Monday, August 8, 2011


Da dun. Da dun. 
Da dun da dun da dun da dun. 

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, it's Shark Week 2011. Discovery Channel does an excellent job of managing the scientized approach to sharks, while giving the people what they want: carnage. While it's nice to know that of the hundred or so people a year that get attacked by sharks, only about ten of them die, it's significantly more entertaining to watch the sharks, with their rows and rows of jagged, destructive teeth, seemingly fly from the water to play an aquatic version of cat and mouse with the seals of Seal Island, South Africa, or to watch them come head first at the divers in the shark cages. In the lineup this year are such terror-inducing features as, "Great White Invasion," "Rogue Shark," and "Killer Sharks."  Returning to Shark Week 2011 are old favorites like, "Top Five Eaten Alive," "Ultimate Air Jaws," and "Top Ten Most Dangerous Sharks." Counterbalanced against these hour-long documentaries of gore are documentaries that do their best to put the shark-related danger into prospective; shows that seek to teach instead of frighten, like Late, Late Night Show host Craig Ferguson hosting "Shark Bite," during which he recaps frightening moments of past Shark Weeks as he prepares for a dive with sharks, where he learns just how amazing they are. But some Shark Week fans are expressing concern that Discovery Channel did not do enough this year to bring issues of conservation to the foreground.

With numbers of most species of sharks dwindling due to high infant mortality rates (roughly 50%) and the too common and wasteful fishing practice of obtaining meat for shark fin stew, the ocean's top predator is in a bad way. On the other hand, fans in it for the sheer schadenfreude of watching a fellow man's catastrophic encounter with the "predator of the deep" argue that conservation shows don't attract audiences. With Discovery dedicating about half the shows to shark carnage and half to knowledge is power, the true fan has to ask: what is the underlying point of Shark Week?

John Hendricks, launcher of Discovery Channels, states the channel's mission statement as documentary programming that enables people to 'explore their world and satisfy their curiosity." Shark Week, now in its 24th year and a huge phenomenon that has gained followers in the past years, takes viewers on a world-wide tour of the oceans and, judging by the number of viewers, satisfies curiosities. Their half and half division of knowledge and carnage is viable compromise, though significantly different from the first few years of Shark Week, when it was still a baby science and not many people were at all aware of what sharks were and the harmony they impart on their terrain, the ocean. Particularly after Steven Spielberg's apex of shark horror, Jaws (1975), people needed some real education. In an insurmountable way, Shark Week has opened the eyes of millions of viewers to this young and still uncertain field of shark science. In that sense, it has altered the way many think about sharks. Still, it's promises of blood and horror do nothing to help promote sharks, though, arguably, the Discovery Channel viewer is not among the demographic most likely to hunt and kill sharks out of fear.

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