Even if you're not a famous writer or politician or brilliant scientist, you probably dream of doing something to change the world. Even if it's just a small thing, like being the guy to single-handedly catch bin Laden and throw him from a helicopter into the rotors of another helicopter.
But be careful what you wish for; as numerous authors have found out, sometimes your "world-changing" work doesn't necessarily change things for the better. Like...
It's the book that made the entire planet collectively shit their pants, go swimming, and then shit their pants all over again once the movie came out.
Seriously, what was Peter Benchley's problem with our unsoiled pants?
Together, the Benchley-Spielberg tag team established Robert Shaw as a badass, Richard Dreyfuss as Richard Dreyfuss, the Jaws theme as the last thing you hear before you die, and the fact that the great white shark proves Mother Nature only wants to murder us.
The Ugly Aftermath:
You'd think the world's oceans would be safer now that books and movies like Jaws have inspired countless angry fishermen to kill sharks 'round the clock. Well, they are. In fact, things are now so safe that one-third of the world's sharks are facing extinction, thanks in part to a little phenomenon called "The 'Jaws' effect."
Pictured: The "Jaws" effect.
Once it became clear that sharks were suddenly and rapidly going the way of the dodo, Peter Benchley dedicated the remainder of his life to promoting awareness that sharks aren't as bad as he claimed: "We knew so little back then, and have learned so much since, that I couldn't possibly write the same story today."
Sharks have since been added to the endangered species list, thanks in part to what Benchley described as "popular ignorance about sharks." You know, like the idea that they'll kill you if you don't blow them up with an oxygen tank first.
Despite coming out fresh on the heels of Jaws, Marathon Man and Star Wars, Dr. Robin Cook's 1977 medical thriller Coma gave Americans something else to sweat over besides sharks, Nazi dentists and the Dark Side of the Force.
It was a terrifying time to be alive.
The plot was simple enough: What really goes on behind that scary door in the hospital? While today it is Dr. House deliberately clogging the handicapped toilet, in Dr. Cook's book it was a bunch of white-collar organ thievery, thanks to carbon monoxide-induced comas.
This "hospitals just want your organs so they can sell them" tale was on The New York Times' best-seller list, was voted No. 1 thriller of the year and was adapted to film in 1978 by none other than the same Michael Crichton, M.D., who brought both dinosaurs and Jeff Goldblum's career back to life.
Why Michael Crichton never made it with a family practice.
The Ugly Aftermath:
Sure enough, both the book and the movie were monumental successes in that they scared the collective shit out of the general public. Not that people stormed their local hospitals and demanded to see the organ-stealing room -- no, the effect was much more subtle: "If hospitals are looking to cash in on my organs, then I just won't agree to donate them!"
"If I don't get to use my organs, no one does."
And thus, organ donation took a nosedive by as much as 60 percent, which prompted The New York Times to sweat Dr. Cook's balls on the matter. In the aptly titled piece "Did Coma Cause It?" the newspaper eventually concluded that "coincidentally or not, the decline began about the time the movie was released," which we gather is The New York Times' way of saying, "Oh, HELL yes."
Published in 1849, this treatise was the signature piece of an influential French zoologist that spawned a worldwide craze for acclimatization. What is acclimatization? Well, back then, the awesome-sounding idea of deliberately introducing foreign plants and animals throughout the planet.
"Needs more zebra."
For instance, say you notice an ecosystem doesn't have any spiders and thus has no natural predators for spiders, and none of the other species there have evolved to live with spiders or to avoid being eaten by them. You would then dump a bunch of spiders there.
You can never have enough deadly, deadly spiders!
Really, it's impossible to imagine anything going wrong with that.
The Ugly Aftermath:
As demonstrated by the near-death experience Australia went through due to the introduction of the rabbit, the introduction of invasive species into foreign environments is one of the biggest dick moves a person can do to an ecosystem. Unfortunately, some people figured that out only after this book kicked off the acclimatization fad.
For instance, the American Acclimatization Society's introduction of European starlings in New York City alone led to the continent-wide decimation of native birds such as swallows, bluebirds and wood ducks. The population of European starlings eventually exploded to 200 million, causing crop damage and disrupting air traffic. Today the starling disaster is known as a "cautionary tale." Mainly because "starlingocalypse" is too difficult to say out loud.
The worms have been trying to warn us for years.