The Character in the Sharkskin Suit

Intriguing, isn’t it, how what we admire in one we might fear in another; how sometimes a single characteristic becomes so entwined with our perception of the whole being that we are unable (or at least unwilling) to see the subject except through that distinctive filter.digital illustration from a photo

Take the shark, for example. We anthropomorphize its curved, elegant mouth and its very pointy dental array as a wicked grin because they form so ironically (we think) bloodless a ‘smile’ for an ideally designed killing machine, and subsequently we are content to identify those people whom we find wicked, bloodless, or murderous as Sharks. Never mind that the shark itself is simply being what it is naturally meant to be and doing what it is created to do. Never mind that, often enough, the person we are happy to affiliate with that same stereotyped vision may also be doing what s/he is naturally inclined, expected, and/or paid to do. If the person in question is good at carrying out dispassionate or relentless action, we’re likely to find a convenient metaphor in the shark.digital illustration

I have long thought, myself, that the mere mention of a character as being dressed in a sharkskin ensemble gave him an air of sangfroid that I suppose must have been similarly associated with the archetype of the coolly relentless shark. I, too, am apparently guilty of stereotyping the creature, and very likely in turn, the person. So it is: we are always looking for shorthand ways to describe and understand those around us.digital painting from a photo

But I would hope that I can also remain cognizant of those positive and laudable qualities that might also be anthropomorphically applied to a shark, and credit similar ones to my fellow bipedal creatures as well: swiftness, strength, tenacity, fearlessness, and a driving desire to move forward at all times. These are characteristics to which I can only aspire for the most part, never mind being as handsome and sleek as a shark can be in appearance. While I doubt anyone will tend to equate me with the supposedly shark-like attributes of cruel indifference or cold-bloodedness, perhaps I would do well to pursue association with those better ones and see if I can’t be identified with such admirable aspirations after all.

18 thoughts on “The Character in the Sharkskin Suit

    • Join the club! I remember seeing it for the first time in a theatre with a bunch of friends, one of whom let out a tremendous, piercing scream at just the right moment and very possibly startled the other filmgoers as much as the scene itself. Somebody jumped so hard that their popcorn rained all over us. It was all terribly exciting! And to this day I’m pretty sure I’m not so grown up or recovered that I wouldn’t still have to avert my eyes a whole bunch of times. This, on top of having actually *read* the novel to try to steel myself before seeing the movie. Yet I *will* likely watch it yet again sometime. Some things are hard to improve upon when it comes to visceral reactions, eh!

      • Agreed – my sister took my brother and I to see it. Even in the darkened screaming hell that was the cinema my pale features drained so completely of blood that I was akin to an albino. My catatonic state at the time still gives my sister a good giggle. I still watch the film with my hands over my eyes for THOSE bits!

    • Thank you! I love watching sharks in aquariums, and while the digital drawing is far from realistic or even properly proportioned, I think it at least conveys some of my affectionate admiration for the creatures. 🙂

  1. I love your images of sharks.

    When my son was of pre-school age I took him to the Vancouver aquarium. I will never forget the joy in his eyes as he pointed at the ‘rocket fish’ as he called them. They swam close to the huge glass: silvery, silent and majestic and I have to admit I have never seen sharks in quite the same way since. it was a kind of magical transformation made with only two words.

  2. When I was in my early teens, a friend and I looked at an old rhyming dictionary and were dumbfounded to see that the list of words that included ah, bah, hah, shah, hoorah, etc., unaccountably ended with sangfroid. I assumed the word was pronounced sang-froyd, and that some wayward editor was having fun at our expense. Hard to believe there was a time when I knew nothing about French.

    As for shark, one theory holds that the word is from a Mayan language.

    • I can only imagine that the Mayans knew what sharks were pretty clearly, given their home location.

      It’s kind of hard for me to believe there was a time when you weren’t exceedingly well versed in all things French, yes, but it encourages me to imagine that there may be hope, while there’s life, that I might learn at least a *little* more about *some* things. I do kind of like the idea of sang-Freud; that seems rather apropos in its own way…

  3. Our ability to demonize some creatures while admiring others is baffling — and tragic for those demonized. We almost drove the wolf off of North America and sharks are being hunted in alarming numbers. Yet, we laud lions and cheetahs, for example, even though they are every bit as bloodthirsty as Jack the Knife.
    Having said all that, Jaws still scares me.

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