Andy Knipe, ALS, and Baseball

I will always think of Andy Knipe, my younger cousin, as an innocent kid, the tag-along. When our families got together, with eight of us cousins sitting around the table, cracking jokes and poking each other, Andy was just trying to figure out where he fit in. We’d ignore him, but every once in awhile he’d crack us all up, usually by squeezing food through his fingers or reminding us about the toilet. His life of mischief was underway.
Andy, up to no good
Eventually I moved out to the West Coast, while Andy stayed in New York, got married, and excelled at his job, making funny TV commercials for companies like FedEx and Pepsi. His audience and humor had evolved. His jokes now cracked up millions of people all over the country. He almost seemed like an adult.

Then, at age 37, with a wife, teenage daughter, and two little boys, he got diagnosed with ALS.

At Christmas dinner that year, he couldn’t make the salad tongs squeeze together, but otherwise he seemed fine, so I still thought there must be some mistake, some way out. But there wasn’t. ALS continued to destroy his nervous system, relentlessly. By my summer visit back to New York, he was in a wheelchair, hands propped on the armrests, unable to turn his head from side to side, barely able to swallow. His body was frozen in place, but he was fully alert, watching himself die.

In his final months, Andy and I connected over baseball. He sent my 9-year-old son a heavy encyclopedia of baseball history, which my son took to bed with him every night and studied like the Rosetta Stone. And Andy answered my questions with emails about baseball legends like Catfish Hunter and Don Zimmer. Because of his limited physical mobility, Andy's emails came out pithy and tantalizing, like Chinese fortune cookies. To type out a one-line email, he put on a headset that tracked his eye movements, looked ahead at a computer screen, and then clicked with his index finger—one of the only parts of his body with any sensation left—on the word or letter he wanted, one at a time, with great concentration.

But with his last ounces of energy, Andy didn’t just compose Zen-like emails. He also got on websites for Red Sox fans and carefully clicked out messages like this:

“R-e-d S-o-x = S-c-u-m-b-a-g-s.”

Yes, he spent his final days tormenting Red Sox fans, the arch rivals of his beloved Yankees. Some of his insults were so disgusting that websites banned him.

After awhile, though, the emails and rants tapered off, as the disease took over every last inch of his body, including his internal organs. In August, 2005, he decided not to get an artificial respirator. At age 38, he wrote a final letter to his kids and got ready to die.

I couldn’t get a flight to New York in time, but I called to say goodbye. Andy couldn’t speak anymore, so I did all the talking.

I said I loved him. I said I was sorry I ignored him so much when we were little. 
Pretty soon I was fighting through tears to complete my sentences, incoherent ramblings about childhood memories and wanting to see him again. Up until that moment, I hadn't been able to comprehend Andy's impending death, but now, realizing that once I hung up, I'd never talk to Andy again, the certainty and utter finality of his death sank in

I finally let go. I hung up, and Andy died a couple days later.

The funeral on Long Island was mostly a blur. Carrying Andy's coffin through the church with the other pallbearers, my cousins and younger brother, seemed too easy.  We just placed our hands on the top of the coffin, to guide it, but the wheels on the cart below did all the work, rolling quickly along the smooth wood floor. How was it that we could walk so effortlessly, while Andy, the youngest among us, was dead and in a box beneath our hands?

The biggest surprise came after the funeral, at the lunch reception. Suddenly one of my cousins shouted, “Sick Bastard’s here!” Looking over at the restaurant entrance, I didn’t see anyone who looked sick or like a bastard, just a regular guy in his 30’s. I found out that "Sick Bastard” was this guy’s screen  name. He was a Red Sox fan who had traded insults with Andy for months, until Andy finally let on that he was dying of ALS. By that point, they’d spent so much time together online, trying to reach new heights of creativity with their insults for each other, that they’d formed a bond. Sick Bastard, who had never met Andy in person, drove down from Boston to attend this funeral in the heart of Yankee territory.

This was like a soldier walking onto the middle of a battlefield during the American Civil War and screaming, “Shoot if you want, but that’s my brother over there and I have to see him again.”

My cousins, all faithful Yankee fans, mobbed Sick Bastard, hugging him and treating him like a celebrity.

Even after his death, Andy was still making us laugh...and teaching us how to live.


Links, Photos, and More:

Curt Schilling's Words About Andy:

At the funeral, I found out that Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling had asked the other players to pray for Andy before the game that day.  Schilling knew full well that Andy despised the Red Sox, but he didn't care; they had become friends through their fundraising for ALS.
Here's what Schilling wrote about Andy: 
"ALS, three small yet horrifyingly fatal letters. Devastating letters because they, right now, are a guaranteed death sentence for its victims. Why is it, then, that just about every ALS patient I’ve ever met, including Andy Knipe, wake up each day with a smile? Why are they the ones that bring laughter and joy to a room of seemingly healthy people? I don’t know why, but I thank God each and every day for putting these people in my life, and my families. Andy was a great man, Yankee allegiance aside! He was, until his last breath, working to improve the lives of so many others while his withered away. Andy is the man you meet that reminds you, without a word, how lucky and happy you SHOULD be."

Andy in his 30s.

Andy with ALS and that constant smile that Curt Schilling mentioned.
Andy teaching nephew Ben to drink soda. A few years later, he took Ben to the horse races, as his sister Susan fondly recalls. 

Related Posts about Baseball:
All posts about baseball, including posts on sliding and rebellion, the foul ballthe catch and sharingfeeling good in crowds, and basketball vs. baseball.

All posts about Field of Dreams (and baseball), including posts on moonlight and Jackie Robinson.

What would George Carlin say about Basketball vs. Baseball?

Here's what comedian George Carlin might have said...

                                BASEBALL vs. BASKETBALL

The baseball uniform looks like a formal outfit, something you wear to church. 
The basketball uniform looks like a bathing suit, something you wear to the pool.

Baseball looks like a battlefield, with a few soldiers trying to pass through enemy territory. 
Basketball looks like a dance floor, with couples trying to decide who they should dance with next.

Baseball is played on green grass.
Basketball is played on a beige hardwood floor.

In short, baseball comes out of 19th-century pastoral America. Basketball comes out of 20th-century office culture: fast-paced, lots of teamwork and immediate, visible rewards, all played out under florescent lights and clean indoor spaces.


P.S. More Carlin-Inspired Stuff
Carlin Wrong about Baseball:
I actually don't buy Carlin's depiction of baseball as wimpy. Baseball's central drama of pitcher-and-batter is just as war-like as football; it's just a different kind of warfare. As former Commissioner Giamatti once said, baseball consists of a man standing on a hill throwing a rock at a man below him holding a club.

Lately I'm even thinking that baseball might have gained popularity in the late 1800s due to its emotional resonance with both the pistol duels and line warfare of the American Civil War. Like a batter standing there while someone throws a hard object at him at 90mph, the central challenge of duels and the Civil War was to have the courage to stand there while someone shot at you from close range. All these things have the same combat structure and sense of honor.

Regardless of historical origins, baseball clearly has violence at its core, but the violence has been ritualized and made into artlike a movie fight scene with gentle, ethereal music in the background that makes you feel something beautiful is transpiring, despite the violence. And one that ends with someone saying, as Carlin did, "I just want to go home! I hope I'll be safe at home!"

Related posts:

5 Reasons Why "Twilight" is So Popular

Reasons for the Popularity of the Twilight Saga that You Might Not Have Heard Before:

1) Ambivalence about Red Meat
In recent years there’s been growing discomfort in the Western world about eating red meat, particularly among young girls who object to the blood and killing...yet the overwhelming majority still eat red meat. The image of the Cullens, “vegetarian vampires” who struggle with their urges to drink human blood, plays upon these ambivalent feelings about meat (not to mention sexuality).

2) Bring Back the Wolf
Let’s not forget Jacob…and environmentalism. As anthropologist Lee Drummond notes, Americans’ relationships with animals has become polarized, caught between extremes of household pets and distant predators like the wolf, mostly known through mass media and environmental campaigns. Twilight’s cute werewolf, Jacob, directly addresses this schism.

(Wikipedia, "Gray Wolf")

3) And the Blood
Twilight confronts another paradox: blood is pervasive, from wars to menstruation, yet it’s usually carefully hidden from view in contemporary American society. As Drummond argues, blood in Twilight thereby addresses fundamental issues about male and female, life and death, gender and sexuality.

4) Multi-ethnic Unions
It’s not a coincidence that both Edward and Bella are exceedingly pale (i.e., "white"), while Jacob, the other side of the love triangle, has a darker complexion and is Native American. As anthropologist John McCreery notes, the film is dealing with the appeal, realities, and complexities of multi-ethnic unions in contemporary society.

5) All the Usual Reasons Vampires are Cool
Vampires have what many humans want: power, beauty, wealth, mystery, sex appeal, immortality, boundary-crossing abilities, etc. Twilight partakes of a long line of vampire stories, as well as previous fashions like “heroin chic,” as John McCreery notes.

Usual caveats: These 5 explanations don’t apply to everyone, nor cover all the many possible reasons for Twilight’s appeal. They're just something to think about.

Join the Discussion:
These ideas, among many others, have emerged from an exploratory, sky’s-the-limit discussion about Twilight that has been going on since March, 2014 at the Open Anthropology Cooperative, led by Lee Drummond as a driving force. Lee and the others welcome new voices, so please consider joining. You can read specific posts at the links below and sign up to join the discussion here.

I also recommend Lee Drummond’s book American Dreamtime, where he provides superb anthropological analyses of movies like E.T., Star Wars, and Jaws (full text on Center for Peripheral Studies website).

Credits, Links, and Elaborations:

 1) Declining Red-Meat Consumption
For example, one study showed a 39% decline in American consumption of red meat from 2009-2012; another study showed that young females in Australia and the U.K. are 3 times as likely as males to be vegetarian; and one of the main reasons young females gave for being vegetarian is that they don’t like ingesting blood (posted by me on Open Anthropology Cooperative, “From the Center for Peripheral Studies, After Lance....” direct link on p. 69).

2) Wolves
Lee Drummond wrote:
In a world where our experience with farm animals has dwindled to next to nothing, we readily consume hours of documentaries and talking-head accounts about the lives of physically distant animals such as major predators.  The wolf in particular is without doubt the most stigmatized of animals – bestial man-eater, ally of demons, stalker of Little Red Riding Hood.  And yet, Bella’s only other significant alliance in Forks is with Jacob, wolf-boy, werewolf.  Could it be that the rehabilitation of the wolf – a major hot button issue today – is accomplished in Twilight through a love affair? (OAC, p. 66).

3) Blood
Lee Drummond wrote:
Our lives are awash with blood, blood from animal slaughter, from our endless wars, from street crime and other gun violence, from menstruation, childbirth, and abortion.  Yet it is all ever so carefully hidden.  Bella personifies that need to hide blood from view; she is terrified of it, faints at the sight of it.  And yet she wants, with every fiber of her being, to become one whose entire existence is predicated on human blood.  In aspiring to become a vampire, she bridges two disparate and seemingly irreconcilable identities of life-giver and life-taker…. (OAC, p. 70).

4) Multi-ethnic Unions
John McCreery wrote:
As Danah Boyd points out in It's Complicated, racial and ethnic divisions in behaviour may still be prevalent; but in any major metropolitan area, which is where the majority of Americans now live, multiethnic or multiracial couples are becoming commonplace (OAC, p. 78).

5) Other Reasons
These are touched on at various points in the OAC Forum, and developed at greater length in various websites and the vast scholarly literature on vampires.

Spaghetti, Syrup, and Escalators: Interpreting Culture Shock in "Elf"

The movie Elf wouldn't be so funny if it didn't contain a surprising element of truth. I mean, pouring maple syrup on spaghetti is funny, but is it really that crazy? Americans eat waffles and syrup, sweet and sour pork, and other combinations of sweetness and carbohydrates, so why not syrup and spaghetti?
 OK, I admit it's still gross to imagine putting syrup on spaghetti, so perhaps a better example of the power of social convention—and its relative arbitrariness—is the lesson Buddy (Will Ferrell) gets from his human brother about proper dating etiquette. The brother tells Buddy that he should take his female co-worker on a date by asking her "to eat food," but it has to be "real food, not candy." The movie is again making a joke by pointing out that a custom Americans take for granted seems arbitrary and strange from a kid or elf's perspective—yet that kid/elf perspective contains a kernel of truth, a wisp of plausibility. After all, attraction to sweet tastes is one of the biological universals we humans (raised by humans) share, and Americans consume nothing but candy on other special occasions, such as Valentine's Day. It would actually make sense for Americans to go on dates and just eat sweets.

But there's an even better authority here than mere biological science: Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. In the Harvard bar scene in this movie, after Skylar (Minnie Driver) gives Will (Damon) her phone number, she says, "Maybe we could go out for a cup of coffee sometime?"

"Great," Will says, "Or maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels."Skylar is baffled, so Will explains, "When you think about it, it's just as arbitrary as drinking coffee."

Will is making a reasonable anthropological point about American culture's skewed rules for the ritual consumption of food and drink (a point that would apply to other cultures as well).

I'm not trying to convince readers to run out and eat caramels or put syrup on their spaghetti, I'm just saying that Elf exposes the social construction of taken-for-granted American customs, from food habits to escalators. Buddy reminds us that an escalator really is a scary machine with gnashing metal teeth, a modern contraption that is literally and metaphorically "earth-shattering." His escalator ride  creates a perfect body metaphor for the disorientation caused by culture shock throughout this entire movie.


That’s what culture shock does at its best: it moves the ground beneath our feet, giving us a fresh way to see things, including escalators and advertisements about “world’s best cup of coffee.”

At least that’s the way I see it, and not just because, as an anthropologist, I've dedicated my career to culture shock. The popularity of movies like Elf shows that people all over enjoy culture shock for the sheer joy of surprise and illumination. Even neuroscience research proves comedy and cognition are linked: on fMRI tests, the same parts of research subjects’ brains light up when they solve word puzzles and when they watch videos of stand-up comedy. In the best cases, such as Elf, we're laughing, thinking, and being entertained at the same time.

Now here’s a more personal take on culture and escalators. About 7 years ago, I was flying out of Newark Airport, not far from New York City, where Buddy the Elf had his adventures. I always love airports—the intersection of cultures, the people on the cusp of changes large and small, the liminal betwixt-and-between atmosphere—but the Newark Airport is fairly large and impersonal, and on this particular morning, it was filled with long lines and grumpy people. I overheard one passenger say to a counter attendant, "How friggin' rude."  I myself was low on sleep and rushing to catch a flight back to Oregon, so I tried to keep my head down and not interact with anyone.
Newark Airport, Manhattan in background. Credit Ramriot, Flckr.
When I got to the foot of an escalator, though, a South Asian woman in a sari tapped me on the shoulder and I had to stop. She couldn’t speak English, but she smiled broadly and then started to guide the hand of her small son, about 4 years old, toward me. A couple confusing possibilities raced through my mind. Was this a trick to exploit my sympathy for a mother and her little kid, who was, in fact, adorable? Did she not know how to find her gate? Did she lose something inside the escalator?

She just kept smiling, offering me the little boy’s hand, and speaking in an incomprehensible foreign language. Then I figured out the problem. She literally had too much to handle: two little boys (her other son was even younger) and a large suitcase. She couldn’t hold onto her two sons' hands and the suitcase while riding the escalator. She was forced to do what no mother should ever have to do: ask a stranger to take her little boy's hand in a crowded public place.

Her vulnerability almost knocked me over. Of course I agreed to help, and when the boy put his small hand in mine, the harsh atmosphere suddenly melted away and I felt it—pure human connection.

Riding up the escalator, the little boy held my hand and looked back and forth between me, the moving stairs, and his mother, right behind him whispering words of assurance. Near the top, as the stairs disappeared into thin air, he showed no signs of stepping off, so I picked him up high in the air and set him back down on solid ground, as if this were a fun game. Once the boy got a couple years older, he'd surely master the escalator and treat it like a joyride, but for now he just seemed confused. I wanted to make sure they made it to their gate safely, wishing I could find out all about them, their stories and plans, but the mother just mumbled a thank you, took her boy’s hand, and sped off in the opposite direction. I never saw that family again, but I've thought about them many times.

Maybe Christmas should be like my escalator ride with that boy—moments that move the ground beneath our feet.

In the meantime, I’m glad we’ve got movies like Elf to renew our sense of wonder and communion.

Related materials:
Peter Wogan, “What’s So Funny about First Contact?” Visual Anthropology Review 22:14-33, 2006. (In this journal article, I analyze a documentary about first contact in the 1930s between Australian goldminers and aboriginal peoples in Papua New Guinea. I analyze Westerners’ fascination with technology as a ritual of supremacy, but also as a source of “wonder,” and I place the discussion within the Obeyesekere-Sahlins debate over rationality.)

The Terminal (Great comedy movie about a Russian passenger (Tom Hanks) who lives in JFK Airport for weeks.)

Occupy North Pole Video (Makes sense.)

Golf's Spatial and Spiritual Dimensions

What is going on with that weird posture in golf, all that hunching over? And what about those mystical relations between the ball, land, sky, and player? I got interested in questions like these for personal reasons. My father-in-law has been battling with Parkinson's disease, trying to maintain his balance and coordination and dignity in the face of the disease's relentless attack on his nervous system, and he has fought particularly hard not to let Parkinson's take away his golf game, one of his greatest joys. Over the last decade, he made compromises. He accepted that his shots wouldn't go as far as they used to. Sometimes he fell down on the golf course. But he refused to give up. He also insisted on teaching me how to play. In fact, the worse his shot got, the more determined he seemed to teach me how to hit the ball right. I still can't say my shot has gotten very good, but I've felt as close to him on the golf course as anytime in the years we've known each other. And while walking through the grass and searching for my ball in the woods, I've had ample chances to reflect on golf's mysteries and how this game gets inside your soul. Here are a few tentative thoughts.

The Set-Up

The union with the ball begins with the set-up stance, in which the golfer stares down at the ball, head bowed, as if in prayer. Few other sports require such single-minded focus on a stationary ball. In sports like baseball, basketball, and football, the ball moves too fast for anyone to get a lock on it; in golf, every play begins with a mini-meditation on the ball.

 Flickr Rennett Stowe 

Watching the Shot

In the switch from the stationary set-up position to the swing and then the ball’s soaring flight, the golfer undergoes a sudden, radical shift in perspective—from head bowed to head raised, from a focus on earth to sky, low to high, abjection to transcendence. Having started off like a prayerful hunchback, the golfer soars like a bird.                         
Flickr Russ Glasson

Flickr North Central College Long Shot

I say "the golfer soars like a bird" because the golfer is now intimately connected with the ball, as if it were his or her spirit double. The ball traveling through the air mimics the golfer's mind and body so precisely that its flight path reveals microscopic, hidden tics in the swing that even the golfer often can't consciously recognize. Once golfers see the ball going astray, they often apply "body English," contorting their bodies up and down, to the right, left, and sideways, as if the ball, sensing the golfer's desperate movements behind them, will feel obliged to change course, to please its human twin. Even golfers who suppress these spontaneous movements often still talk to their ball, whispering, begging, yelling, and otherwise imploring in such sincere tones that they almost seem to genuinely believe the ball can hear them. Whether mystical or maddening, it's hard to deny the felt union between ball and player.

A pro putting body English on a hook shot (
Even President Obama needs body English sometimes (Flickr Madu Babu Pandi)

Of course, you sometimes see body English applied in other sports as well, and that's for good reason: the same magical principle of "like produces like" appears around the world and throughout human history. This is what anthropologists call “sympathetic magic,” a long-standing, common type of magic found in everything from a love potion made with red flowers to induce a red heart, to bowlers who spontaneously jump to the left or right when they see their ball heading for the gutter. By slowing down the game and putting the focus on the ball's flight path, golf makes such sympathetic magic a central part of the sport's experience.

Searching for the Ball

Once the ball lands, the player assumes yet a different relationship with it. The ball is now a tiny white dot in the distance, whether nestled far off in the grass, or, worse, out of sight in the woods, water, or sand. Searching for the ball forces more mindful concentration on it and the natural surroundings. Moreover, the player again experiences what novelist John Updike calls the "intoxicating relativity" of golf, i.e., the constant changes in scale and spatial relations as the golfer and his or her ball move through the game. Updike writes, “As it moves through the adventures of a golf match, the human body, like Alice’s in Wonderland, experiences an intoxicating relativity—huge in relation to the ball, tiny in relation to the course, exactly matched to that of other players” (Golf Dreams, "The Bliss of Golf," 1997, p. 147-150). (Whatever you might think about Updike's fiction, it's fair to say his reflections on golf are as insightful as his famous essay about Ted Williams' final home run.)

FlickR Erik Anestad
Although Updike is referring here to the tininess of the golfer’s body in relation to the course, his point also applies to the golfer’s spirit double, the ball itself, which is even tinier in relation to the course terrain. Here's the way Updike puts it: “To see one’s ball gallop two hundred and more yards down the fairway, or see it fly from the face of an 8-iron clear across an entire copse of maples in full autumnal flare, is to join one’s soul with the vastness that, contemplated from another angle, intimidates the spirit, and makes one feel small."  In other words, the ball induces a sense of the golfer's place in nature and the universe—connected yet humbled, as in religious experiences.

Flickr Andreas Krappweis

If talk of the universe and religion still sounds like romantic hyperbole, remember that sheer scale can fundamentally change a person's emotional experience, as anyone will attest who has ever felt awe and wonder at the grandness of the ocean, mountains, or stars, or just a beautiful, tall cathedral or large-canvass painting. Joseph Parent, author of Zen Golf, seemed to be getting at the same point when he said, "we also experience what we see, so perhaps our mind is as big as our field of vision. What if I asked you to imagine the farthest star in the galaxy? Now how big is your mind?" (2002, p. 15).

Of course, I try not to think about all this when I'm swinging. I just listen to my father-in-law's advice ("hold the club gently, like you're holding a bird...feet shoulder-width apart"), bow my head, swing, watch the ball fly—and hope it reaches its destination.

What Do the "Jaws" Movie and WWII Have in Common?

Or put differently, what does the Jaws shark symbolize?

This question is worth asking because Jaws taps into troubling questions about stereotypes, war, and intercultural understanding.

The obvious place to start is the scene where Quint, the fisherman, describes the shark attacks that followed the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine.

Quint says, "Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. It was comin' back from the island of Tinian Delady. Just delivered the bombthe Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour."

For anyone who knows WWII history, it's obvious that Quint' is referring to real events, the actual sinking of the Indianapolis after it delivered the atomic bomb. It's less obvious that Quint is creating an unconscious equation between sharks and Japanese soldiers. What Quint says about a shark"he's got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye. When he comes at ‘ya, doesn't seem to be livin'"could just as well have been describing the WWII American stereotype of the "inscrutable" Japanese soldier with lifeless eyes. Furthermore, through such stereotypes, both the shark and the Japanese soldier were made out to be an enemy that suddenly attacks the nation on its own soil (the "sneak attack" on Pearl Harbor, like Amityville being attacked on the 4th of July), and, more specifically, a relentless enemy that hides in the water (a Japanese submarine, the shark attacking Amityville).

Japanese Submarine. Credit: Flickr, Marion Doss.

Shark fin. Credit: Flickr, Anita363.

Part of the power of Jaws, then, is that it allows Americans to explore their complicated feelings about war and cultural stereotypes. If the film had been explicitly about WWII, it probably wouldn't have reached as many people.. But as a movie about sharks, viewers--at least the ones who unconsciously resonate with such symbolism--are allowed to reflect on some of the most terrible, confusing aspects of "the Good War." In particular, when the shark gets blown to pieces at the end of the movie, viewers are encouraged to feel that such destruction was necessary—while in real life polls show that Americans have felt increasingly conflicted and regretful about dropping atomic bombs on Japanese civilians.
Hiroshima bomb cloud.

Jaws ending.

Recognizing the Shark
It gets even more complicated when you consider American attitudes toward German soldiers in WWII. For example, here's what one American soldier remembered about a battle on the front lines near Cologne, Germany:

"We were passing the Germans we killed. Looking at the individual German dead, each took on a personality. These were no longer an abstraction. These were no longer the Germans of the brutish faces and the helmets we saw in the newsreels. They were exactly our age. These were boys like us. ...Once the helmet is off, you're looking at a teenager, another kid." Robert Rasmus, interview reprinted in Studs Terkel's book The Good War: An Oral History of WWII.

This soldier's story sounds like Quint's points about the shark's eyeshow they seem "lifeless," or as this soldier put it, like "an abstraction." German soldiers with helmets that hide their eyes also fit Quint's image of the shark, which is the underlying stereotype of all enemies in modern Western warfare: lifeless, inhuman, animalistic.

U.S. wartime poster, 1942, Office of Emergency Management..

But as noted by the American soldier, all this changes when the enemy helmet comes off, when you get up close and see that the supposed monsters are just teenage boys like you. Quint notes this same type of sudden switch in perspective when he says, "Until he [the shark] bites 'ya and those black eyes roll over white..."

In other words, Jaws and WWII both create strange oscillations between media stereotypes and individual personalities, abstract concepts and real beings. The shark seems dead but then you realize how alive he is...just before he kills you; WWII enemy soldiers seem like abstractions, but then you realize they're humans...just before you kill them.

Hope for Humanity?

I find it comforting to hear the American soldier (Rasmus) say he eventually recognized the humanity of the German soldiers, and I gather other WWII soldiers did the same thing. For example, you can listen here to a strangely beautiful, 2-minute Story Corps interview with an American talking about his deep feelings for a German soldier.

American helping wounded German soldier, 1944. Army Surgeon General, National Archives and Records Administration.
It's telling and sad that such recognition of common humanity happened less often between American and Japanese soldiers, apparently due to racial biases, but I would hope that such biases and stereotypes are being left behind by now.

Anyone want to suggest other stories of soldiers who have transcended stereotypes and recognized the enemy's humanity in a sudden, dramatic moment? I like those stories.

Further Reading:
My post about USS Indianapolis Survivors and Their Tears

Does the Jaws shark have the eyes of God?

Robert Willson Jump Cut journal article, where he explores the resonance between Jaws and submarine movies.