leg removal/death in “The Pond”: On the one hand, this could certainly be taken to prove that there had been an inadequate overall risk assessment with respect to the likelihood of return shark visits to a relatively small area. However, beach closings would not necessarily have affected the estuary/small craft harbor considered to be too removed from the open ocean to be dangerous (e.g., Chief Brody’s assessment that “the pond” was a safe place for his own child to sail his boat.) This fatal event was followed by closings and the authorization of hiring of Captain Quint, (analogous to fast-tracking the vaccines) so while theoretically preventable in 20/20 hindsight, the response thereafter was entirely on point and highly proactive.

Mayor Vaughn: A-

Discussion:
We know that Amity beach closings, much like the lockdowns and mask mandates ultimately had little to no effect. Turns out in the case of COVID-19 we were all in the Pond and the threat was unabated by NPIs just as the Amity danger was not relieved by NLPs (“non-lethal shark preventions).

From a risk-benefit perspective, the loss of business for a single summer week in Amity was like a month or month for a year-round business compounded by the fact that the entire island community’s well-being was at stake. Given what is known of shark behavior, an attack in Amity should not have been any more probable than on Marth’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Block Island, or any other New England summer locale so sending bathers elsewhere should not have greatly lessened their personal risk, especially given the likelihood of Jaws sequels and knockoffs. Wading in the ocean in these other places should carry a virtually identical minuscule risk of shark attack than in Amity.

However, fully informed consent to risk is a basic right, and the failure to disclose was a breach. Although, exactly when that duty accrued for Mayor Vaughn is not clear.

Larry Vaughn did not have the benefit of internet access but if he had, he would have known that the author of the novel and the movie scriptwriters had stuck him with a highly improbable series of events and that his responses were entirely reasonable in real-world terms. His situation with the scriptwriters was not unlike the fictionalized versions of events that appear in the MSM concerning the COVID actions of Trump and/or any Republican governor.

So RIP, Mayor Vaughn, a good fellow in a near-impossible situation. B+

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  1. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and
    @Misthiocracy

    And let us not forget that Bruce wasn’t any ordinary shark. Has any other great white shark in history ever managed to smash through the hull of a boat as large as The Orca, sinking the vessel in less than five minutes? I think not.

    Bruce was an übershark! Mayor Vaughn missed a huge opportunity to promote Bruce as a tourist attraction!

    “COME TO AMITY AND SEE THE KING OF THE OCEAN, IF YOU DARE!”

    • #1
  2. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Well, someone’s gonna do it, so let me crowd in:

    “I’m familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass!” Hooper

    There, I feel better…

    • #2
  3. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Well, someone’s gonna do it, so let me crowd in:

    “I’m familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass!” Hooper

    There, I feel better…

    Hooper is annoying. He has no business second-guessing a pathologist in an autopsy suite. He is conclusory, elitist, and a spoiled rich kid. Killing the entire economy of Amity just so he could get his name in National Geographic seems like a bad tradeoff to me. 

    • #3
  4. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Well, someone’s gonna do it, so let me crowd in:

    “I’m familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass!” Hooper

    There, I feel better…

    Hooper is annoying. He has no business second-guessing a pathologist in an autopsy suite. He is conclusory, elitist, and a spoiled rich kid. Killing the entire economy of Amity just so he could get his name in National Geographic seems like a bad tradeoff to me.

    Can’t argue with that…

    • #4
  5. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    If Vaughn was a libertarian, he would have put some small signs up on the beach entrance saying “Shark Danger. Swim at your own risk”. Not “Beach closed”. Not “It is safe to swim”. Inform the people with facts and let the make their own choices. Vaughn failed, but he was better than Fauci. If he had been like Fauci, he would have banished Hooper and Brodie, closed the ferry to the mainland, dumped all the food and TP into the ocean, and given the people masks and clubs and matches to work out their feelings.

    • #5
  6. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) (View Comment):

    If Vaughn was a libertarian, he would have put some small signs up on the beach entrance saying “Shark Danger. Swim at your own risk”. Not “Beach closed”. Not “It is safe to swim”. Inform the people with facts and let the make their own choices. Vaughn failed, but he was better than Fauci. If he had been like Fauci, he would have closed the ferry to the mainland, dumped all the food and TP into the ocean, and give the people masks and clubs and matches to work out their feelings.

    Perhaps he might have mandated that the shark wear a mask…

    • #6
  7. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and
    @Misthiocracy

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Well, someone’s gonna do it, so let me crowd in:

    “I’m familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you in the ass!” Hooper

    There, I feel better…

    Hooper is annoying. He has no business second-guessing a pathologist in an autopsy suite. He is conclusory, elitist, and a spoiled rich kid. Killing the entire economy of Amity just so he could get his name in National Geographic seems like a bad tradeoff to me.

    Also, he was sleeping with Chief Brodie’s wife (in the novel).

    • #7
  8. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Vaughn was pretty loose with the people’s money, authorizing Brody to spend it on a drunk just so the drunk could tell us about the Indianapolis, wreck a boat, and make us listen to “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” for the rest of our lives.

    • #8
  9. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Vaughn was pretty loose with the people’s money, authorizing Brody to spend it on a drunk just so the drunk could tell us about the Indianapolis, wreck a boat, and make us listen to “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” for the rest of our lives.

    Still better than giving IT to Solyndra, or PBS.

    • #9
  10. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I saw Jaws for the first time last summer. The parallels are just as you describe them. I laughed too. :-)

    And the movie fairly represents life in the summer tourism towns on Cape Cod and the islands. These public health issues come up all the time. Cranberries and fishing don’t quite make up for the tourism dollars. :-) Tourism is really important, and it’s an eight-week window in July and August.

    What makes Jaws extra funny now is the current real-life threat of real sharks up and down the Cape Cod coastline. The seals have reproduced to the point that they are easy pickings for the entire Atlantic shark population. The old fishermen used to know this–for one thing, the seals eat a lot of fish. So they discouraged the population growth. But the EPA and the state and local environmentalists have actually encouraged the growth of the seal population.

    I don’t understand these people. I think it’s horrible to see a shark kill a seal. But the shark worshipers love to watch this. I think they are pretty sadistic to enjoy that. And it is so upside down–these are the peace and love modern-day passivist hippies. Flowers and peace. It is perverse. Why do they enjoy this kind of violence?

    I heard a really fantastic Rush Limbaugh show years ago. He had gone to see a new penguin movie just released that weekend (I forget which movie it was). He described how one poor penguin was getting pulled through a hole in the ice by some underwater animal and how the photographers and nature-lovers were standing around watching this, saying “Isn’t nature wonderful?” Poor Rush said he was on his feet in the theater yelling, “Go get that poor penguin.” That’s how I feel about “nature” too. Thank you, Rush. There is something grossly wrong with these National Geographic and NPR people. To my chronic frustration, Cape Cod has attracted a lot of them.

    Last year family tourism was down. It could have been the pandemic, but it is also likely that families don’t enjoy watching their kids swim in shark-infested waters.

    At the moment on the Cape, there are two competing perspectives: The Chamber of Commerce thinks the sharks will draw eco-tourists and shark worshipers (and that’s a real thing) in sufficient numbers to make up for the loss of families with little kids. Last summer was perhaps an indicator that there are fewer shark worshipers than families with little kids. But the pandemic has thrown off that metric. I guess we won’t know for sure for a couple of years. As Cape Cod loses revenue due to the sharks, it will probably develop other less-ideal ways to generate income than family vacation tourism.

    PS: Even before there was Jaws, there was Ibsen’s 1882 play Enemy of the People–a very similar plot and problem.

    • #10
  11. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    MarciN (View Comment):
    He described how one poor penguin was getting pulled through a hole in the ice by some underwater animal and how the photographers and nature-lovers were standing around watching this, saying “Isn’t nature wonderful?” Poor Rush said he was on his feet in the theater yelling, “Go get that poor penguin.” That’s how I feel about “nature” too.

    Reminds me of an old Sam Kinnison routine in he asks why the film crew doing the ads to deal with world hunger don’t just hand the poor a sandwich.

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Vaughn was pretty loose with the people’s money, authorizing Brody to spend it on a drunk just so the drunk could tell us about the Indianapolis, wreck a boat, and make us listen to “we’re gonna need a bigger boat” for the rest of our lives.

    Still better than giving IT to Solyndra, or PBS.

    I suppose all of this discussion would make more sense to me if I had seen the movie, but even without seeing the movie I agree with your statement.

    • #12