Pynchon’s Reference to Jaws

“March is wearing novelty slippers each shaped like a shark, with sound chips in the heels so when she walks around they play the opening of the Jaws (1975) theme.  ‘Where can I find these, price is no object, I can write it off.’  I’ll ask my grandson, he bought them with his allowance – Ice’s money, but I figure if it went through the kid, then maybe it’s laundered enough.”  Pynchon, Bleeding Edge 267

This passage occurs directly after Maxine has received the package containing the video with the footage of the team that is practicing a military operation on top of the Deseret.  After Maxine has seen the video, she decides to take it to March to see if she would be able to post the footage on her blog.  It’s important to note that the footage was filmed on top of the Deseret, a building Maxine frequents and also happens to be owned by none other than Gabriel Ice.

The reference here to Jaws has multiple interpretations, as well as implications in the plot.  Bleeding Edge is a novel that deals greatly with technology on the bleeding edge, and the history of Jaws fits into this theme.  For one, Jaws is a film that was completely ahead of it’s time from a technological standpoint.  Featuring extensive underwater shots as well as complex mechanical sharks, Spielberg’s film endured production delays, as well as a ballooning of the budget to over twice it’s original amount.  Jaws also ushered in a new era of filmmaking after a five-year downturn in Hollywood.  The film was released in the summer of 1975 to positive reviews, and soon would become the most successful film of all time.  Essentially, Jaws was the original summer blockbuster that we see so commonly today.  Before Jaws, summer releases were seen as the dumping ground for poor films, while winter release dates were reserved for studios’ more prestigious efforts.  Jaws was also one of the first films to open widely around the country with an extensive media campaign (television ads serving as the centerpiece), as opposed to a slow rollout.

Pynchon plays with the film in several ways in this passage.  The Jaws theme being played by March’s slippers is one of the most iconic pieces of film music ever.  In the film, the two chords are used for suspense when an attack by Jaws (the titular shark) is imminent.  When the audience hears those chords, they know an attack is coming.  In this scene, the theme is played by March’s slippers when she walks.  No shark attack will occur.  The commercialization of the theme has led to a reduction in the ‘aura’ of the theme.  Taken out of context of the film, the chords essentially mean nothing.  The theme is meant to signify an attack by a lethal shark, whereas in this scene the theme is simply played as March walks around her apartment.  It is also interesting to note that this commercialization is only possible due to the technology in the slippers, as Pynchon carefully notes “with sound chips in the heels”.  The sound produced from the slippers is probably tinny and quiet, whereas in the film the theme is overpowering and obvious; ill fitting for a soft, comfortable object like a slipper.  Perhaps technology, in this case the sound chips, has led to the loss of the ‘aura’ of the Jaws’ theme.

Notably, the Jaws reference is not listed on the Bleeding Edge wiki, but some interpretations into the plot can still be made.  Jaws’ plot revolves around a small New England beach town besieged by a man eating great white shark and the police chief who is charged with hunting the shark down.  At the beginning of the film the mayor of the town chooses to cover up the existence of the shark avoid losing tourism until more victims are killed by Jaws.  Brody, the police chief, then goes out to kill the shark with two others.  A parallel to the plot of Bleeding Edge can be seen here.  March can be seen as the police chief, while Gabriel Ice can be seen as Jaws himself.  Through her blog, March has been insistently targeting Ice, who at this point in the novel is clearly dangerous.  March, like Brody, is aware of the danger of the target, yet feels some kind of moral obligation to bring down Gabriel Ice.

The fact that Pynchon brings up Ice is the latter part of the passage allows more connections to be made between Ice and the shark.  Jaws looms over the plot of the film, yet is only seen a few times.  Gabriel Ice functions similarly in Bleeding Edge.  He is at the crux of the plot of the novel, if there was no Gabriel Ice, there would be no Bleeding Edge.  Yet, the reader rarely gets to hear Ice’s own words or actions in person.  Ice permeates the novel with connections to nearly every character, yet he himself is not quite a character, more so a personification of greed and evil.  Every character reveals a detail about Ice’s character and actions and the reader is left to put these together for themselves.  The reader hears so many things about Gabriel Ice, yet never gets to make a judgement for themselves.  In the party scene when Maxine and Ice come face to face they do not even interact, and when they do at the end of the novel it is somewhat anti-climactic.  Jaws differs in the sense that there is obviously a dramatic final confrontation (this is Hollywood at it’s finest afterall), but there is a similar idea at work.  Like Ice, Jaws is the crux of the plot, defined solely by his aggressive bloodlust for humans.  In Bleeding Edge, Gabriel Ice isn’t too far off.

Works Cited

“Jaws Released.” A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.

Pynchon, Thomas. Bleeding Edge. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.

Quirke, Antonia. Jaws. London: BFI, 2002. Print.

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4 Responses to Pynchon’s Reference to Jaws

  1. Since I’ve never seen Jaws, I cannot be sure about the details of the movie. But the movie is now so famous that you almost don’t need to see it to understand it somewhat. I like how you pulled out the details of the Jaws theme song. Its such an iconic song, and people still attempt to use it to ‘scare’ others. But you are right, its been used to the point that it is no longer scary or intimidating. Its also interesting how many similarities you were able to find between Jaws and Bleeding Edge, casting Gabriel Ice as the shark is an interesting choice. There is a sort of ‘dramatic’ show down at the end though. Not as dramatic as Jaws I’m shore. But Maxine and Ice do finally face off at the end of Bleeding Edge.


  2. KAK249 says:

    I really enjoyed your post! I thought about choosing this moment myself because for some reason it stood out in my memory. I think it is very fitting you related Ice to the lethal shark…and also thought it was awesome how closely you analyzed this scene. It is such a brief scene that many readers would breeze by without ever catching all of the similarities between the Jaws and Bleeding Edge. However, for me as I read the scene, I pictured the slippers as loud and obnoxious just like the movie. I do agree though that the aura of the theme song is lost and find it ironic Pynchon that something so warm and cozy to play such a dark and dangerous song.


  3. KeepCalm22 says:

    As a huge fan of movies, I enjoyed the fact that you chose to focus on film. I think an important point that you bring up is that Jaws was considered on the leading (or bleeding) edge of technology in the film industry at the time it was released. While many people still recognize Jaws as one of the paramount films in American culture, it generally has modern day viewers laughing at the mechanical shark and its terrorizing ways, seeing it as “unrealistic.” However, technology progresses, and what we may think is bleeding edge today could be banal tomorrow. Simply looking at how much Jaws evolved in technique from tactics used in, say, The Blob (the original, not the remake), it provides more context on how technology is able to evolve over time and shows the innovation of Jaws compared to films in the first half of the 20th century.

    Also, I find the entire idea of bloodthirstiness, as depicted throughout Jaws, a completely appropriate characterization of the dotcom industry. With websites and firms buying out other sites, each vying for space, viewers, and money, characters such as Gabriel Ice do take on a Jaws-like appearance, a shark in their own right.


  4. spelunkingseahorse says:

    I am very interested in the fact that you chose this passage to analyze. Now that you have brought this passage up, I can remember reading it. However when I read it, I did not give it a second thought whatsoever besides the fact that the Jaws music immediately began playing in my head. I just took it as details as Pynchon was trying to paint a picture with his words. Your relationship of Ice to the shark is a very believable and interesting connection between the two. Thank you for bringing this to the surface amongst the many subtle references in Bleeding Edge.


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