Shark Week, Discovery Channel’s week-long programming devoted to those predatory marine beasts, has earned the accolade of being the longest-running cable event in history—one that is increasingly hyped in the media. But the sad truth is that Shark Week has turned into a monster.
What used to be a week filled with scientific documentaries about these prehistoric creatures, with minimal focus on universally-feared shark attacks, has now turned into an almost completely sensationalistic—and inaccurate—portrayal of the marine beasts. There are fake documentaries about fake sharks (like Megladon, Submarine and Voodoo Shark) and a steady drumbeat of segments on shark attacks (in which actual shark species at least make the cut) with survivors all retelling the same basic story ad nauseam—because there are only so many ways to convey the experience that “I was swimming, then a shark bit me, then I received medical attention.”
Recently, Shark Week has rounded out its focus on the lowest common denominator with a new mascot that consists of a douchebag dude dressed in a shark costume who interviews drunk bros about sharks (and about himself), and who contributes to perplexing comedy specials with a room full of shark-riffing B-list celebrities. I’ve got nothing against Chelsea Handler and Macklemore, but they don’t have much to bring to the table regarding shark edification.
It Gets Worse
Shark Week thus swings between two extremes: over-the-top depictions of Satanic sharks hell-bent on the destruction of mankind, and bro jokes with a cast of characters waaayyyy too cool to be unironically into sharks.
Left in the wake of this reality-TV fetishization is actual information about sharks—a fact which many shark researchers bemoan. In a bitter twist of fate, the shark-centered week of programming that used to emphasize the conservation of the creatures now inspires “shark-meat-eating frenzy” at various restaurants across the country.
Moreover, it’s reported that actual shark authorities have been lied to by Shark Week producers to get them to appear in various specials under false pretenses. You know, pretenses that the researchers’ insights would be applied to actual sharks and their actual activities. Instead, they’ve been spliced into fake content about the mythic sharks of our dreams, which can give the maddening impression that these researchers give two thumbs up to faux-science and imaginary creature-hunting.
Shark Week Aspirations
I don’t want to be an old fogey here—I’m not saying Shark Week should bereft itself of any drama or exaggeration. Everyone likes a little frosting on top of their science consumption. But nor should it excise the science, for gosh sakes!
Sharks capture our imagination because they are real-ass animals that evolved hundreds of millions of years ago and still exist in the modern world. They tickle our fancy about the Earth’s primordial past, and fascinate with their continued ability to act as top dog of the ocean. They live in a cold, watery environment that’s difficult for us to comprehend, and they come from a totally different lineage than the mammalian predators we recognize on land.
Those are the realities I want to know more about. I’m sure Voodoo Shark would be crazy-badass if it existed. But it doesn’t. And it never did. And shark attacks reveal little about these creatures. And E!-like comedy hour doesn’t make sense on shark programming. And can Discovery please just go back to showing real facts about real sharks?
Believe it or not, some of us who tune in are actual science nerds. Why can't we have our hunger satiated, too?